Natalie Hernandez felt disconnected. It was fall 2020, COVID-19 was in full swing and she was taking virtual UWM courses from her parents’ home in Illinois. She was also doubting whether she should continue pursuing her architecture major.
Then came the lifeline: a UWM Alumni Association email about its Mentoring Program. “I thought, ‘You know what? I feel like I need a mentor,’” says Hernandez, a firstgeneration college student. So she signed up.
The Alumni Association paired Hernandez with Kate Riordan, a city of Milwaukee transportation planner. Riordan, who earned a UWM master’s degree in urban planning in 2013, spent a lot of time talking to Hernandez about her own career and her projects at work. She also served as a reassuring sounding board for Hernandez.
Continue reading more on Natalie’s experience here.
This summer I had the opportunity to work with the Milwaukee County Transit System’s Planning department as an intern (taking urb std 497). The experience has been nothing short of educational and has allowed me to fully immerse myself (quite literally) into the streets of Milwaukee!
Through this opportunity, I’ve been able to gain critical GIS map-making skills that I hadn’t had previously, granting me hard skills that will benefit me in my future career. I learned the do’s and don’ts of transit planning when finding remedies to routes with the framework of putting riders and operators first, who are on the front lines of service, when making decisions. Furthermore, I engaged in panels in public facing meetings to inform the public on upcoming changes to routes and answered any questions that came up.
One other extremely exciting project was having a hand in planning Mobile Meetups, MCTS’ newest outreach effort to connect elected officials with their constituents onboard buses to have their voices heard! This project leverages the voices of those who wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance, which makes it all the more fulfilling! I also became a member of the Racial Equity Work Group in seeing how to engage and improve the nature of the agency for its diverse workforce.
Certainly, there are endless other projects that afforded me to be in spaces I never imagined to be in. The world of transit planning always has something new that will keep you on your feet! In all of this, my experience here has turned me into a fiercer advocate for promoting public transit as a tool to transcending the barriers of segregation to transform Milwaukee County into the healthiest county in Wisconsin! The MCTS Planning team has certainly stretched, challenged, and poured into me as an intern and I’m beyond grateful to have the opportunity to serve the community with the agency!
Over the summer of 2022, I spent 3 weeks studying at The University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany. I had never gone further from home than Winnipeg, but even there I have family. When I arrived at the Frankfurt airport I found my group and we struck up a conversation immediately, we were all ecstatic to be there, many of us had never been so far from home. While I was there the other students became like a second family, we were always going out and exploring in our free time. Simple German phrases became a regular part of my vocabulary, “hello” became “hallo,” and “thank you” became “danke shön.” I also discovered a love for shawarma which I will forever and lovingly call “döner.” Döner, schnitzel, and wurst were our primary food when we were out on excursions.
When your advisor says that studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience they are correct. I thought it was hyperbole but I now know why, you won’t be able to travel and make friends like this outside of a student program, even if you stay in a hostel. I didn’t think I could study abroad because there just didn’t seem to be any room in my transcript, but I discovered that short-term programs exist and may actually make my school year easier by knocking out some credits as well. Not only can you go to the city you are studying in, but you can also travel anywhere else! After my stay in Darmstadt, I went to Amsterdam for 10 days which was a blast!
Being in Germany and studying the switch to a green economy really put some things into perspective for me. I arrived in Germany with a passion for sustainability but I left with the knowledge of what it takes to be implemented, but also the complications of implementing these changes from a national to a local level. Walking the streets I was able to experience what makes Germany a global leader in this sector, the infrastructure is totally different. Bendy busses, trams, and subways could get me anywhere in Darmstadt, Frankfurt, and Berlin. The trains were convenient and easy to use when I traveled city to city. Grocery stores have machines that reimburse you when you return plastic and glass bottles. But my favorite factor was how many every time I went to campus I would take a shortcut through a neighborhood. It was a shady gravel path surrounded by prairie and apartment buildings. On the apartment’s parking structure there was a beautiful green wall. I had heard about this concept many times but never actually seen it, and as I explored more I encountered many more green infrastructure just like this. I am on the lookout for more study abroad programs I can attend. I had too much fun not to.
Sedgwick (Sed) Smith
BA Major in Urban Studies
Urban Studies major Sedgwick (Sed) Smith was showcased on the Talking Fitchburg program about his community development work as part of his summer internship in the City of Fitchburg.
During the fall of 2019, I got a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend four months studying in a foreign country. Studying abroad was not something I always had envisioned myself doing. In fact, it wasn’t until the spring of my sophomore year that I truly began considering it. As I began to research my options and have conversations with others who had studied abroad, I quickly realized this was something I was going to do. Within a few months, I was signed up and registered to embark on the experience of a lifetime.
