Celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of Dr. Michele Romolini with CURes!

To celebrate her 10 Year Anniversary with LMU’s Center for Urban Resilience (CURes), we had the honor of sitting down with Dr. Michele Romolini, the Managing Director of CURes and Senior Editor of Cities and the Environment Journal (CATE). Her dedication and vision have been instrumental in shaping the course of CURes growth over the past decade. From her start as a postdoc to becoming the Managing Director and Lead Social Scientist, Dr. Romolini’s transformative research work at CURes has been groundbreaking for the past ten years. Let’s dive into her incredible journey and the projects that have marked this milestone! 

Can you take us back to your beginnings at CURes? 

I joined CURes as a postdoc, basically a researcher fresh out of grad school. My goal was to understand how people and the environment interact in cities.  

Your involvement with the STEW-MAP project seems to have been a pivotal starting point. Can you share more about that experience? 

Definitely! STEW-MAP was my first big project. We wanted to see how people in cities take care of their local environment. I implemented the STEW-MAP research in Baltimore and Seattle for my dissertation and brought it to LA County and the LA River Watershed. Just last year, I had the opportunity to work with the Forest Service to publish the results of the latest Baltimore STEW-MAP. Seeing how things changed was a great full circle moment. I also have presented regionally and nationally and published multiple papers on the research, and I am an active participant in research communities on environmental stewardship. 

Your role in advancing tree canopy mapping is also noteworthy. Could you elaborate on that? 

I spearheaded an initiative to get high resolution, high accuracy mapping for all of Los Angeles County. We started with small amounts of funding to do Coastal LA and used those results to present to the County’s LARIAC program, which decided to invest in the land cover analyses necessary to produce these tree canopy maps. We worked with multiple partners to produce the LA County Tree Canopy Assessment and the subsequent Tree Canopy Data Viewer and even recently submitted a $4M proposal to expand the work to include LA, Riverside, San Bernadino and Ventura Counties. 

Your contributions to Cities and the Environment Journal (CATE) are quite significant! How has your role evolved in that area? 

I started as part of the editorial board at The CATE Journal and am now the Senior Editor. Through my work we have expanded the journal’s communications and publishing rate (we can cite stats here), Recently brought on editorial board members from outside the US to broaden the journal’s reach, and are in the process of updating the look and feel of our website and with a new social media presence through CATE’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter profiles. 

Your work seems to have touched many different areas. What are some other key projects you have developed while at CURes? 

Absolutely. While at CURes, I’ve been involved in many different projects. I’ve delved into park and open space research, starting with the Baldwin Hills Parklands project. We applied similar principles to the Silver Lake Reservoir Complex and I’m currently engaged in a study of the Oceano Dunes. 

I’ve also helped develop integrated social-ecological research projects, particularly on urban coyotes, conducting surveys and interviews to better understand the human dimensions related to urban wildlife. This applied work directly supports cities in their wildlife management.  

CURes’ scope has grown too, both globally and locally. I’ve represented CURes internationally at conferences and working groups in Athens, Greece; Berlin, Germany; and Hanoi, Vietnam.

When I relocated in 2022, we took on collaborative projects investigating agricultural water reuse in Maryland and implementing Healthy Trees Healthy Cities, monitoring urban trees in Baltimore. I’ve continued to work with local groups and scientists through the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, just as we’ve been able to do with our incredible partnerships in California. This has deepened our community impact.

Finally, it has a been a great joy to expand my skills in supporting the growth of our Restorative Justice Project, which has strengthened CURes’ commitment to environmental and social justice.

What do you consider to be the most noteworthy and special components of CURes?  

The transdisciplinary, applied nature of our Center’s work allows us to carry out holistic research projects. We examine social-ecological research questions, and then develop and implement comprehensive management and educational strategies that are directly informed by the on-the-ground data we collected. This approach has many challenges but is so rewarding. It’s awesome to be able to partner directly with community leaders and residents and get to see tangible progress toward positive change.

Last but not least, can you share some of your favorite parts of working with your team over the years 

I can’t say enough about the people I work with. Our staff at CURes is incredibly capable and committed, and cares deeply about the quality of our work and the impact it has on our partner communities. At the same time, there is a sense of humility and continual learning from the extraordinary people who share in this work.

Our work is made possible through partnership, and I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the most passionate, capable, and collaborative scientists and practitioners. The same folks whose papers and books I read with such reverence in graduate school are now collaborators. It’s really amazing.

I also love working with LMU students! I’ve had the opportunity to teach courses and mentor students in their independent research pursuits and as research assistants on our varied projects. Being able to introduce students to CURes is one of my favorite parts of my job.