Nicole Machuca

Regional Network: 
Great Lakes Regional Network
Class Year: 
Director of Environmental Education & Neighborhood Parks
Friends of the Parks

I am a community engagement specialist and environmental social scientist in Chicago. As a native Chicagoan and the product of diverse households, I am deeply connected to various communities around the city and am dedicated to maintaining the commons around the Great Lakes region as assets for all.

After seeing Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs speak at my university, I was inspired to work at the intersections of environmental and social issues, and decided that my childhood aspiration to become a veterinarian would have to be limited only to a hobby of cuddling kittens. As a student and graduate researcher under the tutelage of geographer Dr. Annette Watson, I developed a worldview that transparent and participatory work that seeks to understand and acknowledge the complex web of histories, politics, community dynamics, and peoples leads to the most sustainable and resilient community change. This stance has become a major tenet of my professional practice. I have spent over a decade dedicated to creating socio-ecological sustainability on a local scale and look forward to continuing my professional and personal endeavors as an environmental and social activist. 

I am driven by a set of core values concerning empathy, compassion, fairness and justice for all people. In my work, I practice reflexivity, which is the exercise of being cognizant of one's individual perspectives, privilege and worldview as they relate to one's actions and impacts on others. I get geeked out by using participatory approaches, especially ones that utilize spatial techniques, as methods to elucidate needs and preexisting community knowledge to inform advocacy efforts. I believe that effective community work is dependent on honest and transparent relationships with residents, and I enjoy all endeavors that allow me to hear people's stories and use that information to assist in collaborative processes that lead to just and fair progress for communities