Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Jim Harris Memorial Scholarship Award, established in 2002, is named for the founding chair of the School of Urban and Regional Planning. It is awarded each year to a student who has made an outstanding contribution through community service and this year's recipient is Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz.

Before Vanessa's tenure as a graduate student at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, she volunteered with several social justice organizations that sought to address racial, environmental, and gender inequities. While living in North Carolina for over a decade she was involved with the Black, Brown, and Green Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, and the Bamboo Network of the Philippines. According to Vanessa, Planning has shown her a way to build a professional life that shapes the world in which we live by incorporating the administrative and technical training offered here at the University of Iowa with active community engagement.

When the Service Chair position became available in the Urban and Regional Planning Student Association, she knew it would be a good fit for combining her desire to maintain community engagement throughout her graduate education.  As the Service Chair, Vanessa has organized several volunteer events for URP students to experience the diverse and rich community organizations in our area. These events ranged from volunteering with the annual Iowa River clean up, where they helped gather debris, tires, and recyclables off the banks of the river and pulled them from the canoes of other volunteers as they finished collecting items upstream, to helping a local organic farm with their fall harvest. They also planted a raingarden at the East Side Recycling Center, amending a water drainage issue in their parking lot, and they held a volunteer session set up with the Shelter House in early March of this year to assist in re-organizing their donation center. Vanessa believes that engaging with neighborhoods and communities is a vital part of strengthening our humanity and preparing ourselves to deal with the climate change risks that lay ahead.

On behalf of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, we are very proud to recognize Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz with the 2015 Jim Harris Memorial Scholarship Award for community service.