We are in desperate need of transformative leaders and change agents to meet the demands of today’s complex and contested sustainability challenges. My research, teaching, and service aim to build the capacities of students, business leaders, government officials, and community stakeholders to co-produce new knowledge and solutions to guide sustainability transformations.

During my PhD, I served as the Graduate Fellow for the Transitions and Implementations Working Group of the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network where I helped city leaders from across the U.S. and Latin America envision more desirable urban futures, visualize and communicate those visions, and build the transformative capacities necessary to implement them. For instance, I assisted Radical Partner’s 100 Great Ideas campaign on Sustainability and Resilience in Miami and assist the Alianza por la Cuenca del río Piedras in San Juan (Puerto Rico) in local capacity-building efforts to implement an alternative vision for integrated flood management and mitigation using nature-based solutions. I helped co-found the Future Cities Podcast – an early-career led podcast to mobilize knowledge and research on urban resilience. While at Georgia State University’s Urban Studies Institute, I created the Atlanta Transformative Leaders Series that brought together Atlanta-based individuals and organizations to share knowledge, resources, and collaborate on innovative sustainability projects, and led a research and educational initiative to start a new Center for Urban Transformations to redesign graduate education on urban systems science at GSU and catalyze novel solutions to complex urban sustainability challenges.

Below are some examples of current and previous research projects that I have been a part of. Check my publications to see the results of some of these projects.

2020 – Present: The SETS Convergence Project

The Social-Ecological-Technological Systems (SETS) Convergence project is a large collaborative NSF-funded project that began in 2020 and is lead by an interdisciplinary team of engineers, social scientists and ecologists from several research institutions (Mike Chester, Nancy Grimm, & Nathan Johnson from Arizona State University; David Iwaniec from Georgia State University; Timon McPhearson from The New School; Elizabeth Cook from Barnard College; and Tischa Muñoz-Erickson from the US Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry). This project branches off from the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network project (discussed below) with a focus on a subset of project cities including San Juan, New York, Atlanta, and Phoenix. The SETS Convergence project seeks to develop a convergent urban systems science across social, technological, and ecological domains to protect cities from the impacts of extreme climate-driven events. A new convergent urban systems framework is being developed to help cities find solutions to extreme weather events in an integrated and anticipatory way. I’m proud to be part of the SETS Convergence Team and excited for the many innovative approaches and theories, simulations, visualizations, and tools that will be created as part of this interdisciplinary collaborative effort.

2019-Present: San Juan Ultra Long-Term Research Area Project

The San Juan ULTRA Project is run by the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry. Through my work with the UREx SRN and my NSF internships at the IITF, I have helped to advance several initiatives of the San Juan ULTRA project. My particular focus has been on researching and communicating nature-based solutions to reduce urban, riverine, and coastal flooding impacts along the San Juan coastline and along the Río Piedras. A lot of my work for the San Juan ULTRA can be found displayed in the Story Map I co-authored during my internship at the IITF. To read more about this project please read the project description and background here. Below are a few photos from my field work in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Left (Condado Lagoon), Center (Dune restoration project in Ocean Park), Right (the Río Piedras River in San Juan).

2020-2021: National Science Foundation INTERN Award: Knowledge to action: Resilience to extreme weather events in Latin American and Caribbean Cities

I was awarded a second grant from NSF to continue my work with the International Institute of Tropical Forestry. In this second project, I focused on translating knowledge into action for improving sustainability and resilience outcomes in San Juan.

My principal objective was to build an interactive toolkit that visually presents data and results from the UREx SRN and San Juan ULTRA projects in an accessible and interactive platform using ArcGIS Story Maps for public audiences in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The online transitions toolkit is designed to assist communities and decision-makers in San Juan, Puerto Rico to learn from and be inspired by participatory visions of the future in 2080 to transition to a more resilient, connected, food & energy secure, just, and livable San Juan. In other words, to turn this valuable knowledge into action and on-the-ground projects. Above are screenshots of the Story Map we developed to allow communities and decision-makers to interact with the knowledge products from multiple sources including the work of the UREx SRN, the San Juan ULTRA, and others. The Story Map is a synthesis of many information sources and types including key challenges the region faces, participatory visions of the future, image renderings of those visions, stories or narratives of the future, key strategies that participants would like to use to achieve that future, strategies that other cities are using, and other resources.

For more information about this project, you can also visit the UREx SRN blog post on this topic.

2016-2021: The Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network

The Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN) is a NSF-funded project to advance urban resilience research and practice to build resilience to future extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and heat waves through knowledge co-production between scientists and city practitioners. Project cities include cities across the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean: Phoenix, Miami, New York City, Syracuse, Portland, Baltimore, Valdivia (Chile), Hermosillo (Mexico), and San Juan (Puerto Rico). I began on the project as a Graduate Fellow in 2016 and have contributed to dozens of initiatives under this project’s research agenda through 2020. For example, my NSF research internship activities (discussed elsewhere on this page) are supplemental NSF awards to the UREx SRN – they are unique projects but also support the larger agenda of the UREx SRN umbrella project. I’ve been heavily involved in the work of the San Juan City Team – you can check out a synthesis of our work from the past 5 years here. The Knowledge System Innovation Task Force that I was part of co-authored a piece in The Conversation that speaks to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish in this project. Our Knowledge Systems Task Force also guest edited a Special Issue on Knowledge Systems for Urban Resilience that I helped to guest edit between 2018-2019.

