Leaving Room for Serendipity

Mentee Mary Hannah Smith is an urban planner hoping to help communities proactively adapt to climate change. She currently works as an Associate Resiliency and Environmental Planner at the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC), serving 39 suburban and rural towns along with the City of Worcester.  She holds a B.A. in Global Studies, a B.S. in Sustainability, and a Masters Degree in Urban Planning. Prior to attending graduate school, Mary Hannah helped electric utilities improve their public communication of power outages. Mary Hannah is an Arizona transplant to New England and loves living in a place with four seasons. She is an aspiring cross country skier, baker, and balcony gardener.

Mentor Tom Eisele is a resiliency and sustainability consultant in New York City and Miami, Florida. He is an urban planner, licensed architect, LEED Accredited Professional, Certified Passive House Designer, member of the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Adaptation Professionals. He has over 37 years of professional experience on building and planning projects around the world. From 2010 to 2019, Tom was Senior Policy Advisor in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability (MOS) and the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency (MOR) where he drafted local laws amending the city’s construction codes, zoning resolution and environmental regulations. Tom also created work force development programs and policies addressing environmental justice. He has acted as principal drafter of over 60 local laws. Tom worked with MOS to develop methodologies for tracking building energy consumption and establish metrics for this purpose, including the targets for mandated Greenhouse Gas Emissions caps for buildings as part of the city’s Climate Mobilization Act. After Hurricane Sandy, Tom worked with the city’s Department of Buildings on updates to flood-resistant construction requirements of the NYC Building Code. He also served on the Technical Review Committee in the city’s Housing Recovery Office (HRO) to help homeowners rebuild after the disaster.

At the beginning of the ASAP mentorship program, Mary Hannah had recently begun her first professional planning role at CMRPC. She was feeling uncertain about future professional development outside of the graduate school environment, so during their first call  Tom and Mary Hannah discussed a series of professional goals. However, these were quickly put aside. Mary Hannah realized that what she most missed about an academic environment was not the structure of classes and internships but the opportunity to discuss complicated policy topics with like-minded peers. Fortunately, over the last six months, Tom has been happy to muse about subjects ranging from the net effects of greenfield solar development, individual vs. collective climate action, climate action plans, municipal growth controls, and personal resilience for climate adaptation professionals. 

Mary Hannah and Tom have also spent time sharing information about projects they are currently working on like Mary Hannah’s municipal climate resilience work with small towns in Central Massachusetts, and Tom’s work supporting a Climate Positive Community Plan for Port Jervis, New York. Tom has also shared thoughts drawn from his long experience as a policy-maker, including his philosophy on the role of policy-makers in the policy-creation process, and how to maintain perspective in the face of policy opposition or setbacks.

Tom also shared candid advice on the function and process of networking, both for professional development and to support policy-making goals. Mary Hannah had viewed networking as a “necessary evil” but Tom’s viewpoint has reframed this process for her as an opportunity for meaningful connection with like-minded individuals and those with whom she might disagree. Tom’s encouragement to “leave room for serendipity” in networking and professional development especially resonated with her, and summarizes their ASAP mentorship experience. 

Thanks to both for sharing what they’ve learned!