Student spotlight: Lenessa Nelson

To highlight some of Project Cities star students and faculty, PC staff sat down to interview Lenessa Nelson, an ASU graduate with a Master in Sustainability Leadership. With Project Cities, she worked on the Sustainability Action Plan 3.0 for the City of Peoria. As part of this project, Lenessa focused on community engagement and worked on revisions of the plan. Lenessa switched focus for her graduate capstone project to working with the City of Peoria on collecting resident feedback and increasing resident awareness of the Sustainability Action Plan 3.0. Lenessa’s primary role was to distribute a survey to residents. With an initial goal of 300 responses, Peoria residents surpassed that with 780 responses! The following dialogue and summary come from an interview with Lenessa about her experience in the Project Cities program.   Question: What were some of your learnings or key takeaways from this experience, in terms of professional development or educational outcomes? Answer: Lenessa had to adapt to COVID to collect feedback for the Sustainability Action Plan and one of the challenges was collecting data in a virtual environment, but Lenessa recognizes the importance of engaging participants., “…with COVID we’re so virtually out, and everybody is in front of their screens, or there’s something in front of them all day long. So, to get engaged and to really have that incentive for people to want to engage has been really important…and I think it will be huge moving forward.”   Question: The pandemic caused you to adapt your capstone and shift focus. Is there anything that you didn’t get to touch on in your project that you would like to see the community doing later to foster sustainability? Answer: “We hosted community live listening sessions… and with the climate and everything at the time we didn’t have that huge turnout for attendance. So, if I was to back and do something differently, I would love to have integrated in-person meetings and online sessions. That way, people who would like to attend could be there because I felt like there was a lot of people interested in it. However, they don’t want to sit on their computer for an extra hour after they just got off work. I would definitely have a pop-up shop kind of idea, where we could go to different communities, different areas, and have those integrated in-person and online listening sessions.”   Question: How did COVID affect your project or how you approach educational objectives? Answer: Working with the City of Peoria changed Lenessa’s view of how sustainability should be presented, “…sustainability jargon is so easy to do, because we see it every day and we read it and we understand all of our acronyms, but for the people that don’t have sustainability at the forefront on their minds, they’re not going to understand it and it automatically becomes one of those things that people disengage with...I think that making sustainability doesn’t have to be this farfetched. Dream or achievement, it can just be something you do every day.”   Question: What does sustainability mean to you? Answer: For Lenessa, sustainability means reaching a common goal for future generations. She expresses the importance of the middle ground with sustainability and business, “I think that it’s important that instead of losing natural integrity and losing natural resources, that we find a way to be sustainable and also boost our economy.”   Question: What would your primary focus be out of the Sustainable Development Goals? Answer: “I believe my top SDG would be health and wellness. I find that one to be one of the most important things. Also, the other thing I think would play into reducing poverty is affordable housing, we can’t really tackle sustainability if we can’t tackle affordable housing in different ways. I think that making sure people have the access to health care, and making sure that they’re able to adhere to those basic needs, then we can focus on more sustainable development goals, and implementing those into everyday life.”   Question: Lastly, do you have any parting advice for students that are new to your program, or any incoming freshman? Answer: “I would definitely say get involved. Get in there and find things to do. Be a part of Project Cities, be a part of internships, find things that get your food in the door, and definitely get that sustainability experience.”   Project Cities is a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N) and is administered by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the Sustainable Cities Network. Stay up to date with Project Cities and the Sustainable Cities Network by following us on social media or subscribing to our newsletter.