Jennifer Lenhart, USA, 2005-2007
My name is Jennifer Lenhart, a MESPOM graduate from the first batch (2005- 2007). I am half-Swedish, half-American, but currently reside in Amsterdam. I am a PhD candidate at Wageningen University, examining urban climate policies. Wageningen is an environment and development-focused university and its students and staff hail from all over the world – a perfect follow-up to MESPOM.
Prior to the PhD, I held several positions. I jumped around a bit, geographically and professionally, but my work and passion remain the same: a focus on cities and sustainability. After graduation, I stayed in Lund, assisting research at IIIEE and interning at the Malmö City Planning Office with its sustainable city planning strategies. Following Malmö, I spent 6 months in Nairobi, Kenya with UN-Habitat’s Urban Environmental Planning Branch. I returned to Sweden, to Malmö Environment Department, working with its climate planning and communication. While challenges persist, cities serve as an apt platform to address both the contributions and consequences of climate change (and other environmental challenges) via smart planning and engaging stakeholders and citizens.
From MESPOM, I attained numerous skills sets. Academically, I learned about appropriate policy and economic instruments, environmental technologies and infrastructure, as well as (urban) ecosystem services. Professionally, I learned to be adaptable to changing work environments, engaging with persons of different cultural and professional backgrounds, and to develop a lasting professional network. Personally, I met some of my best friends and value my professors as mentors. The sincerity of MESPOM reaches beyond lectures, scientific articles or fieldtrips; it is personal stories from across the globe, visits to friends in their home countries, or dinner together (years later) while attending a conference. (A few of us will have dinner here in Doha, at the UN Climate Conference.)
Living in the Lund/ Malmö for several years after graduating, I met MESPOM students in the 5 batches that followed my own. Such interactions fed my enthusiasm to get involved with MESPOM at the alumni level. I sat on the executive boards of the IIIEE Network and the Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association (both linked to MESPOM). We also organized a MESPOM Alumni Conference in Budapest in 2010. Such (voluntary) activities reflect the value we place on MESPOM.
MESPOM also teaches you to learn to perform a balancing act: in the classroom and in the field. In addition to my PhD, I serve as a writer for IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin, attending multilateral environmental conferences. I also serve on the Executive Committee for Democrats Abroad Netherlands – to assist in (American) voter registration and to speak at (Dutch) events about the consequences of American foreign policy. My focus, however, remains on American environmental policies. After the PhD, I hope to return to the United States, applying the lessons of MESPOM, my PhD and related experiences to help green America’s cities. In the meantime, I reflect on such strategies in my blog – the urban observer (http://exploring-and-observing-cities.org/). Someday, I hope U.S. (and other) cities can adopt similar strategies as I have seen during and post MESPOM: the bicycle planning of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the renewable energy of Malmö, the retrofitting of Berlin, the transport planning of Seoul, or the local food networks of New York or Budapest. Coming to MESPOM as a student, you learn to recognize environmental problems; when you graduate you have the tools to address them.