Student Profiles

Patricia Torres Najera

PhD Student

Milwaukee PhD student and mother Patricia Torres Najera was interviewed for CBS58 Sunday Morning Spotlight.

Check out the interview from CBS58 here.


Fall 2016—Incoming Student Bios

Peter Burress

New MS student

Peter BurressOriginally from Sister Bay, WI, I graduated last May from Carroll University (Waukesha, WI) with a BS in Psychology and Organizational Leadership. While at Carroll, I spent my spare time in campus and work activities surrounding community engagement and social justice. I am thrilled to be continuing my education at UWM where I plan to develop a more comprehensive understanding of social and economic issues specific to Milwaukee. With my degree, I hope to find work that allows me to help the city maximize its potential.

Tathagato Chakraborty

New PhD student

Tathagato ChakrabortyI received my B.Sc. (Honors) degree in Geography from University of Calcutta and Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in Geography (First Class, Gold Medalist) from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India. I was a lecturer at Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS-Pilani) in the department of Humanities and Social Sciences for four years (2012-2016) prior to joining the Urban Studies Program at UW-Milwaukee. As an urbanist I would like to focus on issues related to the urban development in the South and South-East Asian countries, from a multi-disciplinary perspective. My aim is to help develop the urban conditions for the global south, either by being an academician or a policy maker. The doctoral program in this department would prepare me to achieve this goal by allowing me to venture out in different disciplinary and methodological perspectives required to address urban problems adequately and holistically.

Jamison Ellis

New MS student

Jamison EllisI am originally from Sheboygan, WI, but have lived in Milwaukee for the past eight years. Over those eight years Milwaukee has become my home, and I have greatly enjoyed my time in the city. I particularly enjoyed my time as an undergraduate at UWM. In the summer of 2015 I graduated with a BA in history and a certificate in urban studies. During my final three years at the school I also had the amazing opportunity to work as a research assistant for the Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project. As a member of this project I researched the affects of urban agriculture in the Milwaukee area, and interviewed a variety of members of the community involved with the urban agriculture organizations in the city. The work that I did for WFOHP is a significant reason why I am returning to school for my masters this coming semester. Over the course of the next two years I hope to get closer to my goal of either becoming a professor, or working for a nonprofit organization involved with urban agriculture. As a history undergrad, I always gravitated towards urban history and I believe that urban studies is just the next step in helping me understand how cities operate and why that is the case.

Kat Kocisky

New PhD student

Kat KociskyI am most recently from Chicago, IL where I graduated with a MA in Geography & Environmental Studies from Northeastern Illinois University. Previously, I earned a BA in English Education and French from Illinois State University. I’ve spent some time teaching high school English as well as ESL courses abroad, and worked in communications with the not-for-profit organization, Alliance for the Great Lakes. In the Urban Studies PhD program, I hope to research the intersection of urbanization and the natural environment. I am interested in researching how green space is valuable to urban communities, and how underserved communities can effectively mobilize for environmental justice. Eventually, I would like to teach at the college level, and become more involved in community groups that seek to make cities more people-centered, equal places to live. I am especially looking forward to exploring Milwaukee and its parks by bike.

Shavaughn Lawson

New MS student

Shavaughn LawsonMy name is Shavaughn M. Lawson and I am originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology. As an undergraduate, I participated in research with my mentor Dr. Chandra Waring which aided in my acceptance into the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. My research focused on the racial and gendered dynamics of higher education specifically in the realm of leadership. This work was later published in a special issue of the Sociological Imagination Journal, entitled Be Seen but Not Heard, the Other Side of Tokenism: An Undergraduate Woman of Color’s Perspective (Lawson 2014). My main scholarly aim is to explore the experiences of minorities in urban educational settings with regard to the internalization of social constructions, oppressions and access to resources, or lack thereof. Pursuing a Master’s of Science in Urban Studies will prepare me through vigorous coursework and adequate training to better understand the city that I want to serve and lastly, achieve my ultimate goal of earning a Ph.D.

