Emily Zhang

Space to Grow Project Manager

About Emily

Hometown: Rockville, Maryland

Education: BA and MS in Geography from The George Washington University

Hobbies: I swam competitively growing up which has encouraged me to think more critically about the power of intuitive exercise and movement. These days, I enjoy rock climbing, biking, and exploring nearby parks and trails with my dog Cheesecake. I also love learning how to cook classic Chinese dishes which helps make me feel more connected with my family and cultural roots.

Who are you?

I am HSC’s Space to Grow Project Manager. Space to Grow is a partnership that transforms Chicago schoolyards into vibrant spaces that prioritize outdoor learning, community engagement, physical activity, and green stormwater infrastructure. I have a background in research, urban and human geography, and program management focused on the intersection of land use, health, and social equity.

What makes your job great?

The heart of my role is a collaboration with passionate colleagues and partners who are fiercely committed to advancing health equity and sustainability. I’m excited to learn from them, support them, and contribute to aligning our mission with community-driven initiatives.

When did you come to Healthy Schools Campaign?

I joined HSC in April 2024.

Why did you join Healthy Schools Campaign?

I am so inspired by HSC’s comprehensive approach to health advocacy, its recognition of schools as vital community anchors and commitment to addressing health disparities through inclusive strategies. More specifically with Space to Grow, I was drawn to the team’s ethos of honoring and valuing community members as experts in every phase of the schoolyard renovation process – from conception, to design, to programming and more. This approach deeply resonates with me, as it prioritizes co-creation and ensures that community voices are at the forefront of our work.

Where does your motivation come from?

The longstanding exclusion of marginalized communities from the planning, decision-making processes, and benefits of sustainability investments and initiatives is a driving force behind my commitment to fostering more equitable outcomes. I’m motivated by the belief that everyone, especially those facing disproportionate impacts of climate change and historic disinvestment, deserves access to essential health and social infrastructure including parks and green space.