That summer flew by and before I knew it, I was boarding the plane, ready to trade in Wisconsin’s crisp fall for rain, rain and well, more rain in Dublin, Ireland. I was lucky enough to have my family travel with me to Ireland and help me move into my new home after we would spend a week traveling the country. Immediately after landing in the Dublin airport with my family, I had no real sense of culture shock. Everyone was speaking English, there was a McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks right in the airport, and a glance out the airport’s window showed what looked to be no different than a typical U.S. city landscape. However, as we left the airport, my eyes were opened to all the beauty and culture Ireland had. I spent the next week traveling nearly the entire country with my family, embracing the challenge of driving on the left side, navigating roads hardly wide enough for one-way traffic, sleeping in what once was a castle and eating countless pub meals.
Rather than living in the dorms like most the friends I would come to make, I decided I wanted to rent a room from someone off campus. I had spent weeks over the summer looking for a room to rent on various Facebook pages, and ended up finding one just 3.5 miles from campus. I would be living with a single Irish woman and one other exchange student who was from France. Renting a room, or a ‘dig’ as the Irish would say, was one of the best decisions I made. Living in an authentic Irish home allowed me to be fully submerged in the Irish culture. The Irish woman I lived with, Eileen, and I would spend many nights sitting and talking about our different cultures. Eileen would cook traditional Irish stews and prepare a popular dish known as a spice bag. She would also clue me in on Irish hospitality, such as offering tea to everyone who comes to the house, even the plumbers and the mailman! I received a care package from my father, which allowed me to introduce Eileen to some American favorites, such as Ranch and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I also helped to debunk some of her misconceptions about Americans, such as yes, we do walk places sometimes rather than take our car and we do know what recycling is (even if we aren’t that great at it).
Living off campus allowed me to embrace many cultural differences, but the biggest adaptation I had to make was using a bike as my main mode of transportation. Being off campus meant a daily 3.5-mile bike ride to and from school, as well as using my bike to get to the city center and learning to balance multiple bags full of groceries on my bike ride home from the grocery store. At first, this adjustment was difficult. There were many rainy mornings I dreaded my bike ride into campus. However, I soon came to appreciate my peaceful rides along Dublin’s canals and historic city center. Unlike in Milwaukee, I was able to enjoy the sights of historical castles and churches on my daily commute to class. I am hoping to continue utilizing my bike back in Wisconsin as the weather permits.
Before I knew it, the semester was in full swing. I was taking five classes, two geography courses, one on the urban environment and the other about social geography, one economics of social policy course, and two Irish heritage and culture courses. I thoroughly enjoyed all my classes and appreciated the different perspectives they provided about topics I had studied in the past. It was interesting to hear other countries perceptions of the United States, although sometimes awkward as the U.S. was often used as the negative example! I am hoping to bring back these new perspectives and continue to use them as I complete my education in Milwaukee.
Outside of class, UCD offered many extracurriculars where I came to meet people who I now consider lifelong friends. Many of my close friends ended up also being American exchange students, as it is common for Irish students to return home on the weekends to help their families. This left only the exchange students on the weekends to get out and explore with. My life quickly became an endless cycle of going to class during weekdays, exploring Dublin city on weeknights and jetting off to a new European country almost every weekend. From feeding the deer at Phoenix Park to shopping on Grafton Quarter, there was always something to do in the city center. My learning did not stop after class got out for the week. Some of my most valuable experiences were made while traveling around Ireland or to a new European country. Every place I went had a different lifestyle and new perspectives in which I found myself embracing and educating myself about.
My experience abroad allowed me to open my eyes up to the world outside of the United States. I met so many great people who pushed me to try new things and understand different ways of living. Ireland became a part of me and my time there is something I will always cherish. Although I have now returned home, many aspects of the Irish culture remain with me. I am still enjoying a traditional Irish stew on chilly nights, riding my bike whenever possible and even find an Irish saying, such as “cheers” or “grand” slipping into my vocabulary. I will never forget the four months I spent abroad and hope to one day return to Ireland, as it is now my second home.
