Marisa Rodriguez-McGill '02 wants to contribute to the revitalization of downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico by bringing residents out of the city and into the Southwest's first Urban Refuge, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). As a Transportation Planner for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Marisa works with biologists, hydrologists, ornithologists, engineers, and city officials to develop an eco-friendly route from Albuquerque to the refuge. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "The refuge will fulfill the goals of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to work with community partners to establish a 21st century conservation ethic and reconnect people, especially young people, to the natural world."
The 570-acre refuge, 75% of which has been secured, promises to be an environmental education destination where local children and their parents will learn what nature has to offer just outside the city. Today, the Refuge is an irrigated alfalfa farm that feeds local livestock but landscape architects and environmental scientists are working to restore native habitats to the area. "A Bobolink was just spotted at the refuge for the first time," says Marisa. "We're hoping the refuge becomes a catalyst for improving the education system here." Once complete, the trail will become a gateway to another world where wildlife flourishes.
Even though the Valle de Oro is only seven miles south of the city, getting people to and from the refuge is no small task. Right now, the only way to get there is by traveling along a busy highway that is the city's primary trucking route for bringing fresh produce and other goods into the city. "I didn't understand the power of this project until I started working on it," says Marisa. What began as a fellowship that ended in April, has now become a passion of Marisa's- to design a multi-use trail where people can travel safely by bus, car, bike, and even on foot toValle de Oro NWR.
Building the trail from Albuquerque to Valle de Oro requires two skills that she learned at Pike- the ability to think creativity and a love of learning. "In Mrs. Harmeling's and Mrs. Lonero's Spanish classes, we could make music videos and commercials to show what we had learned instead of just writing an essay or taking a quiz," says Marisa. "In Mrs. Cameron's science class, we found ways to captivate our peers by performing our experiments as a series of magic tricks." Today, Marisa is putting those skills to use as she works to garner public support and funding for the trail and the Refuge. She creates visual experiences that take the mystery out of the equation and offer solutions that work for everyone. "Public input is vital to the planning of the Refuge and the transportation," says Marisa. "I tell them this is your Refuge."
Marisa attended Pike from Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8 and remembers being happy in every grade. "Pike was such a small school. It was easy to know a little bit about everybody. I felt like I had a shared connection with everyone, and I still feel that way," says Marisa. After Pike, attended boarding school at St. George's School in Rhode Island and then headed to Colorado College to major in Romance Languages. "I can still decline the 5th declension neuter nouns that I learned in Mr. Heinze's 7th grade Latin class," says Marisa. In 2012, she got her Master's in Urban Planning from The Edward J. Bloustein School at Rutgers University. After her work at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the Valle de Oro, Marisa has her sights set on returning to New England to study Environmental Management and Urban Ecology. She also hopes to return to Pike soon. "I would like to visit Pike to walk the new circumference trail with students," says Marisa. Though her educational path has taken her to places far away from Pike, her Pike experience remains close. She even manages to bring the same book with her that she and her classmates read in Mrs. Maqubela's 5th grade class- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin- and reads it every year.