Nichola Lowe

Nichola Lowe is a professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Her research unpacks the processes and practices that contribute to more equitable forms of regional economic development and labor market adjustment.

Nichola Lowephoto by Alyssa LaFaro
May 8th, 2019

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Teaching was my childhood dream, which often meant subjecting my younger sister to lectures and graded assignments in our play-area classroom — which, fortunately did not stifle her love for learning. I deviated from the teaching plan in high school, considering careers in fashion design and international law. Two female lawyers I met in an abstract art class convinced me to stick with teaching.


“Making economies work for all.”

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

I enrolled in several undergraduate courses in political economy, one of which critically examined Chile’s purported economic “miracle.” I was hooked! After that, I focused my studies on international economic development, initially in Mexico. I broadened my research interests to include Canada and the United States during my postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto and my faculty appointment at UNC.

Nichola Lowe with her husband and son in Costa Rica

Lowe with her husband and son in Costa Rica.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

In the Department of City & Regional Planning, we support experiential learning through client-based workshop courses. My first workshop supported efforts to push Durham City and County to establish living wage requirements and local hiring procedures when granting economic development incentives. Our client rushed to publish our workshop report before we had a chance to share it with key stakeholders and secure broad-based support. There was some minor fall out, including initial bad press coverage. I reached out to senior faculty in my department to ask their advice for resolving this issue, which led me to write a response letter to the newspaper.

But the bigger lesson was not simply the need to better control messaging — this experience also helped me recognize the value of engaging with others when encountering unanticipated problems. I often refer to this workshop experience in my classes, helping future planning professionals prepare for the political uncertainties of their work.

What are your passions outside of research?

Walking. I started walking three to four miles a day in 2014 while undergoing cancer treatment, often listening to audiobooks or podcasts for company. I rarely miss a day, even with rain or snow. When traveling, I map these walks to explore new cities and neighborhoods. In Spring 2015, I began to offer mobile office hours to students, encouraging them to join me for a campus loop. This option has proven popular, especially with walkability — a key planning concern.

Women in Science Wednesday highlights UNC researchers at all levels of their careers across dozens of fields. From medicine to mathematics to sociology, women at Carolina excel in research, mentorship, and advocacy. This edition of WSW marks the last of the series. Thank you to the university community for the unending support and promotion of this project for the last three-and-a-half years. During that time, we’ve featured 168 women from each of the university’s 14 schools and more than 40 departments. In the fall, Endeavors will continue to showcase the many human faces of research at Carolina with a new series called Research UNCovered. Weʼll be visiting some areas of campus you may recognize, as well as telling some stories you havenʼt heard before. Stay tuned!