Urban Fellows

ATLANTA – Georgia State University College of Law’s Urban Fellows Program, established in 2004 through the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth, has evolved into one of the most popular interdisciplinary programs on campus with a record 73 students participating this year.

The Urban Fellows Program is an interdisciplinary initiative under the leadership of law professors Julian Juergensmeyer, James Bross and Ryan Rowberry and Karen Johnston (J.D. ’08), assistant director of the Metro Growth Center. Top graduate students from throughout the university apply and are selected for this group that studies and discusses issues of urban growth.

“Urban Fellows has become something that so many people are interested in that every year we get more and more applicants,” Johnston says. “It used to be something that law students waited until their third year to do. We’re getting students in their first year now asking to come to events.”

Students in the Urban Fellows Program participate in a speaker series of monthly breakfasts and brown bag lunches focused on a variety of urban and environmental issues. In addition, they take part in community outreach projects and field trips and attend conferences and symposia. Fellows have the option to write a research paper of publishable quality on a topic of their choosing for course credit.

This year’s class of fellows draws from Georgia State’s College of Law, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, departments of Communications, Community Psychology, Criminal Justice, Philosophy and Sociology, School of Art and Design, College of Education, Institute of Public Health and the dual-degree program between the College of Law and Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning. In recent years, students from Emory University School of Law also have participated.

Renee Skeete Alston is in the joint master’s/Ph.D. program in sociology, specializing in race and urban studies, and has been an Urban Fellow since 2009. She says the speakers have inspired research ideas and enhanced her sociology studies.

“Interdisciplinary programs challenge the standard ways of thinking about and framing issues,” Alston says. “I think that they encourage creativity and sensitivity to different perspectives. Participating in an interdisciplinary program has allowed me to get back in touch with my interests in other fields, including law and planning.”

The interdisciplinary and practical aspects of the program drew second-year law student Susan Hayes to the group.

“Having a broad perspective helps you understand how your discipline intersects with other disciplines and helps you become generally more effective,” says Hayes, who is in her first year with the program. “Programs like Urban Fellows also help you see career opportunities for your interest areas.”

The cross-disciplinary nature of this program and the Metro Growth Center aligns with the university’s strategic plan goal of establishing itself as a leader in understanding and developing solutions for the complex challenges of cities. A proposal for the university’s Second Century Initiative, which supports coordinated hiring of faculty to strengthen existing interdisciplinary areas, was awarded on “shaping the future of cities.” Key faculty members in this cluster are Spencer Banzhaf, associate professor of economics, and Tim Crimmins, professor of history.

“This idea that you can’t solve cities’ problems by working in isolation is really taking off,” Johnston says. “This program shows students that these issues are not just legal issues, not just policy issues. They’re going to be working together with engineers and policy people and economists and communications people. We’re training students to think about these issues from more than their perspective.”

Nov. 1, 2012