Urban Planning Graduate Aims to Use Education to Support Native Nations

As Hannah Trostle prepares for graduation this May with a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, she looks forward to helping communities similar to those in which she grew up. 

A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Trostle’s research at ASU focuses on indigenous planning, which involves working with Native communities to ensure the culture, customs and traditions are considered in developing community land-use plans.

“I think it’s really important to find ways to give back to our communities in as many ways as possible,” Trostle said on a recent call from her hometown of Outing, Minnesota. “With urban planning and indigenous planning, it just became a natural fit.” 

With an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Classical Languages from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Trostle was inspired to earn her Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree so she could apply technical skills to solve community planning problems.

“All of the things that I found fascinating about political science in my undergraduate program - institutions, the general public, infrastructure - I could just find more applicability for them in policies within urban planning, and there was more opportunity to explore data and geography through maps.” 

Trostle’s long term goal is to one day run her own consulting firm and work with different Native Nations around the U.S., to spread the principles of indigenous planning around as widely as possible. 

“Indigenous planning is a growing field that’s constantly evolving. What we think of as indigenous planning today won't necessarily be what indigenous planning is in the future,” Trostle said. “It’s not just planning within indigenous communities, it’s planning by indigenous communities.”

Ahead of commencement, we asked her a few questions about her time at ASU:

What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

This is going to sound funny, but the concept of starter homes is something that I was not really familiar with. I grew up pretty rural, pretty poor, so the idea that you would buy a house only to live in it for three or four years before you immediately turn around and buy a bigger house that you would only spend a couple more years in just didn’t make sense to me. A large part of building wealth and home equity was surprising to me until my first year at ASU when I was taking all these classes on general principles of planning and community building. 

Why did you choose ASU?

Someone I admire, Georgia Bullen at the New America Foundation, recommended I look at Arizona State because her former advisor David King has just gone to ASU. Really, a large part of why I’m at Arizona State is because I was following David King, which is a little hilarious because he and I ended up never working on any research projects together, but it was this concept that he was an excellent professor who was going to what looked to be an excellent university. 

Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

The most important lesson I learned at ASU was from professor Sara Meerow. She was the main faculty person for one of the classes I was a teacher’s assistant for. She specifically told me that most deadlines can be flexible and there are only one or two true deadlines within academia. 

That was a good lesson to learn, because even within the workforce when I was working hours past 40 hours a week, I would always do my best to hit every single deadline, but it turns out that a lot of deadlines can be moved or changed or altered and that it is very important to value your own health more than arbitrary deadlines. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

Treat school like you would your full-time job because it really is. If you do your best to work from 9-5 then try to make sure you are able to work on all your homework and schoolwork between 9-5. If you work the best working remotely or working multiple random sorts of hours, make sure those are the hours you are dedicating to your schoolwork. We’re here to learn; learning is our job. 

What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

King Coffee, right behind ASU’s Coor building. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I moved back to Minnesota and am looking for full-time positions, preferably within one of the local city governments in the Twin Cities area. 

If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

I would develop a proof of concept for more bike infrastructure to reduce car dependency. I find that car dependency is one of the biggest problems we keep running into in urban planning. Figuring out different modes of transportation is important for health and all sorts of other problems. Forty million dollars would be good to do a proof of concept in a couple of different cities as far as better bike infrastructure and better e-bike systems.