Harrison O’Brien

New MS student

Harrison BrienIt may be hard to believe, but the Urban Studies Program is what brought me to UW-Milwaukee in the first place. I have had so many monumental experiences in and out of class, whether it was working through urban theory in Urban Studies 150 and 250 or applying all I had learned outside of class while working on my capstone project in Urban Studies 600. For my capstone project, I was able to interview housing service providers in Milwaukee County in order to understand the relationship between the homeless and housing service providers. The Urban Studies Program gave me the critical lens I needed to understand the complex issue that is homelessness. One of the biggest factors in my success in the program was the faculty who I had the pleasure of getting to know. The Urban Studies faculty expanded my intellectual landscape far beyond what I thought was possible. Every class I was involved in became a critical part of my understanding of urban studies. Now I will be bringing all the things that I learned during my time as an undergraduate to the Master’s Program in Urban Studies at UW-Milwaukee. I had an easy time choosing where I wanted to go for my graduate education. I am ecstatic at the prospect of expanding on the theories and concepts I learned as an undergrad and continuing to grow with the Urban Studies Department. Beyond my education, the Urban Studies Program has made me feel at home. [Harry will also be working as a PA with the Urban Affairs Association (UAA), just down the hall from the USP office.]

Isabella Rieke

New MS student

Isabella RiekeI’m Isabella: native New Yorker, graphic designer, and lover of bikes, Motown and advocacy. In 2011, I received my BA in Political Science and History from Boston University, and I have spent the past four years working at New Visions for Public Schools, a remarkable nonprofit education reform organization in New York City. At UWM, I look forward to further exploring the wide-reaching implications of urban poverty and inequality, and the role of community activism and nonprofits in policy-making.

Sara Schultz

New MS student

Sara SchultzMy name is Sara Schultz and I am happy to return to my hometown of Milwaukee to pursue my MS in urban studies. I earned my BA in history and global studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Through my graduate studies I hope to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of urban life and collaborate with other passionate individuals to shape sustainable and equitable urban spaces.


Ashkan Rezvani Naraghi

PhD in Urban Studies, 2016

Ashkan Rezvani NaraghiAs a PhD student, I spent five years in the Urban Studies Program. Although my background was in architecture and urban design, the program and its well-structured curriculum fundamentally transformed my understanding of the cities and their spaces. For my PhD dissertation, I investigated the formation and transformation of the public sphere and the production of political public spaces in Tehran, the capital of Iran, in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Through the insightful support and guidance of my advisor, Professor Jennifer Jordan, I deeply engaged with the social theories of space. However, studying Iranian urban society, I realized the incompatibility of these models and theories with the Iranian context. As a result, through socio-historical analysis of Tehran and Iranian urban society, I developed a new model for the public sphere and investigated its relationship with political public spaces of the city.

After my dissertation defense, my short-term goal is to rewrite my dissertation as a book manuscript and explore the possibility of its publication. However, for the years to come, I would like to go back to my country, Iran, and use my knowledge both in academia and professional work. In the end, I would like to say a few words about the Urban Studies Program for its newcomers. This program shows you a vast landscape of knowledge about cities; it enables you to carve your research in the way you wish. The people in this program are absolutely supportive. They do their best so you can accomplish your goals.

Alex Synder

MS in Urban Studies, Spring 2016

Alex SynderThe Urban Studies Program has had a huge influence in the way I view and approach today’s urban problems. First, USP gave me a much stronger sense of the time and resources needed to catalyze enduring change; I feel that my approach to problem solving is much more strategic today than three years ago. Second, I am much more attentive to differences of ethnicity, race, gender, and class. To be sure, these were differences I took into consideration before entering USP, but not necessarily to the degree I do now. USP gave me a deeper knowledge and understanding of the ways various national and local decisions have helped some, but hurt many others. I will carry this deeper awareness with me as I do my part to build healthier and happier urban environments.

Beyond all this, USP became a vehicle to further explore two of my professional interests: transportation planning and urban history. Ultimately, I combined both interests in a master’s thesis that explored the urban freeway teardown movement in Milwaukee. I am currently living in San Francisco and seeking work that draws on my transportation planning, public history, and communications skills and knowledge.


