Skye Hart

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I realized that the passion I felt about the equity and environmental issues facing my hometown of Baton Rouge could be turned into a profession, and that profession is planning.

Why did you choose Cornell and AAP?

I'm currently pursuing a master of regional planning degree from AAP, but I'm also an alum of AAP's urban and regional studies program. I chose to come to Cornell for my undergraduate education because of its great reputation, the size of its student body, the plethora of opportunities, and its American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program. Cornell had been my dream school since middle school, and while visiting my grandparents in western New York, I persuaded my parents to drive to Ithaca. I instantly fell in love with the beauty of the area and knew that this is where I wanted to spend (at least) four years of my life. Now, I'm tacking on an additional year and a half to complete an accelerated master's degree, which is a lovely deal.

What inspired you to join the field of city and regional planning?

I actually started out in architecture but soon realized that my strengths and passions lie more in serving people directly than in design, so I switched into planning and put my architecture credits towards a minor. To be fair, I wasn't terribly sure what urban planning was when I applied to Cornell, but after spending time with other students in AAP, I realized that the passion I felt about the equity and environmental issues facing my hometown of Baton Rouge could be turned into a profession, and that profession is planning.

What experiences have contributed to your sense of belonging at AAP?

As an undergraduate, I was invited to join the Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholars program. Through this program, I received funding to conduct independent, interdisciplinary research on planning with Native American communities in cities. I spent 2 1/2 weeks in Seattle conducting interviews with incredible people leading and working for Native-run nonprofits, as well as with planners from the City of Seattle. This project ended up serving as my undergraduate honors thesis. I chose this research topic because, as a Seneca student, I never saw my experiences reflected in planning literature. There seems to be literature written about working with most under-served and marginalized communities, but there is very little planning literature about working with Native people — we are made invisible on our own homelands. I chose to focus on the urban Native experience because that is my personal experience, but also because the majority of Native people live in urban areas yet most urban planners don't realize that they should be thinking about us.

What are your extracurricular interests and how have you incorporated them into your college life?

One of the things that most excited me about coming to Cornell was being able to be a part of the Indigenous community on campus and being closer to Haudenosaunee communities (including my own nation). As an undergraduate student, I was a member of Native American Students at Cornell (NASAC), where I worked with other students to get Cornell to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on its official calendar. One of my favorite experiences as a part of NASAC was organizing a week of celebration for Indigenous Peoples' Day in collaboration with many different student groups, culminating in a big celebration with performances, food, and activities on a Saturday evening. I am now a member of the Indigenous Graduate Student Association. On the professional side, I spent the last two years of undergrad working with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. Through this internship, I worked with about a dozen municipalities in New York's Southern Tier on state climate certification programs. Three of these municipalities now have Climate Smart Communities certification from New York State, and at least five are NYSERDA-certified Clean Energy Communities. I currently work for one of these municipalities, the Town of Ithaca, as their planning and sustainability intern.

What do you hope to accomplish during your time at AAP and after graduation?

As an undergraduate, I learned how to tap into the richness of resources available to Cornell students, and I was able to complete an honors thesis in an under-researched field. For my master's degree exit project, I hope to translate this research into actual work that will elevate Seattle's Native community in the ways that they see fit. Even if this idea for my exit project doesn't come to fruition, I know that I will still have the opportunity to pursue another real-world project to support Indigenous and/or marginalized communities using the resources and support available to me at Cornell. Following my second Cornell graduation, I plan to continue doing work that addresses equity issues, with a long-term goal of integrating social equity and Indigenous place-based knowledge into mainstream environmental planning and policy work.