Jennifer Jurado

Sector: Government

Field: Science

Occupation: Environmental Planner

Career arc: Passionate about the environment and water resources in particular, Jurado earned her PhD in Marine Biology and Fisheries at the University of Miami. Her work there focused on Everglades restoration and water quality in Florida Bay. Her graduate school experience focused largely on research and, to a lesser extent, community engagement. She also got a bit of policy experience that came in handy when she started her first job as Water Resources Manager for Broward County.

In that position, Jurado realized she had a lot to learn about urban water supply needs, regional water management strategies and hydrologic monitoring. As she built up this expertise, Jurado also became increasingly aware of how sea level rise was affecting Broward County, for example, threatening water quality through salt water intrusion into aquifers. Eventually, Jurado moved from water resources into her new role leading the county’s environmental planning and community resilience efforts.

To anticipate and adapt to the impacts of sea level rise, Jurado believes it is essential for the community to appreciate the importance of what’s happening and how it’ll affect their homes and businesses. That, she says, is where community science comes in.

“Science, data collection and community input together tell the story of how our communities are being impacted.”

 Motivation: Facing significant concerns related to sea level rise, Jurado and her Broward County colleagues quickly recognized the importance of community engagement. In projects aimed at improving coastline resiliency, for example, getting community input and buy-in is crucial to get out ahead of complaints such as “the dunes block my view of the water.” While research is an important factor for guiding decisions, it’s really the community that drives on-the-ground action.

“It’s so important for people in academia to think about how information is used. It’s not just important because it’s science. It’s important when people understand it, value it and apply it to decision-making. The translation of the science to the community is a vital skill that develops as you get out into the community and learn how to make your work more relevant.”

 How I see community science: Community science is not something you can “achieve” once and for all, but a continual process of ongoing engagement, often taking many forms. For example, Jurado is currently working with municipalities in southern Florida to install tidal meters for long-term high tide monitoring and reporting, working with academic partners to refine sea level projections, and engaging with community members to increase understanding of migratory bird populations. She sees partnering with different stakeholders and bringing multiple parties to the table—from municipal government to businesses to residents to academics—as a central part of her role.

 “Sustained engagement with a broad community network is our responsibility. We need to step outside of our comfort zone and empower others to speak with confidence about these issues. It’s a constant process of self-improvement, but it’s essential for the research to be supported, advanced and utilized—instead of just being shelved—so that we can be better partners in our community.”

 Looking ahead: Florida’s sea level woes aren’t going away anytime soon. Jurado intends to continue to build partnerships and networks as part of a broad effort to help the community prepare and adapt to the changes ahead. This focus on collaboration is at the heart of any community science work, and crucial for sustaining momentum in the future.

 “One person can’t deliver everything that a community needs, so partnerships and knowledge sharing are essential.”