Lucas Hakkenberg, ’12, spent the summer chatting with Richmond’s power brokers in skyscrapers downtown, interacting with leaders of grassroots organizations, and seeing the city from multiple new perspectives – all for the sake of research.

Thanks to a grant from the University of Richmond's Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) he was able to do collaborative research with leadership studies professor Thad Williamson on Richmond's power and structure.

The two conducted 46 interviews with top business, political, and civic leaders over 10 weeks. They interviewed former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine; Henrico County Manager Virgil Hazelett; the CEOs of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and LEAD VIRGINIA; James E. Ukrop, former chairman of the venerable Richmond institutions First Market Bank and Ukrop’s grocery chain; and University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers, among others. 

The research will be part of a book Williamson and Dr. Amy Howard, executive director of the CCE, are writing about Richmond politics. Hakkenberg and Williamson are also working on a paper about their findings that they will present at a conference this spring.

“It was fascinating to get such a diverse view of the city from the towers downtown to the struggling grassroots organizations. While it’s not a huge city like New York or Boston, it illustrates a lot of the dynamics of those cities. And here you have access to people you wouldn’t necessarily have access to there,” Hakkenberg said, adding that Williamson’s ties as a civic activist and respected scholar helped open doors.

They asked question such as:

-Who do you feel has the most influence in Richmond?
-What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Richmond region?
-What challenges do you face as a leader?

They found that most folks were open to and welcoming of their questions.

“A very broad cross-section of people took time out of their day for these interviews,” Hakkenberg said. “So that shows that people in Richmond are willing to really look at why the city has certain deeply ingrained social problems.”

“Lucas did an excellent job arranging the interviews and also leading the interviews themselves,” said Williamson. “It was also great and very helpful to hear his insights as we debriefed after each interview.”

The cross-disciplinary nature of the research appealed to the leadership studies and political science double major. He says it also helped to prepare him for graduate school. He is considering pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning or public policy or heading to law school.

“It has given me a good depth and understanding of what type of work I would be doing. Dr. Williamson is really one of the leading thinkers and writers in the field of urban affairs and urban studies, so to be able to work with someone of that caliber at the undergraduate level really gives me an advantage.”

He also appreciated getting to know one of his professors on a more personal level.

"Riding around with Dr. Williamson and hearing his observations about the city and seeing the various neighborhoods and how they developed was fascinating,” he said. "Getting a holistic sense of the city from someone whose work focuses on this sort of thing was just an incredible opportunity.”