Major in Urban Studies
Major in Urban Studies
During the fall of 2018, I embarked on my first solo travel, across the ocean from my friends and family to a land I’d never seen and a place where I knew no one. Arriving two weeks prior to my only other UWM counterpart, I was both anxious and ecstatic at the same time. I felt like it was my first year of college again, except this time across the Atlantic and without the reassurance of my parents an hour and half away. I made my first friend while boarding my plane in Chicago, a woman from Lodi, WI, who was also going to UCD. She served as a reminder of home, of the Midwest, of cheese curds, and the word “ope” throughout my semester. But by the end of my semester, Dublin had become my new home, phrases like “top up,” “that’s grand,” and “what’s the craic,” seeped into my everyday vocabulary, and my friends turned into family.
Overall, my time in Ireland was one I will never forget, and I have a tattoo of a four-leaf clover on my wrist to prove it. The people I met, places I visited, and the conversations I had will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned so much about Irish history and Irish culture, and beyond that I learned so much from my new friends from Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Canada and New Zealand about what it’s like living in a place other than the United States. Those friends I made will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am grateful for the opportunity I had in Dublin and beyond satisfied with the people I met and experiences I had. If you’re interested in visiting Dublin, feel free to reach out for suggestions. If you’re interested in studying abroad, I can only highly recommend the experience and tell you to take advantage of the opportunity.
Major in Urban Studies, Minor in Sociology, 2018
Dakota Crowell, an Urban Studies major and Sociology minor, leads an initiative to open the food pantry to combat food insecurity on campus. Crowell is a leader within the Student Association (UWM’s student government.) He says it didn’t surprise him that some of his classmates have a difficult time finding enough food. But seeing the actual numbers was a little staggering. Crowell explained: “I had met students or have known friends who have experienced this…but I didn’t realize the percentage of that [issue] would have been so high.” He also says that he’s trying to be sensitive in the ways the pantry is marketed, keeping in mind that there may be different stigmas or barriers associated with receiving assistance. Crowell took on the project as his first project after being elected to Student Association. The food pantry has more than two-thousand pounds of food and other items. That includes food like ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, as well as personal toiletries, laundry detergent, and diapers for students who may also be parents. Currently, the UWM Student Food Pantry is open every fourth Monday from 9:00am – 1:30pm as well as every fourth Thursday from 5:00-9:00pm. If students can’t make it during these times, designated faculty and staff in the Dean of Students office, the LGBT Resource Center, the Inclusive Excellence Center, and UWM Student Association have access to accommodate these students. Crowell states: “Securing these basic needs for students is quintessentual to their academic success. We can’t really expect someone to be passing their classes if they know maybe they haven’t eaten for the last day, or are struggling to find where their next meal is going to come from.”
Major in Urban Studies, 2018
In 2016, Trevor Jung, an Urban Studies major, also working for a certificate in Urban Planning, completed a five-month internship in the Milwaukee Mayor’s office. Trevor worked part-time in the Constituent Relations Department, fielding phone calls from concerned residents about everything from snow plowing schedules to finding shelter on cold winter nights. Jung said of his experience, “I’m so grateful that I did the internship, because I got to see the real stories behind the theory.” In his Urban Studies classes, he explains, they talk about segregation, about public housing, homelessness, economic development, and transportation, but in his internship, he sat in the Mayor’s office answering phones and actually spoke with people of the community who expressed their needs and sought information about public services. He explain: “It puts things in perspective. You’re not just studying these things to be enlightened; you’re studying these things because these are real problems that need to be addressed.” Jung expressed his admiration for the dedication and openness of Milwaukee City Major Barrett. Jung explained: “I got to hand out turkeys to families for Thanksgiving. That was so neat because I got to see the real sincerity of Mayor Barrett. That’s what being the leader of a city is all about – that service mindset.” Jung plans to return to Racine after graduation and pursue a leadership position within his hometown community. Read the article about Trevor in the April 2016 issue of L&S InFocus.
BA Major in Urban Studies & Political Science, Spring 2016
I moved to Milwaukee at 18 years old to do an educational nonprofit, and then ended up staying to pursue a degree in Urban Studies and Political Science at UW-Milwaukee. Urban Studies has allowed for me to articulate and comprehend what I was seeing around me – the intense segregation of Milwaukee; the distressed middle school environment I worked at; the peculiar racial divisions between co-workers; and how the urban space that we see today was shaped by local, state and federal policies. Urban Studies permitted me to study geography, sociology, criminal justice, political science, urban planning, and history all in one—a true interdisciplinary major. The culmination of my major was my senior capstone project, where I spent an intense amount of time in the archives studying why early political fragmentation occurred in metropolitan Milwaukee (what were the political, social and economic reasons? What actors played a substantial role? What theories are applicable and what are the gaps?).
