Thomas combines engineering, planning in leading Rice Urbanists
Statistics major Kate Thomas admits she sometimes feels like an outlier among her statistics classmates. Unlike some of them, who might be looking forward to careers in finance or biosciences, or going on to work in academia, she’s interested in using those tools to address social issues and public policy.
That interest is what led her to the Rice Urbanists, a group founded in 2015, with the goal of encouraging sustainable urban policy and facilitating dialogue between Rice students on these issues.
“I was just discovering urban studies,” the senior said. “And my friend Justin Raine told me about his idea for the club, which we started together. Before it existed, there wasn’t really a place for people to come together to look at all those things combined.”
She said Rice Urbanists are students across disciplines: architecture, civil and environmental engineering and mechanical engineering, to name a few. As co-presidents, she and Raine host several events for their members and the campus community each semester.
“We’ve done these lunch forums that have been super successful,” she said. “We have hosted panels and guest lectures about urban planning issues, and the student turnout has been great. It’s important for students to see that there are ways they can be involved in the process of developing more liveable cities.”
Helping to lead the club has been a way for Thomas to engage other students in issues she’s researched. She admires the work and research of the Kinder Institute, where she is a student assistant. She is currently preparing a dataset of green spaces across Houston, including parks managed by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Harris and other counties, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and local school districts. This data will be available through the Kinder Institute's Urban Data Platform and can ultimately be used to evaluate park access around Houston.
She also earned a 2016 Loewenstern Fellowship and worked with Building Dignity in Villa El Salvador near Lima, Peru. Building Dignity is a non-profit that supports neighborhood development by providing leadership courses and educational programs.
“I did research to identify obstacles preventing youth from attending college,” she said.
While she is still determining how she will combine her statistics background and her passion for cities, she’s learned a lot from her role in leading the Rice Urbanists.
“I’ve loved having the opportunity to connect with other Rice students interested in similar things, as well as community leaders involved in those issues.” she said. With the lunch sessions, where people can come have food and ask questions, it was really gratifying for me to see how all of the planning came together and we’d have a room full of people talking about things that mattered to them. I’ve really felt inspired by my peers.”
Thomas recently learned she was awarded a Wagoner Fellowship, which allows Rice students to study and conduct research abroad. Thomas will spend a year in Buenos Aries, where she will study the risks posed to communities from the petrochemical industry.