Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

At Brown, she is channeling this interest into a career in environmental planning, a field that combines urban planning and environmental science to forecast and mitigate the effects of climate change on cities. 

Melissa Lopez

Much of her education has centered around geographic information systems, or GIS — an essential mapping tool for environmental planners that, in her words, “can improve the way environmental analysis is done.” 

While working with the landscape architecture firm LOLA, for example, Lopez used GIS to examine the elevation changes that dictate rainwater flow in a vulnerable Miami, Florida neighborhood. 

“By creating models that show where water might accumulate, offices can prioritize those areas for park planning,” she says. “Such parks can absorb the water and alleviate those areas from flood damage.”

Her work with LOLA, as well as with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and the Brown Office of Sustainability, earned her the recognition of the Udall Foundation, an organization that awards scholarships to college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or to the environment. Lopez is among 55 Udall Scholarship awardees in 2020.

Ultimately, Lopez would like to work in city government, designing and preparing urban areas for climate change with an eye toward equity.

“This type of work is definitely beyond a single solution. That only reminds me how important it is that we have as many people as possible planning for our city's futures,” she says. “Climate change is happening. We need to have professionals who use all kinds of modern-day tools like GIS to address it.”