Erin Ronald, a 2019 sociology and environmental studies major, explains her life’s goal to help cities deal with climate change through the metaphor of a car: A mitigation plan is how cities plan to “pump the brakes” on the way they impact the environment, while adaptation plans are like airbags, or how cities will protect themselves from the coming consequences of climate change.
“I’m really interested in how cities can reduce carbon emissions, especially how to do that in an equitable, community-driven way,” said the SCU alumna. Now, with her Fulbright award to study urban climate mitigation policy in several cities in Sweden, Ronald is well on her way to becoming a climate-justice master mechanic.
Working through the European version of the World Wildlife Fund, she will be learning from a country that is among the most successful and ambitious in this arena. Her goal is to bring best practices back to the U.S. to help cities set workable climate action policy. “If people in your city aren’t invested,” she said, “nothing is going to happen.”
Ronald will land in Sweden with a toolbox filled with sustainability experiences.
Since graduating last year, she has been working as one of 90 Civic Spark fellows across the U.S. Stationed in Truckee, near South Lake Tahoe where she spent her summers as a child, Ronald is helping that city develop its own climate action and adaptation plans.
At SCU, she won the Witold Krassowski Sociology Award for exemplary research into environmental behavioral factors among San Jose residents. As a transportation intern at SCU’s Center for Sustainability, she worked on the University’s own ambitious Climate Action Plan.
“The Center is the driver behind SCU's leadership in sustainability, and everyone who works there is absolutely incredible,” said the young alumna.
Ronald also studied sustainable development in Northern Europe during her study abroad program in Copenhagen. A class in urban livability helped clinch her passion for helping cities achieve climate goals in conjunction with civic stakeholders.
Ronald served as a Global Social Benefit Fellow in Ghana through the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship; helped run SCU’s OxFam club; was on the Food Recovery Network leadership team, and participated in the Sustainable Living Undergraduate Research Project (SLURP) working on the University’s eco-tray program. She was on the rowing team her first year, and worked in the Forge Garden through the Santa Clara Community Action Program’s Best Buddies program. Ronald also was part of a group that won a $4,000 grant to work on Extra Eats, an app to tackle food waste at SCU.
Ronald developed some of her passion for climate justice from her grandmother, Trish Ronald, who is an avid conservationist and for years served as board president of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. Her activism influenced the Ronald family, including Erin’s mom Jane Miller, a urologist at the University of Washington, and dad Peter Ronald, a commercial real estate banker.
“We can all be proud of Erin’s accomplishments,” said Ronald’s sociology professor Marilyn Fernandez, who calls her a rigorous and exacting researcher. “She will continue to make SCU proud.”