Jessica Price named a Rising Star Alumni Award recipient

Jessica Price
Jessica Price

MS in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development (2010) and PhD in Environment and Resources (2016)

As cities move to increase renewable energy usage and sustainability, Nelson Institute alumna and Rising Star Alumni Award winner Jessica Price is leading the way. From her work as renewable energy strategy lead for the Nature Conservancy in New York to her new role as the sustainability and resilience manager for the City of Madison, Price is using her Nelson Institute education and experience to bring an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to sustainability.

A graduate of the Nelson Institute Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development master’s program (now Environmental Conservation) and the Environment and Resources doctoral program, Price is grateful for the experiences and skills she gained as a student. Among the many memories she has of her time at the Institute is her experience with the Certificate on Humans and the Global Environment (CHANGE) program. This National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Fellowship allowed Price to combine social and natural sciences to better understand vulnerability and resiliency in communities facing environmental challenges. Led by Jonathan Patz, the director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the John P. Holton Chair of Health and the Environment with appointments in the Nelson Institute and the Department of Population Health Sciences, the project “Vulnerability and Sustainability in Coupled Human-Natural Systems: An Integrative Traineeship in Sustainability and the Global Environment” included work from over 25 staff and students as well as two co-principal investigators.

“One of the great things about the CHANGE program was that it brought together people and approaches from different departments,” said Price. “We learned how environmental challenges can be, need to be, understood and addressed from multiple angles. It was a fantastic opportunity to begin practicing interdisciplinary research and problem solving. That was a transformative experience for me and something I still apply in my work. Even years later, I have friendships and collaborations with people I met through CHANGE.”

Price shared that the collaboration and holistic thinking that she learned at the Nelson Institute helped her to coordinate one of her biggest projects post-graduation, the Long Island Solar Roadmap. This stakeholder driven initiative aimed to advance Long Island’s transition to renewable energy by mapping low-impact sites for solar energy installations and identifying clear strategies for rapid, economical, and equitable deployment of solar technology in the region. Price led this collaborative effort by The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife, with the support from a diverse consortium of regional partners. The project’s final report and interactive web map were released in March 2021.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the Roadmap was convening and collaborating with over 38 stakeholders representing diverse organizations and perspectives in the region. Bringing folks together to create a shared vision, resources, and solutions is such a powerful way to address challenges,” Price said. “We took a science-based approach that included social science, spatial science, and methods of sincere stakeholder engagement. That is a skillset that was a part of my learning at the Nelson Institute that carries through in my work now.”

Jessica Price and fellow 2021 Alumni Award recipient Vijay Limaye talk about their work.

Price noted that she was first introduced to spatial science, including environmental observation and informatics during her time with the Nelson Institute.

“The Nelson Institute is where I became a spatial thinker. I see an even greater focus on that now and that’s fantastic,” Price said referencing the Nelson Institute Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) MS program.

In fact, Price has supported the EOI program and future spatial thinkers by serving as a mentor for students in the EOI program. Specifically, she mentored EOI student August Schultz during the hands-on professional project portion of the program. Schultz helped develop a model for the Long Island Solar Roadmap project that allowed the team to correctly interpret satellite data and create a novel land cover classification that was used to map low-impact sites for solar installations.

In addition to her work with The Nature Conservancy, Price is also a member of the North American Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE-North America. In 2021, she received the Distinguished Service Award for her exceptional contributions to IALE-North America “in terms of time, energy and dedication” and advancement of the IALE-North America mission.

This summer, Price began a new adventure, returning to Madison on August 9 to become the new sustainability and resilience manager for the City of Madison. In this role, Price leads climate, sustainability, and resilience work.  While her work is just beginning, Price says she is happy to be back in Madison and thrilled to be working with a dedicated team.

“I’m excited to think about resiliency holistically,” Price said of her new role. “I will be thinking about mitigation, adaptation, diversity, all of the components of resiliency. Being able to bring this together and work with this fantastic team, I’m a little star struck.”

As Price returns to Madison, she is also excited to reconnect in-person with the Nelson Institute community.

“It’s a great community and one of those places that felt like home right away,” Price said of the Institute. “It’s inspiring to see my fellow Nelson Institute alumni out in the world doing amazing work. So, to be recognized [as a Rising Star] and counted among them means a lot. To be a part of a community that goes above and beyond is really special, and I’m very happy to come back and connect with everyone.”