Northern Michigan University environmental studies and sustainability major Elizabeth Williams completed a three-month internship at BLOXHUB, the Nordic hub for sustainable urbanization in Copenhagen, Denmark. She pursued the opportunity as a recipient of the prestigious Voyager Scholarship created by the Obama Foundation and Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb. She states her dream is to redesign cities in ways that are equitable and financially, socially and environmentally sustainable.
"My summer with BLOXHUB's Science Forum Program was incredible," she said. "I couldn't have asked for a better place to immerse myself in understanding the green economy and urban planning. I am truly inspired by their ecosystem and how they foster communities and collaborations that transcend silos. Being more open and seeking partners outside the obvious, immediate circle is something I will certainly carry forward. Their culture of open dialogue and holistic problem-solving is also very inspiring. The experience has inspired a new project as I begin my senior year at Northern."
Along with meeting international delegations, Williams attended the UIA World Congress of Architects and the BMW Re:Leadership Conference. BLOXHUB also asked for her feedback on new ideas and the organization's goals and direction.
"It was cool because I feel like an intern's opinion usually isn't very valuable, but they were actively seeking my opinion as a young person, student, someone new to the company, and as an American.”
Williams said Denmark is further ahead in the sustainability realm than the U.S., but still has room for improvement. BLOXHUB focuses on the “built environment,” or the streets, parks and buildings that make up a space. This is an aspect that interested Williams and has influenced the research she will complete for her senior capstone project.
“They're thinking about sustainability issues from more than one angle," Williams said. "They even think about relatively little things like concrete; it is the least sustainable building material on the planet--period--and they're saying we should not be building with concrete anymore.
"I feel like we just don't have that kind of mentality in the U.S. because we're more economically driven. Industries don't like to share secrets with each other. They don't want anyone to profit from their ideas, but in Europe, they like to share that because they know everyone can go further together. It's more of a collective mindset than an individual mindset. They balance sustainability with economy quite well.”
The Voyager Scholarship is a two-year program for U.S. students in their junior and senior years of college who are committed to pursuing careers serving the public and their communities. Williams had all of her expenses covered and had the chance to choose where she would like to go for her internship. She contacted many organizations and was referred to BLOXHUB.
On a LinkedIn post, BLOXHUB bid Williams a wholehearted farewell at the end of her summer internship.
"We want to thank Elizabeth for bringing her remarkable spirit and passion for environmental studies and sustainability to the BLOXHUB team. It has been an absolute pleasure. Although we are sad to see her go, we find solace in her profound belief in the potential of local initiatives to bring about meaningful change. Her journey of learning and growth will undoubtedly translate into a positive impact on her future endeavors."
Williams developed a research project she embarked on this fall titled "Reimagining Streets as Spaces for Wealth Creation", which proposes the creation of a pedestrian plaza in Ishpeming. The project is funded by NMU's Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.
This story was prepared by Julia Seitz and Kristi Evans.