Written by: Grace Olsen, O’Neill MPA Candidate
As an MPA candidate focusing on Environmental Policy and Sustainability at O’Neill IUPUI, I’m keenly aware of the social benefits of tree canopies, especially in urban environments. Trees remove pollutants from the air, alleviate stormwater flooding, and provide cool shade on sunny days. However, these benefits are not equitably shared. IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute recognizes this disparity and joined the McKinney Climate Fellowship program to simultaneously help cities and students across Indiana by providing climate action planning and urban green infrastructure (UGI) fellowships.
When I learned of the opportunity from IU, I immediately researched the program. Its website provided testimonials of other students who completed the program and praised the great experiences offered. One of the best parts of the McKinney Climate Fellowship is that not every position is the same. Some roles are more focused on local issues while others are within nonprofits. I was interested in government roles connected to climate resilience. As a result, I applied for a fellowship within local government by prioritizing roles within the resiliency cohort on my application.
After I was accepted to the fellowship, I had the privilege of serving as a UGI fellow with the city of Fishers’ Planning and Zoning Department for the summer. UGI fellows had one major project to complete during the summer and smaller tasks for each city. Fellows were responsible for drafting a comprehensive and equity-focused tree-planting plan for their assigned cities. The fellows received tree canopy data from outside contractors and instructions on how to accurately analyze our assigned cities.
With assistance from geographic information systems (GIS) experts and by talking to stakeholders, we discovered the spots in the cities where trees could equitably provide the most benefits for residents. We provided our analysis, including background research, methodology explanations, discussion of the results, and recommendations for how our cities could best and most equitably prepare a sustainable future.
The McKinney Climate Fellowship provides critical experiences for students and communities alike. Through this fellowship, I gained experience in advanced GIS analysis, long-term project management, as well as internal stakeholder engagement within a municipality. This real-world opportunity allowed me to gain expertise that will benefit me greatly in the long run. This project was a summer-long journey, with many stages of revision. It required long-term planning and management skills.
It helped me hone my organization and planning skills, giving me vital experience in project management and allowing me to determine the city-specific priorities for my tree-planting plan. Doing so provided invaluable insight into how governments function. I also learned how to work with and listen to those affected most by city sustainability plans: the people who make up the community.
This fellowship provided me with on-the-job experience and field-specific knowledge that now sets me apart from other candidates for opportunities throughout my career. Most importantly, I didn’t have to wait until I completed my degree to make a difference. My summer as a McKinney Climate Fellow allowed me to gain experience, and grow as a professional in the environmental field, all while helping solve real-world problems now and into the future for communities right here at home in Indiana.
To learn more and to apply for the McKinney Climate Fellowship, visit this link.