One of my largest roles for the UREx SRN was to co-lead the Governance Analysis Task Force. I helped to conceptualize, administer, and analyze a 9-city climate resilience survey on urban knowledge systems, anticipatory capacities, resilience framings, future visions, and preferred climate adaptation strategies. Our team is currently preparing several manuscripts with this data that I will be excited to share as soon as they are published (see publications page).

I have also contributed to a UREx publication, Resilient Urban Futures, that will be available online soon sharing many of the novel approaches and findings from the past 5 years of this project. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of this project and to get to know so many amazing urban scholars and city practitioners to collaborate with, receive mentoring from, and to build long-lasting friendships with. This project has been the strongest influence on my academic and professional career.

2019-2020: National Science Foundation INTERN Award: Building community and flood resilience through environmental stewardship and green infrastructure in San Juan, Puerto Rico

For my first intern award from the National Science Foundation, I interned with the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry as a Research Intern. This internship was designed to build my data visualization and analysis skills using software such as R Studio and Adobe Illustrator while learning how to become a researcher as a public servant at a federal agency. I synthesized qualitative and quantitative data that the IITF had collected as part of its Urban Resilience to Extreme Events stakeholder scenario workshops and survey efforts to prepare a transitions toolkit that could be shared with decision makers in San Juan. I also worked on identifying green infrastructure and nature-based solutions for minimizing coastal and riverine flood hazards – especially in the Rio Piedras and Ocean Park communities. This work fed into my second internship with the IITF that I was awarded from the National Science Foundation in Spring 2020.

2019: Resilience Planning Networks Project

The Resilience Planning Networks Project seeks to understand how integrated flood resilience planning is across municipal planning initiatives and to evaluate the potential for urban resilience planning to mitigate long-term flood risks. It is co-led by one of my PhD committee members, Dr. Sara Meerow. I had a somewhat limited role, as a Graduate Research Associate for the ASU School of Geographical Science and Urban Planning, in support of this project in the summer of 2019 to interview and administer surveys throughout the City of Fort Lauderdale to capture how flood resilience planning is happening – or not – throughout the city’s government and civic sectors. This was a great opportunity to get to meet so many incredible practitioners in Southeast Florida working on various aspects of coastal flood and urban flood resilience. It was also a pleasure to provide input to the project team on how to make their surveying process as efficient as possible given my experience doing massive cross-city resilience surveys for the Urban Resilience to Extreme Events Sustainability Research Network.

2018 – 2019: Building Resilient Coastal Cities through Smart and Connected Communities Project

This project was a 1-year planning grant from the NSF to do participatory innovation workshops in San Juan, Baltimore, and Miami to get input from city leaders on what tools and knowledge needs they have for better understanding the social-ecological-technological factors affecting their vulnerability to flooding. A large team of researchers including engineers, social scientists, data visualization experts collaborated together to conceptualize and implement this project. I was part of the planning and implementation from the very beginning. We held several participatory workshops in each of the project cities to learn how we might develop an integrated platform to house all sorts of diverse data, information, resources, and knowledge to aid city practitioners in navigating the endless resources that can be found regarding flood resilience in their cities – to make their city planning and resilience initiatives “smarter”. Lastly, we discussed how we might build resilience hubs – an idea championed by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network – in each of our project cities. We mapped out the financial, physical, and knowledge resources necessary to build resilience hubs as community assets in both the pre-event phase and emergency phase of climate-induced extreme weather events like floods. You can read the final reports from Miami and San Juan below.

Miami Resilient Coastal Cities Report

San Juan Resilient Coastal Cities Report

2018: Social Value of Climate Adaptation Projects

Image credit: Michael Kappel (Flickr)

I helped lead a project – The Social Value of Climate Adaptation Projects – to document case studies of climate adaptation, resilience, and transformation projects from around the United States, Canada, Central America, South American and the Caribbean to showcase exemplary projects that build social value in their communities. Adaptation projects are those that mitigate vulnerability to climate risks while preserving existing systems and paradigms. Resilience projects build a community’s assets to improve the community’s ability to cope with and bounce back from a disturbance while preserving existing systems and paradigms. Lastly, transformation projects constitute a regime change that addresses underlying social, political, and cultural root causes of vulnerability. This project took place during the summer of 2018 and an online database was created later that fall. The database acts as a resources for city practitioners to learn best practices from other cities that might be able to be employed in their own cities. To view the database, follow this link.