Growing up in the Southside of Chicago, Angela Tovar ’05 watched her community battle to find a way forward as industrial businesses left in droves in the 1990s. 

So, when she finished high school, Tovar decided to help other communities struggling with economic, social, environmental or urban challenges by joining AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) before pursuing a college degree. 

“I was unclear on a career trajectory, and I felt like I needed some time,” Tovar recalls. “I wanted the experience of moving away from home, and I wanted to see the country.” 

That’s how the Chicago native ended up in Charleston doing a year of service for AmeriCorps. After signing on for another year of service in a leadership role and also taking classes at nearby Trident Technical College, Tovar enrolled at the College as an urban studies major. 

“Urban studies is such a fascinating field,” she says, noting that, at the time, there weren’t many solutions for the deindustrialization of her neighborhood in Chicago, while Charleston was overwhelmed with a surge of residents and development.  

Tovar credits former faculty member Jane McCollough with creating an environment that allowed students to explore different avenues within the field of urban studies. 

“She was a fantastic mentor and someone that I really attribute my success at the university to,” says Tovar. “She created such a great network of students. She worked with each student individually and also created a space for us to learn from one another.” 

After she completed her degree, Tovar returned to Chicago, where she worked for Chicago Cares, a nonprofit focused on building support for community service projects. Then, in 2009, she headed back east to earn her master’s in urban planning from Hunter College in New York City. After graduating, she became the director of sustainable policy and research at Sustainable South Bronx before shifting after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to another nonprofit focused on community-centered resiliency planning. 

But as her career progressed, Tovar felt a pull to return to her hometown. She landed there first as the program manager for environment and sustainability initiatives for Cook County before being appointed chief sustainability officer for the City of Chicago in June of 2020. 

Tovar has hit the ground running to advance the sustainability agenda of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, including a commitment to have all municipal buildings operating with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and citywide by 2035. She recently worked with Lightfoot to create a historic $188 million climate investment package approved by city council. Additionally, Tovar and her team are negotiating an “energy and equity agreement” with the city’s utility provider aimed at ensuring that all neighborhoods are outfitted with infrastructure and programs to support energy efficiency and sustainability efforts.

“We want to make sure that we have infrastructure in all of our communities, not just affluent communities,” she says. “We want to ensure that all of our residents have the resources they need to participate in the clean-energy transition and green-job economy.” 

At last, she’s found sustainable solutions to help her neighborhood and beyond.