Alecia Houston, ’10, understands the importance of an integrated education. As an undergraduate, she created her own interdisciplinary major and took full advantage of many complementary curricular and co-curricular offerings. Now, through a dual-degree graduate program, she’ll pursue a master’s degree in urban planning at Virginia Commonwealth University beginning in fall 2010 and a law degree from University of Richmond beginning in fall 2011.

Houston arrived at UR with the idea of majoring in political science and then going to law school. But after dabbling in sociology, history, psychology, and political science, she chose an interdisciplinary major in urban practice and policy. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she said. “I look at issues that affect Richmond and the global community from multiple perspectives.”

“One of the most influential programs shaping my development at University of Richmond has been the Bonner Scholars Program,” Houston said. “Through the Bonner Scholars Program I have volunteered at a variety of sites, giving me the opportunity to explore my interests.”

Three Bonner volunteer experiences — one at a city public school and two at University of Richmond Downtown (URD) — proved particularly significant.

Houston first explored her interest in education through four years of Bonner service at William Fox Elementary School. She also completed Bonner service hours as a Richmond Families Initiative (RFI) program and policy associate at URD during her senior year. Working under the direction of RFI program manager Judy Mejia, Houston researched Virginia public education policy, including the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act. This research complemented her senior thesis research.

“My senior thesis focused on education,” Houston said, “specifically the relationship between parental involvement and student achievement. With its diverse student body and high degree of parental involvement, Fox Elementary School made a great case study.”

In March 2010 Houston presented her research findings, including a documentary film she created from interviews with Fox parents and administrators, to an audience of public school teachers and administrators, community leaders, and UR faculty and students.

Prior to her research work at URD, Houston completed Bonner summer service hours at URD in 2009. She provided administrative support to the RFI and the School of Law’s pro bono programs housed at URD. “I saw a lot of connections between urban policy and law during my work at URD in the Lipman Family Law Clinic,” Houston said.

In addition to her Bonner service, Houston cited the impact of community-based learning courses in cultivating her interest in urban policy and law. In particular, Dr. Amy Howard’s course “The Urban Crisis in America” and Dr. Carol Wharton’s course “Home, Work, Families, and Community” put Houston in the community interviewing city residents and nonprofit leaders on issues such as gentrification, race, and affordable housing.

“I like the collaboration between nonprofits, for-profits, and government agencies,” Houston said. “These collaborations are really important for the sustainability of communities.”

Houston wants to play a role in developing sustainable communities. “I have an interest in community development, how neighborhood spaces are created, and how that affects community ties,” she said. “How can we develop green spaces and mixed-income spaces in cities?”

By pursuing graduate degrees in urban policy and law, Houston hopes to gain some insights into these questions.