Jennifer Weber

MS in Urban Studies, 2014
Jennifer Weber

On Urban Studies at UWM… “The best part about my two years as an Urban Studies Master’s student was having the time to explore so many issues I was passionate about in-depth alongside other like-minded peers. I wrote my Master’s paper on gentrification in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, examining the conversation and information available in the digital age. I found that pro-gentrification rhetoric is prominent in mainstream digital media outlets and in online discussions. While in the program, I was also able to work with the Legacy Redevelopment Corporation (LRC), a non-profit CDFI loan fund located on the North Side of Milwaukee. At LRC, I saw the importance of providing capital to small businesses and non-profits located in low-income areas to boost neighborhoods and spur development. Post-graduation, I moved to Austin, TX and now work to raise funds for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a non-profit advocacy organization working to reform the state’s massive and ineffective criminal justice system.”


George Papakis

PhD in Urban Studies, 2014
George Papakis

On Urban Studies at UWM… “From the outset, I truly enjoyed my time in the Urban Studies Program. One of the greatest benefits was that the program allowed me to choose from a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches. This gave me the opportunity to accommodate and develop my specific research interests, and at the same time, gain a broader knowledge of various topics. The faculty in USP have been extraordinarily helpful and kind, and even though my research interests did not always coincide with their own, they encouraged me to pursue my goals and provided me with all the necessary support and precious advice. My advisors have granted me a great deal of freedom for taking intellectual risks, and they have been very supportive throughout the dissertation process. In my dissertation I trace the historical forces that conditioned the dearth of public spaces in Athens, Greece, and through the case study of the city’s first civilian airport, examine the current redevelopment plans of Athens’ largest remaining open space as part of a wider process of urban transformation.”

Gestina Sewell

MS in Urban Studies, 2014
Gestina Sewell

On Urban Studies at UWM… “The Urban Studies Programs for me has been an amazing experience. USP has opened my eyes to my own privileges, and it also has impassioned me to serve my community here in Milwaukee. I have learned about the disadvantages that so many face because of socio- economic factors that contribute to low living standards in cities across the nation, which led me to study the issue of human trafficking in Milwaukee. Through my research, my independent data collection of human trafficking in general, and the level of trafficking via prostitution in Milwaukee specifically, I have garnered a greater sense of urgency in the need to teach our youth that there are more options for them than they may realize. With the average age of trafficking victims at 13 in Milwaukee, our youth are being targeted and being placed on a path of violence and early death. It is through education and other such measures that we can arm our youth; thus, I am happy to announce that I will be teaching in the Milwaukee Public School system in the fall of 2014.”


Ozgur Avci

PhD in Urban Studies, 2011

On Urban Studies at UWM… “I spent about 6 years in the Urban Studies program at UWM. It was a life-changing experience in every respect. I did not only earn a Ph.D. degree, but also gained life-long friends/professors/colleagues as well as a baby girl in Milwaukee. I wrote a dissertation on the symbolic constructions of an urban-poor, “gecekondulu,” identity in Turkey in the 1960s and 1970s. I argued that the gecekondulu identity was an “other” to any political ideology, being neither in nor out, because of its incompatibility with all established paradigms explaining social development. Therefore, this marginal identity marked the boundaries of every symbolic system in this period.”

The Future… “I am currently looking for an academic job in Turkey. I am hopeful that my doctoral degree in Urban Studies will help me find a faculty position in a department or program such as political science, sociology, media and cultural studies, or urban studies.”

Liis Palumets

MS in Urban Studies, 2011

My Master’s paper was titled “The Data Center as a Spatial Data Provider to Milwaukee Community Organizations.” The paper was mainly based on my internship experience at the Data Center of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee in fall 2010 and complemented by interviews and document analysis. The Data Center is an important source of spatial information for community organization and helps them to make well-informed decisions about the development of the neighborhoods. However, the strength of the Data Center mainly lies in the individuals working there, while the organizational sustainability is rather weak due to limited budget and staff size.

