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Sarai Zelada

“I envision the traditional narrative of an urban planner shifting and am ready to start creating that new narrative.”

A proud daughter of immigrants, Sarai Zelada is only the second woman in her family to earn a college degree. Sarai completed her bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Since graduating, she has worked as an AmeriCorps service member in Cape Cod, helped rehabilitate endangered sea turtles in South Texas, and developed inclusive programming for Earthwatch Institute.

After working for several years, Sarai was excited to apply to graduate school and continue her education. However, her plans were derailed when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sarai delayed beginning graduate school in order to help care for her sister and support her family. After her sister made a full recovery, Sarai was able to return to her goals and began graduate school at U-M in Fall 2020.

Sarai is studying urban planning, and she wants to help create healthy cities that are both sustainable and inclusive. Through her work in the environmental conservation field, Sarai witnessed the impact of environmental issues on urban spaces and the disproportionate effects that these issues have on communities of color. Sarai believes planning is a tool for social change and wants to contribute to dismantling symptoms of racial inequality in the built environment. She is determined to prioritize the health of communities, especially communities that have been historically ignored. During her time at U-M, Sarai has continued to champion principles of equity and inclusion and serves on the diversity, equity, and inclusion team at Taubman College.

Although Sarai has faced many challenges, she remains steadfast in her pursuit of her goals. Despite not seeing many women of color represented in her field, Sarai remains hopeful. She says “I envision the traditional narrative of an urban planner shifting and am ready to start creating that new narrative.”

CEW+ commends Sarai’s resilience and has named her a 2021-22 Margaret Dow Towsley Scholar.