Environmental issues have always been a concern for University of Richmond law student Brianne Mullen, L'13. After earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy, Mullen felt that a law degree would be a logical next step. She decided to combine her interests in the environment and law by pursuing a joint J.D./M.U.R.P. degree at University of Richmond's School of Law and Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Since making that important decision, Mullen has carved a career path that intertwines environmental policy and law with urban planning. It has also led to a unique opportunity to share what she has learned at the World Bank symposium in Barcelona, Spain, in October.

During her first summer of law school, Mullen worked at the Richmond non-profit organization, Partnership for Smarter Growth, where she gained experience in a variety of areas, including researching sustainable development and event planning. She spent the second summer working for the Southern Environmental Law Center, a non-profit advocacy organization. There Mullen's research focused on land use and transportation policy and law.

But it wasn't until Mullen became an intern in the City of Richmond's Sustainability Office that her experience and interests truly culminated. Having the opportunity to work in planning, law, and environmental sustainability, Mullen remarked, "that was the ultimate internship, and it's where I found my niche." The experience also influenced her career plans. After graduating next spring, Mullen hopes to work in a sustainability office in a local government setting. "That's where things happen as far as sustainability in the United States," she explained.

Her work at the Sustainability Office led to another great opportunity. In January 2012, Mullen became a graduate research fellow with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation. She began working on a research project that focused on one of HUD's strategic goals—to promote sustainable development in housing—and that also contributed to the objectives outlined in the 2010 Energy Smart Communities Initiative established by President Obama and former Japanese Prime Minister Kan for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The purpose of the initiative is "to determine the economic sustainability of Asian Pacific cities and establish an online platform to share ideas."

Mullen's research project addresses best practices for sustainable development in the Asian Pacific region. She chose to focus on six major Asian Pacific cities—ranging from large cities such as Tokyo to a small city in Australia—that have established strong agendas for sustainability. "Some of these cities are incredible in their goals to cut emissions by eighty percent." She evaluated each city according to its initiatives and policies in several different areas, including public transportation, renewable energy, green building, and land use planning. "I determined which ones were actually working and had the greatest effect, whether it be cutting emissions or creating jobs or promoting economic development." The paper also applies some of these best practices to cities in the United States. "I think that taking ideas from the international arena is amazing … I found some really innovative ideas that we could bring over here."

In May, Mullen's fellowship director, Alven Lam, HUD's Director of International Research, asked her to continue her fellowship by working to submit the research paper to the World Bank's Urban Research and Knowledge Symposium. She enthusiastically responded, "absolutely." In June, they learned the paper had been accepted.

Mullen and Lam will be presenting the paper, titled "Comparative Analysis of Best Practices of Sustainable Communities: Asia Pacific Rim and the United States," at the World Bank's sixth annual Urban Research & Knowledge Symposium (URKS6), "Rethinking Cities: Framing the Future," to be held in Barcelona October 8–10, 2012. In addition, the research paper will be published online by both URKS6 and HUD.

In anticipation of her first trip abroad, Mullen is excited about the opportunity to attend the conference and share her research with an international audience of scholars and policy analysts. She added, "I'm hoping to meet people that will maybe collaborate on future research."

During her last semester at the law school, Mullen looks forward to taking classes that will build upon her practical experiences and urban planning course work, including an independent research class with Professor Joel Eisen, an International Environmental Law class taught by Professor Noah Sachs, and Suzanne Corriell's statutory drafting class that focuses on policy research and legislative drafting. After completing the law course work at the University of Richmond this fall, Mullen will turn to a final research project at VCU's School of Urban and Regional Planning.