A relatively new resident of Knoxville is one of 10 young business leaders from around the country who have received 2020 “E2 1 Hotels Fellowship Program” grants. The program, now in its third year and funded by luxury lifestyle hotel brand 1 Hotels, awards $20,000 to each recipient to execute projects designed to address pressing issues at the intersection of environment and economy.
The local honoree is Mary Sketch, Program Associate with the Center for Rural Strategies, who moved to East Tennessee in January 2019 from Blacksburg, VA where she was a Graduate Research Assistant at Virginia Tech University.
As described in a recent announcement, her project is focused on “amplifying voices of historically resource-dependent communities rebuilding their economies through clean energy solutions.” For Sketch, it’s a natural progression in her still very early professional career.
“I have a background in resource conservation and restoration,” she says, noting a B.A. in Environmental Studies at Brown University and an M.S. in Fish and Wildlife Conservation from Virginia Tech. Interspersed with her academic work were a variety of internships, assistantships and fellowships focused on sustainability in one way or another.
“I never considered myself an entrepreneur,” Sketch says. “I’m a social scientist.”
Yet, by being one of the 10 recipients, she is charting an entrepreneurial journey where Sketch will be telling the stories of three communities that are focused on the sustainability triple bottom line – economic, environmental and social.
“I have already finished work on the first story,” Sketch says. It’s one she knows well, having lived in Calaveras County, CA for more than a year while working for the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment.
“It is an impoverished community impacted by wildfires and the closure of logging mills,” she said. There is now a focus on economic development around forest restoration such as through bioenergy and, more important, hope for the future.
A second likely candidate is Rappahannock County, VA, characterized as a rural, agricultural-based area. The official county website explains that “traditional agriculture has given rise to specialized organic farming, orchards, vineyards and artisanal wineries (and a community where) practicing sustainable agricultural practices, preserving the natural landscape and its inhabitants comes naturally to residents in Rappahannock County.”
A third potential candidate is Norton, VA which Sketch describes as a “classic coal community thinking through renewables but also exploring tourism.”
The end result will be stories on three communities that will be distributed through a variety of organizations and their online sites to help lift up the innovation occurring across rural America while also advocating for the needs and policy solutions to further advance triple-bottom-line efforts.
The Fellowship is a one-year project that complements her full-time work at the Center for Rural Strategies. In her role there, Sketch is focused on the organization’s national programs, particularly its Rural Assembly. This is a coalition composed of more than 400 organizations and individuals from 47 states working at local, regional, and national levels to build more opportunity and better policy for rural communities across the country.
Sketch is one of three Tennessee-based staff members of the Center that is headquartered in Whitesburg, KY but also has a Knoxville office.
Click here to read the original announcement on the 10 Fellows.