Dr. Jessie Zarazaga honored with Urban Design Award from the Greater Dallas Planning Council

Dr. Zarazaga received the Dunnigan Community Engagement Award for her commitment to service and leadership in the Dallas community

Dr Jessie Zarazaga
Dr. Jessie Zarazaga


Dr. Jessie Zarazaga, Director of the Sustainability + Development Program at SMU Lyle School of Engineering, has been awarded the Dunnigan Community Engagement Award from the Greater Dallas Planning Council for excellence in community outreach on issues affecting quality growth in the region.

The council honors six outstanding urban planning and design projects annually as part of its mission to advocate for a creative, sustainable future for the Dallas area. Dr. Zarazaga was recognized for advancing dialogue around sound urban planning and design through her project-based and community-based graduate courses at SMU.

“All of my students write a final in-depth capstone project that must include academic research on a sustainability related topic, project-based interaction with a real site and stakeholders, and some measurable aspect of the work outcome,” she said. “We teach the students to gather data from community groups – not just feedback, but integrated community-based participatory research through all stages of their project.” 


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Past student projects have included implementing renewable energy solutions in schools and community centers, exploring barriers to entry and sustainable options for small businesses, promoting walk-to-school programs for Dallas ISD students through tactical urbanism and community engagement, and finding solutions for urban food deserts.

“Most of my engagement, and that of my students, is through walking and speaking on the street,” Dr. Zarazaga said. “We share conversations and outcomes through various media, but I strongly believe real engagement requires physical and verbal interaction in the space of the city.”

Dr. Zarazaga is also a co-principal investigator on research related to infrastructure equity in Dallas, focusing on community engagement. She leads a new translational research initiative, connecting multiple ongoing research projects at SMU with community contexts to test outcomes in collaboration with local non-profit organizations. Her ongoing community-based work in Tanzania, Colombia, and in the Dallas area covers a range of health, social and sustainability issues, including pollution, transportation access, food deserts, health care access, recycling opportunities, and more.

She serves on the Dallas Urban Design Peer Review Panel. She brings multiple groups and speakers to SMU to speak about sustainable design and resilient cities. She sponsors students who run the Urban Research Cluster in the Interdisciplinary Research Institute and participates in building an urban design conversation across campus.

“Dr. Zarazaga is widely recognized for having transformed SMU’s Sustainable Urban Development track into the robust community engagement program it’s become,” said Bud Melton, Special Projects Advisor for Halff Associates who nominated her for the award. “Her students’ projects in communities like South Dallas, West Dallas and Bonton have brought together neighborhood policy makers with practicing professionals. Her ongoing community-based work on community health, air pollution, water run-off pollution, and transportation access at Paul Quinn has been invaluable. Her students’ focus on food deserts, health care access, recycling, trash and plastics, along with impacts on neighborhoods of transit and planning decisions, have helped reframe conversations around highway construction and/or removal. Their work has engaged populations both here and abroad on issues from water scarcity and air quality to equity in accessibility and community-relevant education.”


About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering 

SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.



About SMU 

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.