Student Spotlight: Jared Enriquez

Jared Enriquez, City and Regional Planning

What is your area of research?

I am a third-year Ph.D. student in city and regional planning. My research agenda focuses on how communities can improve shoreline resilience amid the challenges of youth out-migration and the governmental devolution of risk management. Despite advancements in technology and knowledge, implementation of best practices, and the emergence of collaborative governance arrangements, the number of properties negatively impacted by environmental risks continuously increases. For my dissertation, I investigate how aging population structures influence local capacity to mitigate flood risks. I use surveys and qualitative methods to understand and evaluate local preferences for “renaturalization” approaches, such as restoration and biodiversity plans, that are intended to mitigate flood risks while producing numerous economic and environmental co-benefits.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

I became attracted to urban planning for many reasons. As a child, I sought to understand why cities produce contradictory experiences and identities for its residents. Identities are nested within scales that incorporate and exclude, and even as a young child, I was equally repulsed and fascinated by enclave formation and the impacts of inequality. I wanted to become an architect and studied architecture as an undergraduate, but architects face limitations in their social impact and are subjected to market booms and busts. As such, architects make incremental insertions in city design. Sustainable cities require long-term planning and inclusive processes of deliberation, and planners facilitate the actors who make the built environment into places of meaning.

Why is this research important?

Better land management decisions and emergency management planning should reduce the nuisances and disasters of flood risks, especially for the elderly, who routinely die at the highest rates in extreme climate events. Restoration creates environmental amenities and affirms local place identity, which could resuscitate struggling rural economies by enhancing local governments’ financial capture from tourism and property taxes from new residents.

One important dimension of my research is that it reveals the unintended consequences of planning for restoration. Improving the local quality of life through natural amenity restoration seems culturally benign, but is often not produced through equitable means. The ambitious, but impossible, pursuit of recapturing environmental conditions in places irrevocably altered by human presence fascinates me academically, because restoration deliberation processes signal where cultural biases supersede scientific expertise to “preserve” landscapes for certain populations. Through my research, I hope to discover how restoration approaches could become even more inclusive and multi-functional while also appealing to community members averse to change.

How has your background influenced your scholarship?

My background molded me into a natural mediator and medium for processing multiple perspectives and translating research for diverse audiences. I come from a mixed-income, primarily Mexican-American community in San Antonio, Texas. The neighborhood is at the cultural and economic crossroads of San Antonio’s Mexican-American communities, which was both deterministic and symbolic to the formation of my ethnic identity. Through literal centrality to the promises and perils of American life, I became an astute observer to the contradictions of urban governance. Ultimately cities exemplify the paradoxical opportunities of capitalism. Cities manifest both the virtues (cooperation and resilience) and evils (greed and exploitation) of human nature. Because of my background, I recognize that most things are grey and few processes or decisions should be evaluated through a binary lens. Places are described in simple terms because humans must interpret and make comprehensible the world’s complexities. Growing up with challenges, but always around many who had it worse, made me aware that communities are never simple, and my work reflects this philosophy.    

What else has influenced your thinking as a researcher or scholar?

Cornell’s academic community continually challenges me and fulfills my intellectual curiosities. I can’t speak high enough praises for my peers and collaborators throughout all departments at Cornell. My graduate committee members (Stephan Schmidt and Mildred Warner in city and regional planning; Rebecca Schneider in natural resources) have been indispensable to my development as a scholar. Further, there are over half a dozen faculty members not officially designated on my committee with whom I maintain continual contact and find irreplaceable.    

Outside of Cornell, I worked as an educator for several years and my experiences as a middle school teacher changed my life. It was through teaching K-12 that I understood my calling was to be educator, much to the detriment of my material desires.  

I understand that you're in the 2017-2018 cohort of the NextGen Professors Program. How did you find out about this program and what inspired you to apply?

Mexican-Americans account for around 10% of the U.S. population and there are 77 accredited planning programs in North America, but only a handful of programs have tenured-track planning faculty of Latin American origin. I have a personal agenda to contribute towards making the academy more reflective of American communities.

There are numerous mentoring and fellowship programs that recruit students of color, especially in STEM disciplines. For my discipline, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning began a pre-doctoral program for students of color in 2013, and my participation in that was highly valuable. I was elated to see Cornell begin to offer something that allows non-STEM students participate.

I observed notice of the NextGen Professors Program through two channels, the Graduate School Announcements sent to all Cornell grad students and the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement email listserv (I highly recommend all underrepresented students subscribe). As one of only two underrepresented, American-born Ph.D. students in my department, our college does not offer mentoring opportunities that explicitly address the unique needs and situations American students of color encounter in their quest to become academics and researchers. I am very grateful that Cornell has created this interdisciplinary program, which will give students access to expertise that could improve the success rates of underrepresented scholars.

What do you hope to learn and achieve in your time with the NextGen Professors Program?

As a third-year Ph.D. student, I am not applying for post-grad opportunities yet, but the NextGen Professors Program will outline all the steps I need to take which are very quickly approaching. Through participation, I hope to establish a close network of peers who support one another through the challenges of postgraduate employment. Many of us will eventually work in institutions with fewer resources or less support than Cornell, but we will thrive if we enter those positions with a great professional network.  

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

During decision time, I had three great offers. Cornell was the only institution with TA compensation high enough to prevent me from accumulating more debt, and was significantly more flexible in its approach to graduate education. Making the decision was incredibly difficult, and I initially chose a flagship public university. After realizing I would have access to legends in my discipline, and that Cornell’s land-grant status would award many of the same opportunities of public universities, I chose Cornell.  

What’s next for you?

After completing and defending my dissertation, I will compete to secure the seemingly unobtainable: a tenure-track, assistant professor position (but I will also be applying to postdoc opportunities). Whether a junior faculty member or a postdoc, my next two lines of research inquiry investigate: 1) the socio-environmental impacts of rural and peri-urban retirement migration to Latin America and South Africa, and 2) how shifting Mexican/Latin identities reshape exurban and suburban landscapes, heavily influencing resource management in North America’s existing and upcoming frontiers of urbanization. In addition to a career in academia, I also hope to advise and consult nongovernmental organizations and governments on water management policies.  

Any advice for incoming graduate students?

First, congratulations! Keep in mind that graduate school is a major commitment and when you matriculate, you are also establishing a new home for a number of years and dedicating yourself to a lifestyle of intense studies.

Ithaca offers stunning vistas, beautiful waterfalls, good hiking, a thriving local agricultural community—especially for wine and dairy products—as well as the assets of Cornell. Despite its utopian attributes, it is also somewhat far from major cities and its remoteness does not work for everyone (though this isolation inspires positive bonding within the local and college communities).

Despite that caveat, Cornell’s unique status as an Ivy-league, land-grant institution is immeasurably beneficial for graduate students. It allows students to conduct research across a more diverse array of academic networks than would be possible in exclusively public or private institutions. Cornell’s land-grant status also allows students to infiltrate both pedantic theoretical discourse and practical community engagement opportunities at equally high levels, thus making it possible for grad students to fashion ideal training for the full spectrum of potential post-academic careers.

Interview by Sally Kral, communications and outreach assistant in the Graduate School