I was recently asked the five questions below for the “Faculty Fellow Five” section of the Leadership and Social Change Residential College (LSCRC) newsletter. Over the past year I have had the pleasure of serving as faculty fellow for the LSCRC, which is one of the newest living learning communities on campus and a community that has close connections with the SPIA undergraduate program.
1) How did you get to where you are now?
Someday I hope to write this story for my children so they know why I moved my life from the UK to the US. At this point, I have spent half of my life in each country, with my formative years in the UK and most of my higher education and professional life here. Both of my parents were teachers at a comprehensive school (a high school) in the county of Wiltshire and I grew up in a small village surrounded by farmland. One of the oldest houses in the village was built in the fifteenth century, and my family house was built around a hundred years later. When I arrived in Boston as a graduate student in 2000, I often found myself reflecting on the fact that the oldest parts of the city were probably built after my family house. I believe this intergenerational perspective has played a significant role in shaping my research and professional activities that center around sustainability. My education and training as a young civil engineer also provided me with a global perspective – by taking me to Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Ecuador – revealing our ability to shape (for good and bad) the environment that surrounds us. During my graduate studies in the US, my focus shifted to technology, management, and policy. While my civil engineering roots provided me with knowledge on how to build things, my graduate studies allowed me to explore the policy, law, and economic frameworks that shape why we build things. The legacy of this interdisciplinary education continues today through my research on sustainable water supply/sanitation and transportation systems and macro policies/strategies focused on how we can transform industrial states towards sustainability. I also think it is important to recognize that none of this would have been possible without the support I received over the years from university scholarship programs, professional organizations such as the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the US Transportation Research Board, and mentors who continue to inspire my work.
2) What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
We live in a beautiful area and I love riding my ElliptiGO around the town and rural roads. Yes, I am that person on the black standup/elliptical bike wearing the luminous yellow bib that you see around town!
3) If you could pick one person who you admire the most, who would it be and why?
I’m going to be a little cheeky here and change this question to … “If you could pick one type of person who you admire the most, who would it be and why?” The people I most admire at this moment in time are those who are using their voices/platforms to advocate for transformative change. People who fall into this group include Andrew Yang, Scott Stantens, Marjorie Kelly, Mariana Mazzucato, Jason Hickel, Giorgos Kallis, Steve Keen, and Grace Blakely to name a few. What they have in common are a set of ideas that challenge the status quo and advance visions that could benefit all members of society. While these ideas/visions vary, they are starting to shape narratives and agendas around the world that could form a new era of change.
4) If you could give one piece of advice to any student, what would it be?
When making any decision about your future, pay attention to what makes you the most excited/energized, and lean into this. When you do lean in, work collaboratively and strategically, and focus on what is truly important. I would also add the need to take risks and be adaptable when things don’t quite work as planned.
5) How does your work intersect with leadership and social change?
I would say the core of my work is connected with the need for visionary leadership to advance sustainability. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic we were facing two crises – one environmental and one social. The pandemic has temporarily eased the environmental crisis, but has dramatically worsened the social inequality crisis. Millions of people will struggle to recover from the economic shutdown and some may never recover. My work is focused on how do we change the structure of the systems we create so they directly address environmental and social crises, and could help minimize the impact of global shocks such as pandemics.