Cowardin Avenue in Manchester, a Richmond neighborhood south of the James River, was once home to bustling movie theaters, restaurants, and shops. Today, many of the storefronts are boarded up.

"This empty lot used to be a salon," said Bonner Scholar Aaron D’Oleo, ’19, who spent the spring semester looking at the neighborhood in an independent study with Dr. Tom Shields, associate professor of education and leadership studies, chair of graduate education, and associate dean of academic and student affairs in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies.

D’Oleo, fueled by the study of many issues and disciplines, is a leadership studies major with minors in Latin American, Latino, and Iberian studies (LALIS) and American studies.

"I saw Dr. Shields’ passion through an education class I took with him and was interested in looking at housing and how it impacts education, particularly in Richmond," D’Oleo said.

D’Oleo used a coding guide developed by Jackelyn Hwang for her 2015 doctoral dissertation, Gentrification, Race, and Immigration in the Changing American City, for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. The unique coding guide uses Google Street View Maps to examine changes in the industrial, residential, and commercial makeup of a neighborhood. Through the use of this measurement, D’Oleo examined how the Manchester neighborhood has changed through street views from 2007 to 2018.

"We started thinking about gentrification in the neighborhood," D’Oleo said. "Then, we asked, 'Does coding speak truth to the real narrative of the neighborhood and its history?'"

After gathering the data, Shields brought in Taylor Holden, ’15, GC’19, instructor in the Geographic Information System (GIS) Professional Certificate program, GIS Analyst at HDR, and former GIS Technician for the Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL), to begin to map the results.

D’Oleo’s data and Holden’s map are only the beginning of a long-term project that Shields hopes to continue with other student interns.

"Time and talents can be combined together to make a big impact with intentional purposes," D’Oleo said.

Intentionality is a term that, in many ways, has defined D’Oleo’s Richmond experience.

As a Bonner Scholar, he has served for four years at Church Hill Activities & Tutoring (CHAT) as a mentor and developed a deep appreciation for the community of Church Hill. D’Oleo is also the manager of the Richmond Men’s Basketball team, a position that has honed his organizational skills and enabled him to travel to many different cities.

D’Oleo will return to his hometown after graduation to work with students at Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP), the initiative that led him to the University of Richmond and its Bonner Scholars Program.

"Working in the community has made me see a bigger purpose than myself," D’Oleo said.