Michael Rogers, ’11, of Tyler, Texas, arrived at University of Richmond with a desire to learn about cities. He has turned that desire into an urban-studies interdisciplinary major complemented by hands-on experiences.
During his first semester, Rogers took “History of the American South,” taught by University president Edward L. Ayers. “It was one of the most formative classes of my college career,” Rogers said. “I began to realize how race has been such a factor in public policy and in the development of cities, and I started to connect history with current reality.”
Rogers spent his sophomore year as a resident of the Civic Engagement House, a living-learning program that promotes interaction with the city of Richmond. As part of this residence program, Rogers took Dr. Amy Howard’s “Urban Crisis in Modern America.” The community-based learning (CBL) course turned the city into a living classroom where students could examine the history of deindustrialization and suburbanization through the lenses of race, class, and gender.
For the final project, Rogers and two classmates created a documentary on the history and gentrification of Jackson Ward, Richmond’s most renowned historically black neighborhood. They spent considerable time in the community interviewing civic and nonprofit leaders for the film. “My ‘Urban Crisis’ class gave me a clear understanding of how the contemporary American city is a product of policy and power,” Rogers said.
Rogers has subsequently taken other CBL courses involving service learning and community-based research in the city. “Through my CBL classes,” Rogers said, “I’ve realized that I learn as much from conversations with people in the community as I do from reading books.”
In addition to providing context for his classroom learning, community-based learning has benefitted Rogers in unexpected ways. Rogers met Partnership for Smarter Growth (PSG) coordinator Sheila Sheppard when he interviewed her for his documentary. Subsequently the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) awarded Rogers a 2009 Burhans Civic Fellowship to complete a 400-hour summer internship with PSG, a nonprofit dedicated to education and advocacy related to responsible, sustainable growth of communities and regions.
“For much of my college experience I’ve studied the way things were done wrong in terms of urban development,” Rogers said. “My experience with PSG let me know how things could be done right and why I should care about it.”
During his PSG internship, Rogers worked with community leaders and residents to address Richmond's current and future needs. The academic readings he completed for his fellowship complemented his field work. “My assigned readings ranged from the history of Richmond to the current environmental crises and forced me to link environmental issues with social-justice issues,” Rogers said.
Rogers continues to explore these issues through his co-curricular activities. He spent the last two spring breaks on service trips to New Orleans with the Collegiate Disaster Relief Team (CDRT), first as a member and then as a co-leader. This year the group worked on composting and urban farming in the city's Ninth Ward.
Back on campus, Rogers spearheaded, along with UR Green co-president Carly Vendegna, the URot initiative to create a compost system by the University apartments. Composting will not only alleviate food waste, but will also provide rich fertilizer for the University’s fledgling community garden. “It’s really weird, but necessary, to be passionate about rotting food,” Rogers joked.
He’s also passionate about expanding public transportation in Richmond to connect the city and promote environmental sustainability. He has a suggestion for the University, which is currently evaluating its transportation policies with a mind to supporting greater student engagement in the city. “My biggest dream right now is to have a streetcar connecting the University to downtown once again,” Rogers said. "I would love to see streetcars everywhere in the city.”