Written by: Kevin Keenan, Associate Professor and Program Director, College of Charleston Urban Studies Program

I write to you at the close of the Fall 2015 semester to update you, once again, on all that has gone on with the Urban Studies Program at the College of Charleston.  It has been a good semester for Urban Studies, with several achievements that advance the program in key ways.  Please take a moment to review the summary highlights provided below.

Health of Program

The Urban Studies Program continues to draw interest from students, with 34 declared majors at the close of the fall semester.  The Urban Studies Minor also continues to grow, reaching the milestone of 20 minors in late November (the highest number since the minor program was created and approved in Spring of 2013).

3rd Annual Urban Studies Convocation ~ June Manning Thomas

The Urban Studies Program hosted June Manning Thomas, a Centennial Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan, to deliver the Fall 2015 Convocation lecture on September 21, 2015.  June is also a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, which is the highest honor bestowed by this professional organization, and her talk also offered CM credit for professionals holding the AICP certification.   Dr. Manning Thomas focused her lecture on comparing issues of race and urban planning in the North and the South.  Over 90 students, faculty, and community members packed the Admissions Auditorium to learn from June.

Curriculum Development

Several key curricular advances were achieved during the fall semester.  First, the Faculty Senate approved the creation of the remaining credits for the Student Ambassador Program, creating URST 350 and 351 “Junior Student Ambassadorship” and URST 450 “Senior Student Ambassadorship.”  These credits will structure the remaining years of the Ambassador Program, and will provide students with up to 9 academic credits that can be applied towards the student’s URST major or to his or her institutional hours if the student is not an URST major.  Second, the Faculty Senate also approved the creation of a third concentration in Sustainable Urbanism within the Urban Studies major.  This concentration, which will become available in the fall of 2016, reflects the evolving nature of Urban Studies as a discipline and the reality that urban planners are at the forefront of government responses to climate change and sea-level rise.

On December 7, 2015, the Urban Studies Program submitted a formal application to the College’s Curriculum Committee to create an accelerated BA to MA program between the undergraduate Urban Studies Program and the College’s graduate program in Public Administration.  The Public Administration Program offers certification in Urban and Regional Planning.  If approved, this accelerated program will allow undergraduate Urban Studies majors in the Urban Planning and Administration concentration and in the Urban Policy and Social Problems concentration to earn up to 12 credits towards a master’s degree while still an undergraduate student.  The credits will also count towards the student’s undergraduate Urban Studies major, thus accelerating the time to graduate degree completion and saving students a substantial amount of tuition.  If approved, this program will be available in Fall 2016.

 Student Ambassador Program

 The Student Ambassador Program saw its first class of students arrive in the Fall of 2015, with an inaugural dinner hosted by Randall Goldman, a community partner, at his restaurant Fish.  The 10 ambassadors, 3 of whom are Urban Studies majors and the rest drawn from the other HSS disciplines, have now completed their first class URST 250 “Sophomore Student Ambassadorship.”  This class involved 7 policy lectures and discussions from noted professionals in the Charleston area, ranging from discussions of growth in Mt. Pleasant to urban education in the County of Charleston.  All 10 of these students plan to continue for the second half of the sophomore program, URST 251, which focuses on placing the students in non-profit organizations around the region to acquire on the job experience in non-profit service.

National Recognition

It was with great joy that I learned the Urban Studies Program was awarded a grant in the amount of $3,000 from the American Planning Association’s Chapter Presidents Grant, which was subsequently joined with $1,000 from the SC American Planning Association, to create a linkage program between the Student Ambassadors and both the Clemson graduate program in City and Regional Planning and the College’s Public Administration Program.  This grant will be used to take students to Clemson for lectures in urban planning, to support mentors of the students, and to provide stipends for CofC faculty who deliver lectures to the Ambassadors.  The goal is to help the ambassadors learn about the complexity of studying the world through the lens of Urban and Regional Planning.

 Student Engagement

 Logan Elliott, an undergraduate student and representative of the students to the URST Executive Committee, has ably served as the president of the student club.  Logan has organized several important and fun events for the students, including a presentation by Margaret Seidler on polarity thinking and a group social with food and bowling at the Alley in Charleston.  Logan has also organized a community service event, bringing students to participation in a program called “Loving America Street” which seeks to help some of Charleston’s most vulnerable children link to mentors and different forms of social capital.   Johnsie Wilkinson, another student leader, has also played a key role in building the club, and a real sense of community has emerged once again amongst the students.   Please join me in thanking Logan for his service as the club president.


 The Urban Studies Program has responded to the College’s re-accreditation process by following the recommendations to reduce the number of Student Learning Outcomes to three, and defining 2 assignments and associated rubrics to assess the Program’s success at meeting each of these outcomes.  The new learning outcomes are as follows:

  1. identify and describe the major theoretical traditions and approaches to scholarship and practice in Urban Studies.
  2. outline and critique western urban development.
  3. compile a summary, professional portfolio that reflects market demand and that enhances competitiveness for employment.

Further, the Advisory Board continues to assess Urban Studies students’ market power, reviewing their final portfolios with an eye towards helping the students gain a competitive advantage in the job hunt.  This semester, we would like to publicly thank Dan Pennick, the former director of the County of Charleston’s Zoning & Planning Department (Dan is now retired), Andrea Pietras, deputy director of Charleston County Zoning & Planning Department,  and Geona Shaw-Johnson, director of the City of Charleston’s Housing & Community Development Department for reviewing the student portfolios.  Your service is invaluable.

Results of the Urban Studies assessment will be available in the Spring 2016 semester.

Comings and Goings

The Fall 2015 semester also saw some comings and goings.  Chris Mothorpe, Assistant Professor in Economics who teaches the core ECON 307 “Urban Economics” course joined the Executive Committee to take the seat that has been held by Carol Toris for over two decades.  Carol is retiring from the College at the end of Spring 2016, and we thank her for dedication and service (more on this below, though).  Rich Bodek, a longtime member of the Urban Studies Executive Committee, also retired from his seat (but not from the College!).  Urban Studies is thankful to Rich for all of his service and contributions to Urban Studies over the years.  Kendra Stewart, director of the Riley Center and professor of Political Science will join the Committee in 2016 to take Rich’s seat.  Dr. Stewart plays a key role in directing the Student Ambassador Program, which is housed in the Riley Center with credits offered through Urban Studies.  Urban Studies welcomes Kendra to the Committee and looks forward to working with her in the future.

Interim Director for Spring 2016

Carol Toris, Associate Professor in Psychology and long-term member of the URST Executive Committee, has agreed to serve as interim director of the Program in the Spring 2016 semester.  I will be on sabbatical in the spring.  I am thankful to Carol for taking on this service task, and I hope everyone will help support her as needed.

As you can see, it has been a busy semester for Urban Studies in Fall 2015.  I am thankful for your continued support.