Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Elizabeth Theirl

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Autumn 2021

Research Project: Land of “10,000 Lakes”: Analyzing Blue Spaces through an Environmental Justice Lens

Project Description:  My research focuses on access to “blue spaces”, or public spaces built around bodies of water that confer health benefits and promote active lifestyles, as an environmental justice issue. Exploratory in nature, my research intends to reveal possible inequalities regarding access to blue space—even if not clearly visible in the everyday landscape. Through the formulation of a Blue Space Equality Index, which includes several proxy variables for accessibility such as transportation routes, water quality, sidewalks & bench availability, and recreational usages, I will examine three blue space regions in Minneapolis. My investigation of blue space accessibility will shed light on how the residents of Minneapolis connect with the environment around them and potentially expose the harsh realities for some community members who call the Twin Cities home.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

It’s important to set goals and keep up with your research obligations! I find that if I set weekly goals that I am able to make continued progress on my research project. Some weeks are harder than others, but I’ve learned that it’s important to be consistent with your research endeavors. 

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

Engage in research that resonates with you! Early in my undergraduate studies, I was involved in a wet lab that focused on understanding the molecular mechanism behind autism spectrum disorder. Although that was a very interesting research experience and I learned a lot of valuable techniques, I found that I was much more passionate about geography research. Don’t be afraid to jump into a completely different discipline as there are so many questions that have yet to be answered!