Rand Irons, '15, is not stressing about what he'll be doing after graduation. The senior from Yorktown, Va., landed his desired job as a consultant in the Arlington, Va., office of Deloitte LLP, thanks, he said, to the community work he did as a Univeristy of Richmond undergraduate.

“My civic-engagement work gave me an understanding of how government works, how to involve stakeholders, and how to develop projects that are useful,” Irons said. “The Q. & A. of my final interview with Deloitte lasted about 15 minutes. Based on my work in the community, the interviewer said, ‘Sounds like you’ve already been a consultant, so I have no further questions.’”

But things haven't always been so straightforward. Irons admitted he came to college without a clear academic or career plan.

As a freshman, he chose Boaz & Ruth, a nonprofit dedicated to the successful re-entry of ex-offenders and the revitalization of Northside Richmond's Highland Park neighborhood, as the organization where he would complete his Bonner Scholars service commitment for the next few years.

Through his service at Boaz & Ruth and on the student-leadership team of Build It, the University's neighborhood-based civic-engagement program, Irons began to explore community-development work in Highland Park, a low-income, urban neighborhood.

But his real awakening came in the fall of his junior year when he took Dr. Jennifer Erkulwater's community-based-learning course Poverty and Political Voice, which tied theory to practice by requiring students to work in and research Highland Park.

“PoVo pushed me to think about community development in the context of poverty,” Irons said. He decided to major in political science, with the goal of pursuing a career in community development and/or public policy.

The summer following his junior year, the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement awarded Irons a Civic Fellowship to intern with two nonprofits doing community-development work in Highland Park: Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Storefront for Community Design. Erkulwater served as Irons' faculty mentor during his fellowship.

Chief among his internship duties was the creation of the Highland Park Community Safety Initiative Report.

“I worked with community members, organizations, and the police to determine the current conditions in the neighborhood and identify strategies that could help reduce actual and perceived crime in Highland Park,” Irons said. “This process informed my understanding of community development. By using the method of community buy-in, we developed and moved forward projects that benefit low-income communities.”

Eager to learn more about community development, Irons is spending his senior year researching citywide housing policy as an intern in the city of Richmond’s Planning and Development Review Office.

He works under senior project manager Dan Cohen, who is pushing housing-affordability projects.

“We are creating a process whereby the city government is intentionally addressing affordable housing by purchasing and renovating vacant properties,” Irons explained. “The city then sells these properties to nonprofits that use them to create affordable housing for low-income residents in gentrifying neighborhoods.

“I am building a database of vacant properties that will help the city determine which neighborhoods to focus on first.”

Irons reflected on how his work with local nonprofits Boaz & Ruth and Storefront for Community Design, national nonprofit LISC, and city government has contributed to his understanding of community-project-based work, informed his political science major, helped him identify a career path, and ultimately prepared him for his consulting job with Deloitte.

Although Irons didn't settle on his academic and career paths until halfway through his junior year, he said he is now confident of his direction.

“You can be a late bloomer and still be successful.”

Photo: Rand Irons (right) worked closely with Lt. Lewis Mills (left) of the Fourth Precinct while researching the Highland Park Community Safety Initiative Report for LISC.