I began grad school for Community Psychology after being in the workforce for many years. Drawn back to school by my interest in the factors that lead to healthy communities and to the wellbeing of individuals, I recognized sustainability as a crucial component to the health and longevity of any place. My previous work involved regular travel and I often walked around unknown cities in my free time – exploring, taking photos, and writing. I can see now that I’ve always wondered and asked questions about places: what makes them feel good or bad? How do physical environment, natural beauty, evidence of history and character, the ways that people greet and talk to each other, and the ability to rest, relax, or connect with others contribute to the feeling of a place?

My time as a PEWS Graduate Fellow from January to August 2022 has centered on working with Dr. Andrew Bernier and Dr. Carlie Trott, writing grant applications and planning events related to sustainability education. When I decided to go back to school, I knew that I wanted my studies to be driven by practical action that is relevant and, hopefully, helpful to the world outside of academia. I believe that universities should be profoundly connected to their surrounding communities, and it has been gratifying to hone my skills and my thinking about how UC can work with community groups and local educators on the topic of urban sustainability. Sustainability – easily associated with the conservation of natural resources and the reduce-reuse-recycle message of environmentalism – can be considered in other ways, particularly in urban environments like Cincinnati.

Because of the PEWS Fellowship, I now have more questions to ask: what does it mean to have a systems approach to economic, social, and environmental sustainability? How can educational assets within UC and local organizations better serve under-resourced populations? What education techniques encourage the creative problem-solving inherent to a sustainability mindset? How can the 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati achieve more equitable outcomes in health, learning, and opportunity? How can UC encourage an interdisciplinary approach to urban issues that unites educators and students across different colleges and departments?

Sustainability’s place in social psychology (the investigation of how people affect each other) and environmental psychology (the investigation of how people are affected by their environment) has shaped my first year of grad school, broadened my thinking, and provided a framework from which I will continue to explore the health of communities and the people who live in them.

Jessica Roncker, PEWS 2022 Sustainability Events & Grant Support Fellow