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Sustainable Citizen: Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz


Vanessa Fixmer-Oriaz found her passion for environmentalism when a Justin Timberlake meme caught her eye. The poster, sporting the phrase “Bringing Geeky Back,” successfully coaxed Vanessa into joining the science club at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina. From her involvement with the club, Vanessa was able to attend the Power Shift Conference. After hearing impassioned speakers from all walks of life discuss how climate change has effected them, Vanessa knew she had to focus on Environmental Studies.

Vanessa then transferred to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to complete her undergraduate degree. Chapel Hill is where Vanessa met her mentor, Ben Hitchings, and really started to dig into the planning and the development side of environmentalism. After graduating, she moved to the Philippines on a Fulbright scholarship to study how climate change affected bamboo farmers. You may have even seen Vanessa riding RAGBRAI in 2014 on her bamboo bike! The move to Iowa was prompted when Vanessa’s wife, Natalie Fixmer-Oriaz, gained a position as a professor of Communication Studies and Women’s Studies here at the University of Iowa. Vanessa then began her master's degree program in the School of Urban and Regional Planning. She now works at the local branch of HBK Engineering where she is focusing on projects such as the plan for the Iowa City Poor Farm in conjunction with Grow: Johnson County, and the Iowa City Master Parks Plan.

As a planner, Vanessa spends her time researching and engaging with clients as well as designing. “Doing this kind of work has definitely given me another reason to pay attention to politics, this job encompasses a lot,” she says. Planning can and should be an equalizer, “I want to make sure everybody is represented. That’s what keeps me up at night.” Vanessa is a force of intelligence and passion and we are glad she calls Iowa City home.'

By Eden DeWald

News & Events Climate Narrative Blog

Sustainability at Iowa

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