On Urban Studies… Having grown up in a small village in Estonia, I discovered the allure of city life while being an exchange student in Berlin, Germany. I started wondering what makes some cities a wonderful place to live, while the others cause distress and frustration. The Urban Studies Program at UWM provides a wonderful multidisciplinary answer (or rather a key to the answer) to that question. Having studied sociology and political science during my undergrad career, I especially enjoyed learning about the perspectives and research methods of geography and history and was fascinated about the synergy of bringing various disciplines together to study urban affairs.

What I am doing now… I graduated from the Urban Studies Master’s program in May 2011 and currently continue my work in the field of urban development in the office of the Minister for Regional Affairs of Estonia, my native country.


Greg Carman

PhD in Urban Studies, 2010

Greg Carman graduated with a Ph.D. in Urban Studies in May 2010. His major emphasis was race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Greg is a 1972 graduate of UWM, majoring in History. He received a J.D. from Marquette University Law School in 1979 and spent the next 21 years as a local government lawyer in Appleton, Wisconsin. He received his M.A. in History from UWM in 1999 and started his Ph.D. work during the fall semester of 2000. He is married with three grown children, all college graduates. On the Dissertation Greg’s dissertation, “Wall of Exclusion: The Persistence of Residential Racial Segregation in metropolitan Milwaukee” (Major advisor: Amanda I.Seligman), addresses the history of segregation in Milwaukee. Drawing on census data, an overview of suburban zoning codes, an analysis of state laws regarding annexation and incorporation, and oral history interviews, Greg’s dissertation argues that a lethal combination of virulent racism, economic and social discrimination, and institutional barriers contributed to residential racial segregation in metropolitan Milwaukee.

On Urban Studies… I was very happy with the Urban Studies Program because of its interdisciplinary approach to urban issues. For the first time, I was immersed in sociology and geography, especially the spatial analysis that is crucial to understanding the growth and development of cities. While my dissertation is firmly grounded in historical research, it was certainly informed by the other regimens.

Jodi Kessel Lyon

MS in Urban Studies, 2010

Jodi Kessel Lyon completed her Nonprofit Certificate in May 2009 and Urban Studies Master’s Degree in August 2009. Her thesis was entitled “From Marriage to Divorce in the Suburbs: How Are Single Mothers Explaining Their Life Changes?” In it, Jodi questions the suburban ideal of intact families that includes a husband, wife, and children. Her study focused on single mothers living in a specific suburban community, who spent some of their married years in that same suburb but are now divorced and single. The purpose of this paper was to explore the experiences and thoughts of these women and mothers who didn’t meet the definition of the “suburban family” and how they cope with being unlike their neighbors. The research explored questions such as: Are these single suburban mothers more stable than their urban and rural counterparts? Do these women have a higher level of education and consequently greater job opportunities? Are these women recipients of regular spousal and child support? And how are suburban divorced women adapting to their single status?

Where Are You Now? Jodi was hired in a new position of Business Manager with the SOS Center at 4620W. North Avenue in July 2009 and was promoted to Executive Director in March 2010. “UWM and the Urban Studies Program along with the Nonprofit Program prepared me extremely well to work for a nonprofit in Milwaukee. Working for a smaller nonprofit that doesn’t have specialized departments allows me to call on everything I learned in college to do my job, from the accounting classes to the history of Milwaukee to the urban social structure and the internal structure of the city.”

On Urban Studies… “What I like most about the Urban Studies Program is the broad range of areas of study. Going into the program I wasn’t working in a particular field and didn’t have a specific job or field I was trying to get into and the program opened my eyes to all the possibilities before me. I found I thoroughly enjoy archival research and may get into that sometime in the future. And now I know how I can research the history of the approximately 100 year old building the SOS Center owns! Being able to think outside the box and know how to problem solve was just the beginning. The Urban Studies Program was a perfect fit for me and is a hidden gem at UWM.”


