Introducing this summer’s inaugural group of Urban Studies Gordon Fellows!

From the inception of the Urban Studies Program at Penn, connecting theory and practice has been one of our guiding principles. In this spirit, we launched the first year of our Gordon Fellowship, with funding from alum Jacques Gordon and his family. Becoming a Gordon Fellow provides opportunities for a select group of students to explore careers that would lead to improving the quality of life in cities, whether in the public, non-profit, or private sectors and connects them with alumni mentors.

Meet the 2019 group of Fellows, who received $5,000 stipends this summer to do just that. And look out for information from CURF and on the Urban Studies website on how to apply for the Fellowship next summer!

Click here to see their summer pics.


Sophia Durka, Sankofa Farm at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia

What I’ve been up to: This Summer I used my Gordon Fellows Award to fund my internship as a Farm Fellow at Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden. It was my second summer working at the Farm, and this year my position involved more leadership and program planning. The summer session is a six-week program where we hire up to 25 high school students from Southwest Philadelphia to work on the farm and participate in history and culture lessons on the African Diaspora. The students rotate between four groups led by the Farm Fellows: Cooking, Harvest/Market, Farm, and Special Projects. I led the Harvest/Market crew throughout the summer with a co-leader.

Rewarding moment: One of my favorite parts of my job is New Urban Freedom School, which Co-Director of the Farm, Chris, teaches. The lessons he gave once or twice a week consisted of global history, as it relates to people of the African Diaspora, especially African-Americans. Rather than Chris singlehandedly leading the class, asking and answering all the questions, he assumes the students already have all the knowledge. This means he believes the students and the classroom (the outdoor classroom consisting of a circle of chairs under the shade of the Scala Tree) already have all the knowledge in them, so he acts as a facilitator. I was inspired by how engaged the students were learning about their history and culture.


Missy Frankil, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia

What I’ve been up to: This summer I had the opportunity to intern at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge as a community engagement intern through the Gordon Fellowship. My main responsibilities included helping on transportation planning projects and planning out the work schedule for the Student Conservation Association (SCA) high school crews. I found myself getting involved in many other projects at the refuge which was also a positive experience. I got pulled into environmental education projects where I got familiar with how to teach kids around 4th grade. I was also pulled into some biology projects where I learned about plant and animal IDs, the importance of natives/ invasive removals, and the importance of refuge maintenance.

Lesson Learned: Throughout all of the transportation projects the consistent reflection/ lesson was that planning has a lot of political and logistical barriers; this was no reason to get discouraged but rather it is a reason to hold on to my passions that drive me to do this sort of work.


Shamari Harrington, Hartford Youth Scholars in Hartford


What I’ve been up to: This summer I completed my fellowship with the Hartford Youth Scholars, a 26-month college readiness program for Hartford youth. The program that I piloted was called A.C.T. (Act. Create. Transform), and my goal was to give these scholars and their parents helpful tips to ease their transition into high school and college. Because I attended the program, I wanted to give these scholars information that I wish was available to me, and I also wanted them to fulfill the mission of the program, which is to ultimately improve the city of Hartford.

Rewarding moment:
The A.C.T. Challenge presentation was the most rewarding experience of the summer. The scholars worked very hard throughout the summer evaluating different ideas and approaches, and their final products were bittersweet. The three cohorts presented about housing, gun violence, and poverty, and their presentations made me very proud. It was rewarding to see the passion that the scholars had to change the narrative.


Carolynne Liu, Citizen’s Planning Institute in Philadelphia    

What I’ve been up to: This summer, my role was within the Citizens Planning Institute (CPI), the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s (PCPC) education and outreach arm. In this role, I met with multiple stakeholders throughout Philadelphia’s neighborhoods to help shape the curriculum of the CPI Fall 2019 course, which was completely revamped, published articles on the Phila2035 website and the CPI website in coordination with citizen planners and city planners, learned how to use the City’s Voter Access Network (VAN) to analyze and update data points, and organized and queued up all the marketing materials for PCPC’s Fall 2019 course, including flyers, emails, newsletters, and other graphic-design materials.

Rewarding moment:  I worked with the Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity to help plan a mentor-protégé program. The program would pair prime contractors and sub-prime subcontractors, with the goal of advocating for minority- and women-owned subcontractors. My group designed a plan to conduct personal interviews with both prime contractors and sub-prime subcontractors. I also helped design questions and a strategy for conducting quantitative surveys to collect more concrete data, which would supplement our qualitative findings. We would then use this data to help design Philadelphia’s first mentor-protégé program for local businesses. In this project, I honed my soft skills of working collaboratively over the course of several weeks to advance a complex project, while communicating effectively to a supervisor.


Piotr Wojcik, Heidelberg Project in Detroit


What I’ve been up to: This summer, I used my Gordon Fellowship to make possible an  internship at the Heidelberg Project (“HP”) in Detroit. I helped the organization by digitizing guest logs, improving their data collection tools for the outdoor art environment, making some adjustments to the website, reviewing financial statements to update their Guidestar profile, composing a new press kit for workshops and speaking engagements, attending some community meetings, optimizing their cloud storage file system, and helping prepare the new headquarters building for move-in (which involved tasks such as patching holes and painting the walls). However, staff at the HP were most excited by my graphic design contributions. One of my main projects was developing new official signage for the site which welcomes visitors and reminds them of the community-agreed visitation rules.

Lesson learned:
The city of Detroit is an incredibly fascinating city to be in because of the way its contradictions are materially much more evident than many other North American cities. At the same time, the HP is evolving from an outdoor art installation run by one artist into a multilateral arts organization. This has made it an exciting time to work at the organization, as I was able to experience some of the ways in which community development is highly contested --- both in Detroit in general and this neighborhood in particular. It is a messy, messy process that is mediated by a wide variety of interests and factors. In the nonprofit sector, this typically includes very weighty opinions or requirements from foundations and other philanthropic actors, and it was super interesting to see how the HP needs to constantly adjust its programming and its messaging to fit the interests of its donors.