ASU center builds sustainable communities through student fellowships

student working on a Stardust Center housing project

Given a passion for urban design and community engagement, School of Sustainability senior Chris Barton was elated when he saw a posting for a fellowship with Project Rising, an incubator for ideas that transform the vacant lots of Phoenix into vibrant, community-enhancing spaces.

“That! I need that!” he said.

Barton and other Arizona State University sustainability students are putting their knowledge to good use, gaining real-world experience and bringing sustainable practices to their local communities through fellowships provided by the Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family.

When it opened in 2005 with a generous gift from philanthropist Jerry Bisgrove, the center acted in a consulting capacity. Communities wishing to incorporate sustainability into their affordable housing development plans sought the center for both technical and design-related assistance. Since this time, it has partnered with an array of communities – urban and rural, small and large – throughout the state.

In its new phase – known as Stardust 2.0 – within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the center continues to advance affordable, safe and sustainable housing by emphasizing education.

“Stardust 2.0 provides ASU students with the knowledge and experience they need to engage with the broader community and make a positive impact,” says Rob Melnick, executive director and chief operating officer of the Wrigley Institute. “The achievements of our first cohort of fellows are a nice testament to this.”

Within weeks of securing the fellowship, Barton was playing an important role at Project Rising. His first assignment entailed preparing a property redevelopment proposal for review by the City of Phoenix.

“It’s a great idea for a multi-purpose space with a market-like feel,” Barton says. “I look forward to visiting it in the future and knowing I helped make it possible.”

This is the Stardust Center’s primary aim: empowering students to build sustainable communities. To achieve this, the center created two courses, Sustainability and Affordable Housing and Sustainability and Social and Family Welfare. It then extended its efforts by establishing the fellowship program, which is in its pilot year.

Bailey Spears, also a senior in the School of Sustainability, saw the Stardust fellowship as an opportunity to apply her Sustainable Urban Dynamics coursework in a practical setting.

“My education has shaped my belief that affordable, sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems should be accessible to everyone, and that the community should be involved in the planning and implementation process,” says Spears. “The Stardust Center's guiding principles reflect this belief, so I was excited to join its fellowship program.”

Through the program, Spears is working with the City of Phoenix Housing Department. Her primary task is to pool information and resources in preparation for an upcoming federal housing grant application. If secured, the grant will provide funding for educational and economic opportunities, healthy living and increased energy efficiency near affordable housing sites.

Project Rising and the City of Phoenix Housing Department are but two of the Stardust Center’s numerous partner organizations. In addition to providing welcomed assistance to partner organizations, Stardust fellows gain valuable networking opportunities, insights and inspiration.

“It’s been amazing to observe how an organization can function in the absence of an institutional framework,” says Barton of Project Rising. “Seeing people with a shared vision and drive make their community a more sustainable place is inspirational.”

Stardust fellowships are available to School of Sustainability students in their junior or senior year. Interested and eligible students are invited to contact Caroline Savalle at for additional details.