New Urban Studies cluster gives students experiential, multidisciplinary platform

Urban Studies cluster ribbon cutting 2019
Center, left to right: Jacqueline Lázu, an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; Salma Ghanem, acting provost; Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco, dean of LAS; and Euan Hague, director of the School of Public Service; participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the opening the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences’ new Urban Studies Cluster on May 21. As part of the university’s strategic plan, the Academic Growth and Innovation Fund provided support for the Urban Studies Cluster. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
Senior Matt D’Onofrio knew he wanted to study public policy at DePaul, but after taking some geography electives, he found his understanding deepen about how social problems could be viewed through a spatial and environmental lens.   

“Social and economic justice are important, but seeing how the city operates as a system contributing to climate change also allows me to examine environmental justice and how that ties into the larger picture,” he says.

D’Onofrio is one of a growing number of LAS students who have at their disposal a new urban studies cluster at DePaul that includes six graduate programs, Master of Public Health, Master of Social Work, Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, School of Public Service, Sociology, and Sustainable Urban Development; five undergraduate programs, Community Service Studies, Criminology, Public Policy Studies, Geography and Sociology; and two Centers, Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development and the Center for Community Health Equity.

“For many, the city is made of brick and mortar. From our perspective, the city is much more than a cluster of buildings. The city is made of people who build with their cultural, social, political and economic identity. The city is an intelligent living organism that needs to be understood in its amazing complexity,” says Professor Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, dean of DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. 

The cluster fosters multidisciplinary collaboration among faculty across academic lines, providing students the rich, complex course offerings that will prepare them for future success.

“It is important to think about our urban space as a microcosm of a much larger global society. What the global urban landscape is requiring right now is a level of collaboration and of interdisciplinarity and creativity to be able to solve emerging problems says Professor Jacqueline Lazú, an associate dean in LAS and an associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages.

The new cluster reinforces DePaul’s commitment to its Vincentian values and urban education while keeping itself current. 

“A big strength of our curriculum and of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences as a whole is that we have a lot of people who actually study cities and what it’s like to live in them,” says Euan Hague, a professor of geography and director of the School of Public Service. We have faculty that are globally connected, that are studying cities all over the world, that are taking students on study abroad trips to cities all over the world. Bringing those people together into this multidisciplinary cluster is hopefully going to increase recognition of urban studies beyond just a physical location.”

Sarah Vassileff, a senior majoring in criminology and minoring in American politics, has benefited from the new urban studies cluster. 

“Originally, I wanted to be a defense attorney, but in the end I decided I wanted to study how criminals’ minds work. My goal is to work for the counterterrorism unit in the FBI,” she says. 

Vassileff will enter the field already a professional, having held internships locally for both the Council for Islamic Relations and as a law clerk for the Child Protection Division of the Cook County State’s Attorney. After graduation, she plans to attend the Chicago School of Professional Psychology to become a licensed forensic psychologist.

“I love the way DePaul has blended all these disciplines together and how the professors are connected to each other so that everything we learn correlates and ties together,” she says.

D’Onofrio has also taken advantage of DePaul’s extensive network in Chicago. In addition to interning for Alderman Michele Smith of the 43rd Ward and for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, D’Onofrio has found that what began as an internship for a Chicago management consulting firm has turned into a job. 

“My urban studies experience at DePaul has been key in terms of helping me develop an analytical framework to view the city and the phenomena that occur within the city. I hope to use my urban studies education to promote positive change in Chicago and other cities around the world,” he says.

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