Mentorship Spotlight: Building Resilience Locally
Mentee Libby Szuflita is a Master’s student in City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in transportation planning with a Natural Hazards Resilience Certificate. Her research focus is on growth projections in long-range transportation planning, particularly how large transportation infrastructure projects impact land use decisions and how resilience can be prioritized in these decisions. Prior to graduate school, she worked for a sustainable transportation advocacy non-profit in New York City. She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Sociology from Bowdoin College.
Mentor Michael Dexter is a climate risk and resilience expert and Certified Floodplain Manager. He works as the Finance and Grants Manager for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, where he supports local, state, and federal efforts to protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity for one of the 28 estuaries of national significance. Previously, he worked in the EPA Administrators Office, coordinating climate adaptation planning and environmental financing efforts that support federal, state, tribal, and local efforts to adapt to climate change. He has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Columbia University and currently resides in Sarasota, Florida.
Through her mentorship with Michael, Libby has learned about the important role that local government plays in building resilience on the ground. “Michael has shared how local transportation and public works departments oftentimes have the most direct experience managing the consequences of poor planning for hazards, and play an important role in advocating for adaptation,” she said. “I can
bring lessons of adaptation to any future role I have, whether it has ‘resilience’ in the title or not.” Libby has appreciated learning about adaptation career opportunities across the US, as Michael has worked in Washington, D.C., New York, Seattle, and Sarasota.
Michael and Libby have also taken a closer look at the process behind EPA grant funding for resilience work. Specifically, they have discussed how block grants have unique potential to be utilized for environmental programs that incorporate climate change adaptation. Tribal governments have been notably innovative in leveraging EPA grants for adaptation. In their next meeting, Michael and Libby will investigate how the word “adaptation” is applied in varying contexts, and how to take action in the name of adaptation in the most productive way.
Michael has enjoyed learning about Libby’s interests in transportation and adaptation, and how these interests were fostered through her coursework and education. “Hearing how climate adaptation is being covered in undergrad and graduate programs gives hope for the continued mainstreaming of adaptation as a defined field of research within multiple disciplines,” he said.
Thanks to both for sharing what they’ve learned!