Tammy L Hodo

PhD in Urban Studies, 2009

Tammy was born and reared on the east side of Milwaukee, WI. After graduating from Washington High School in 1989, she enlisted in the United States Navy, where she served as a Personnel Specialist for four years before receiving her honorable discharge in 1993. She attended Albany State University, a historically black university, and majored in Criminal Justice, graduating in 1997. Tammy then earned a master’s degree in Public Administration at Columbus State University.

Between 1999 and 2005, Tammy lived in Germany and worked for the Department of Defense as a civilian employee providing a variety of social service support to different entities on the military base.

In 2005, she entered UWM’s Urban Studies doctoral program. One of her first classes at UWM was Research Methods in Urban Affairs, which was taught by Dr. Joel Rast. She selected the Minorities in Academia topic for her research paper, which she also used for her dissertation. She writes, “Being biracial (German, Irish, and half black) and being reared primarily by my German and Irish mother made me aware of race issues at an early age. I continue to have a difficult time grasping why racial distinctions are made and why they continue to affect the lives of people who are considered different.”

Tammy’s dissertation, “A Critical Analysis of an Urban Research University: Climate, Culture, and Minority Faculty,” is a case study that puts race and ethnicity at the center of inquiry by examining the climate and culture of UWM and how it is perceived by minority faculty members. For her study, Tammy interviewed 30 minority faculty members out of a possible 65 about their experiences within their departments at UWM and on the campus in general. Using Critical Race Theory, she examined how department climate, area of research interest, and tenure status affect the workplace experiences of UWM’s black and Latino/a faculty. Her findings indicate generational differences in perspective between older minority faculty (50+) and younger minority faculty. Also, the amount of ethnic/racial diversity within departments, tenure status, and research interest, affect how Latino/a and black faculty in the study perceived the climate in their department and UWM in general. The workplace experiences of some UWM minority faculty contradict the multicultural rhetoric so commonly heard within academia. Tammy hopes the dissertation will open up dialog among university administrators and provide insight into the academic climate and culture. She chose to conduct this study because the existing scholarship on minority faculty in traditional universities documents distinct obstacles encountered by Faculty of Color, but the data offer limited insight regarding this difference beyond merely documenting its existence. Her study attempts to add to scholarship by having black and Latino/a faculty members “name their own reality” as they provide narratives about their experiences at a traditional university like UWM.

Melissa Herguth

MS in Urban Studies, 2009

Melissa did her undergraduate work at Marquette University with a major in Social Welfare and Justice and with minors in Sociology and Theology. As an urban studies Master’s student, she continued a social justice focus, with her Master’s research examining Habitat for Humanity’s efforts in Milwaukee. Melissa has long been committed to affordable housing and working with community development nonprofit organizations. She worked for 2 years as a community organizer with the YMCA and is currently the Development Director at Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity. In this capacity, she oversees all the fundraising efforts for the organization with a $2,500,000 contributions budget. Melissa’s thesis project evaluated the development strategy and the neighborhood effect Habitat houses have had in the Midtown and Walnut Hill neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s north side. The findings of her thesis have allowed her to explore the organization’s history and the economic impact it has had in the community. The four major research questions she investigated in her research were 1) What is Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity’s development strategy? 2) Have MHH houses helped improve the neighborhood?3) Has additional nonprofit, for profit and public investment occurred in the case-study area? 4) How have the perception and quality of life changed in the neighborhood?

Reflections on USP and future directions… In her own words, “USP courses have provided me with a background and academic knowledge of the challenges that face the urban environment. I feel that my education in Urban Studies and the Nonprofit Management programs have provided me with both a practical and an academic foundation to tackle some of the social and economic challenges related to affordable housing. As a fundraising professional, it will be great to use this research on the impact Habitat has had in the Milwaukee community to educate donors. This way donors can see how their investment in the organization is transforming the lives of low-income families and neighborhoods.“My plans after graduation are to continue to work with Habitat for Humanity; I am enjoying my position at Habitat and am committed to living and working in Milwaukee. I also plan on working with Professor Judith Kenny to publish an article from my thesis project as well as possibly continuing on with further research as it pertains to affordable housing and Habitat for Humanity.”