Madelaine Britt, senior environmental design and political science major, has made history as the first UB student to win the prestigious Truman Scholarship. The grassroots activist with particular interests in food security, affordable housing and economic justice is one of 54 Truman Scholars selected from 775 candidates across the U.S. The award, which university officials call the most prestigious undergraduate fellowship of all, recognizes individuals who show promise as leaders and change agents in the public sector. Britt received a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and participated last summer in a professional development program in Washington, D.C.
Madelaine shares a few of her inspirations and plans for community-led action in planning and public policy:
You’ve often described a pit in your stomach as motivation for entering public service and fighting for equal and affordable housing. Tell us more.
My grandmother was a single mother of four on the outskirts of downtown Rochester, N.Y. Never being impoverished myself and coming from a place of privilege, this sense of my mother’s childhood experience taught me at a young age the vast differences
in quality of life throughout the metropolitan area. Now, 21 years later, I see the same neighborhoods at equal levels of underdevelopment. It keeps that pit in my stomach and pushes me towards a career in public service.
Why pair environmental design and political science? How do they fit together in the classroom and community?
Environmental design must be integrated in a political awareness that moves beyond the visual appearance of an area. Communities are made up of such diverse beliefs, political associations and cultures. Without having the understanding of the political implications of a design, decision planners will not be able to fully grasp the needs of residents and serve them to the best of their abilities.
Tell us about your experience in UB’s surrounding University Heights neighborhood?
What I wanted most outside of my program when I transferred to UB was a sense of togetherness and community. I found that in the University Heights neighborhood, particularly in the University Heights Tool Library and the University Heights Collaborative. Serving as a neighborhood space that provides free classes in housing issues, such as lead paint awareness and tenants’ rights — the CoLab was founded to help fill the gap between knowledge and application. One particular project of interest is Paint to Pavement. Using art as a form of traffic control and way finding, we’re looking to increasing safety in the neighborhood by using community-chosen art murals and pictography painted directly on the sidewalk and street.
What are your plans a er graduating from UB?
I hope to work in a position that allows me to rally for and initiate planning policies that fundamentally change how we rebuild cities so we can ensure affordable housing, food security and economic justice in all areas of new development. I plan to attend law school and partner this with a master’s degree in urban planning and policy. I intend to return to Rochester, and get involved with community organizing at the grassroots level.
What would you tell a student considering the environmental design program at UB?
Be active and be dedicated to bringing your education outside of the classroom. Volunteer and become politically involved — neighborhood associations don’t get the cool credit they deserve. Your scope of understanding will expand and you will become incredibly humbled by the good work of the community leaders around them. I know I have been.