As for my future plans as a graduate, I don’t believe I’m done learning yet—but I want to pursue knowledge in my own way, in other forms. I’m looking to travel out of the country again, hopefully to Chile—a four-month study abroad in Morocco showed me how much traveling allows for self-reflection, growth and understanding.
BA Major in Urban Studies, Spring 2015
The Urban Studies Program has changed the way I view urban life. I grew up in the South Side of Milwaukee and I know what it is to live through poverty, segregation, unsafe areas and disinvestment in public services, just like many people in Milwaukee. But the multidisciplinary approach of the Urban Studies Program gave me the tools to better understand the core of these issues. It is at the core of these issues where we will find the solutions, which is the most important thing for me.
At times it was hard for me to understand why the topics of Urban Studies 250 and 377 were so broad. Every topic was so interesting that I wished we had spent more time on every single one. By the time I took the Urban Studies 600 and did my capstone on local economic development, I understood that all of the urban topics we had reviewed were connected and I knew that if I wanted to help solve urban issues than it was necessary for me to understand the historic, economic, political and social aspects of these issues.
Now as the Community Outreach Manager at Layton Boulevard West Neighbors I will share my knowledge with the residents of the neighborhood to solve issues, but most importantly to work on the assets of the neighborhood and to help them achieve their potential. My future plans involve enrolling in the Urban Planning Master’s program at UWM and keep working to make every neighborhood of Milwaukee a place where people can live, work and play.
Double Major: Urban Studies & Sociology, 2014
The Urban Studies program here at UWM has been nothing but a positive experience. The multidisciplinary approach is what made the program so attractive, and I now have a broader sense of ways to approach issues in our fast urbanizing world.
The courses in the program helped me figure out what I wanted to do after graduation. Prior to declaring a double major in Urban Studies, I had no idea how it related to everyday life. USP 150 and USP 489 have been groundbreaking courses for me. I had the opportunity to work with Layton Boulevard West Neighbors (LBWN) for my final year where I put research skills acquired from urban studies courses to use. I also gained an interest in sustainable housing for urban communities. I found a home not only in the Urban Studies program, but also in non-profit organizations.
I recently accepted a research position at a company where I am putting skills acquired
from both the USP program and my internship at LBWN to use. Future plans involve enrolling in the Urban Studies graduate program concurrently with the GIS certificate program while focusing on economic development and housing. The skills that I have gained while enrolled in the undergraduate program will be great tools in anything that I choose to do in the future.
BA Major in Urban Studies, Spring 2011
“After taking Urban Studies 377 (Urbanism and Urbanization) I found myself fascinated by the historic, economic, and social factors that have shaped the contemporary urban environment. My coursework in the Urban Studies Program at UWM allowed me to gain an understanding of how and why cities have developed, and the societal impact of urban development patterns throughout the world. The knowledge and experiences I have gained as a student in the Urban Studies Program will undoubtedly prove beneficial as I plan to pursue a Master’s Degree in City & Metropolitan Planning from the University of Utah in the Fall of 2012.”
BA Major in Urban Studies, Spring 2010
Drew grew up in a small northern suburb of Minneapolis, but “always felt like life gained enrichment through the urban experience.” He viewed the major in urban studies to be important both personally and professionally: “With an increasingly urbanized world population, I felt a strong understanding of urbanism was important. I wanted to comprehend the problems facing our cities, so I could understand the solutions to these problems.” During his last semester as part of his major, Drew took an internship course where he worked with the Sierra Club and became involved with administering the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding program, a program created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “I experienced first hand how urban sustainability issues are addressed, as well as how energy efficiency and conservation strategies are implemented.” One exciting moment came at a Sierra Club publicity event staged at Bradford beach and highlighting the Gulf oil spill. Drew was interviewed by WDJT-58 about the spill that was later broadcast on the 5 p.m. news. Upon reflection he commented: “I saw how a relatively small group of people could spread a message through grassroots organizing and staging media events.”
BA Major in Urban Studies, Spring 2010
Mark majored in Urban Studies and Urban Geography. “I wanted to pursue Urban Studies as a major after I had taken two Urban Studies classes as electives and liked the content that those classes offered. I also liked the fact that the major was interdisciplinary, which meant I could draw from a number of different disciplines.” In 2008 Mark obtained an internship position with the Milwaukee County Transit System in the planning department, which he is currently engaged in full time during the summer break. You may have read his editorial in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (July 20, 2008), “Board Must Override Walker Veto,” arguing for dedicated funding for Milwaukee County parks and transit. Mark also recently returned from a 2-week Urban Planning study abroad trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he had the chance to learn about planning policy and redevelopment in the city.