Erica Tauzer; Community Planner; Environmental Design & Research

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Erica Tauzer
Community Planner
Environmental Design & Research

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Erica is a Community Planner at Environmental Design & Research, where she works with municipalities to create and implement comprehensive plans incorporating sustainability concepts like multi-modal transportation planning and other smart growth concepts. As a 2009-2010 NWF Fellow, Erica focused on creating a greenhouse gas inventory for Albion College.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation as a fellow help shape your career path?
Erica Tauzer:
It was a great launch board. It helped build confidence that I could collaborate with others to make something happen out of basically nothing. It gave me good sense of entrepreneurship, while having the resources and support needed to make my ideas come to life The workshops on project design and management, the peer-to-peer networking and all the other parts of the Campus Ecology Fellowship were really good ways to successfully get our ideas on campus off the ground. Having a successful project to stand on helps with everything that you do in the future related to those ideas.

DC: What was the top thing, a skill perhaps, that you learned in your professional development at NWF?
Documentation. I remember having to go through the process of articulating what it was that we wanted to do exactly and then reporting all that we did. It gave me experience in grant writing and project reporting, which at the time was new to me. It taught me how to formulate mission statements, goals and metrics needed to get things done effectively.

DC: You are now working with Environmental Design & Research. What do they do, and why did you choose to work there?
I work as a community planner for EDR, which is a woman-owned small business in Upstate New York with landscape architects, civil engineers, environmental regulatory specialists, ecologists, community planners, cultural resource professionals, graphic communication and mapping specialists. When looking for my next step here in Syracuse, I really liked the kind of projects that they worked on; everything seemed focused on sustainability goals in one form: waterfront revitalization, brownfield redevelopment, smart growth, agriculture protection, and wind energy development.

It’s a really good team; that was another thing. The people that I am working with are all really team-focused. Also, the creativity – because it’s a smaller firm, we get lots of different projects to stay afloat, and it keeps me busy with all the different projects going on at the same time.

DC: What is your role there?
I’m a planner – a community planner. Since I’m relatively new, I’m getting experience with lots of different roles ranging from proposal drafting, policy and other data analysis, organizing public/ stakeholder meetings, project mapping, socio-economic forecasting and scenario analysis. We work with municipalities – towns, cities and counties – on a variety of projects like facilitating comprehensive plans, multi-modal transportation planning (e.g., getting more bike routes and pedestrian areas developed) and revising zoning codes (e.g. smart growth planning – making areas allow for concentrated development and reworking laws that promote traditional sprawled development).

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
ET: My personal mission is to work towards a sustainable future that includes conserving our climate, land, and water, protecting unique places and a sense of community, and standing up for human dignity and rights.

DC: What motivated you to begin on this path?
I think at the end of the day that would be my parents. My dad works for the Natural Resources Conservation District, so he lives and breathes conservation and works with landowners to protect their land. My mom is a teacher and caretaker and works with the elderly and disabled a lot, so that perspective has inspired me to think about the aspects of social justice in everything that I do. She has taught me so much about strength and perseverance.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
I entered college right when the movement was starting – at that time it was called the “Step It Up Movement”. I would say that was the first time I had heard the word “sustainability”. I would also consider feminist thinkers like bell hooks and Donna Haraway, the environmental writer Donella Meadows and activists like Berta Cáceres to be inspirational leaders for all people working towards sustainability goals. These people have given me a deep respect for the activism and pragmatism needed to work towards sustainability goals. You not only need to be able to communicate and speak up for issues, but you also have to be both critical of systems while working to change them, often times from within.

And then, of course, influencers and inspirations for me include all my mentors: teachers, coworkers and peers – one of the reasons that I got involved with all these projects is because it was a fun, smart and thoughtful group of friends; there were a lot of young people involved in the sustainability work that I’ve been a part of. I have found that really energizing.

DC: You mention having mentors – professors and others. How have they helped you developing your career path?
I think in two ways: identifying opportunities and setting realistic goals.

I was really perseverant in learning what opportunities were out there, ranging from jobs, scholarships or this campus ecology fellowship on my own, but I couldn’t have done it without the support from professors. They were always open to reading over my applications and proposals, giving me a lot of important insights. Once they got to know me a bit, they would let me know when they heard about other opportunities.

Working with these mentors helped to develop interpersonal skills too, like being able to go into an meeting and come out with something concrete; working with others takes time and patience, and they were great teachers in that.

DC: Do you plan to seek out opportunities to act as a mentee again or perhaps a mentor yourself?
I should (laughs). I think it’s important to pay it forward, while respecting the wisdom of others.

DC: How important do you feel it is for students to receive project design and management and/or leadership experience before entering the working world?
ET: I think it’s hugely important for students, particularly for those pursuing sustainability goals. Sustainability efforts need innovative people, and innovative people need leadership and project management skills. It’s nothing but good when students can have a way to practice leadership and project management in a thoughtful and supportive environment.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability either in infrastructure and built environment sector or just overall?
I would stress the value of perseverance. Sometimes things get tedious, people are hard to work with, or you embark on doing things that you don’t know a lot about; the beauty of working on sustainability is that there’s always the “Big Picture” that you can remind yourself of. Seeing this “Big Picture” and seeing yourself as part of a team of people are really important for maintaining perseverance and making a difference for sustainability. It’s also important to have a vision that you can use as a compass.

Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

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Date Added: May 15, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017