News & Press: ACSP Annual Conference News

A Closer Look with Award Winner Elizabeth Reed Yarina

Monday, January 23, 2017  
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ACSP Ed McClure Award for the Best Master’s Student Paper

Nauru as State + Space of Exploitation: Current and Future Refugees
Elizabeth Reed Yarina, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Edward McClure Award winning entry this year considers an interesting topic in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner. The situation of international refugees in Nauru involves many issues important to planning, including poverty; migration, displacement, and social vulnerability; international relations; the built environment, environmental degradation; and the impacts of climate change. (We might note that Nauru has since received more attention from major media outlets, such as National Public Radio.) Yarina’s clear writing and careful approach, emphasizing spatial and architectural perspectives, capably support her evaluation of extensive empirical information to generate insights with the potential to guide local action.

Lizzie Yarina recently completed a joint Masters of Architecture and Masters of City Planning at MIT, with her thesis entitled “POST-ISLAND FUTURES: Seeding Territory for Tuvalu’s Fluid Atolls.” She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Michigan, and was raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Lizzie's research explores the role of design thinking in political and territorial issues, with a particular focus on climate change and natural resources. She is also a design researcher in the MIT Urban Risk Lab. During the 2016-17 year, Lizzie will serve as an MIT-SUTD teaching and research fellow, and she will begin a Fulbright research fellowship in New Zealand in the spring of 2017 on the spatial implications of climate change migration on New Zealand cities.

ACSP recently connected with Lizzie to find out more about this accomplishment.

How did you feel when you won the award?

Who do you want to thank, if any?
Prof Larry Vale, for his guidance and feedback on the paper, as well as for the critical framing of the course Urban Design Politics. Also Shoko Takemoto from the UNDP, for insight into the region and Nauru particulars.

What inspired you about this project?
The project draws on earlier research that explores issues of resource extraction, climate displacement, and territorial politics. My introduction to migration issues in Oceania stems from my thesis research on the climate-changed futures of Tuvalu.

What’s next?
This past semester, I have been teaching design at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and studying climate adaptation planning in Southeast Asia. In the spring, I will begin a Fulbright research fellowship based at the University of Victoria Wellington regarding the implications of Pacific Islander climate change migration on New Zealand cities.

About ACSP Awards
Each year ACSP is proud to honor faculty and students who have distinguished themselves or made major contributions to the academy or to the profession via outreach efforts, public service or for service to ACSP, the Academy, or the profession. A complete listing and history for all awards can be found at

The Ed McClure Award recognizes superior scholarship in a paper prepared by a master’s student in an ACSP-member school. Submissions may address any topic of investigation generated in the course of pursuing a master’s degree in urban/city/community/town/regional planning.

The 2016 Ed McClure Award Committee includes: Committee Chair Josh Drucker, University of Illinois at Chicago; Bryce Lowery, University of Oklahoma; and Chris Tilly, University of California, Los Angeles.


The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning promotes education, research, service and outreach in the United States and throughout the world by seeking to:

  • recognize diverse needs and interests in planning;
  • improve and enhance the accreditation process, and;
  • strengthen the role of planning education in colleges and universities through publications, conferences, and community engagement;
  • extend planning beyond the classroom into the world of practice.