Rice University

Rice University Center for Civic Leadership

Latest News

Houston Centered Policy Challenge

April 10, 2019

Houston’s affordable housing crisis impacts people across a broad spectrum of backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, in neighborhoods across the city. That’s why the Rice students participating in this year’s Houston-Centered Policy (HCP) Challenge approached the topic with an array of potential solutions. 

Eight teams of students pitched a panel of experts their ideas in Farnsworth Pavilion Feb. 21, offering policy proposals that ranged from financial incentives for landlords aimed at decreasing discrimination against those with housing vouchers; intergenerational housing for elderly people struggling to get by; transit-centered development that recognizes cheaper housing often means a longer, tougher commute to work; healthy housing metrics that show developers the true cost of building in polluted areas; and ordinances aimed at creating more mixed-income housing by requiring builders to set aside a certain percentage of units as affordable. 

View full story by Katharine Shilcutt of Rice News HERE


Sophomore bound for Cambridge via Abraham-Broad Exchange Program

April 9, 2019

Mikayla Knutson is bound for England as the winner of the Abraham-Broad Exchange Program scholarship, a highly competitive fellowship at Rice. The program supported by a generous donor provides for one year of study at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College.

More... »


Houston Centered Policy Challenge

Feb. 8, 2019

One of Houston’s most pressing civic issues will be investigated by the young minds at Rice University.

The Houston Centered Policy (HCP) Challenge, a yearly event hosted by the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), asks students to tackle citywide problems from a public policy perspective, crafting proposals that are presented to a panel of politicians, civil servants and other area experts. This year’s competition will focus on affordable housing.

“In recent years, housing prices in Houston have risen significantly, while the housing stock has shrunk following Hurricane Harveyand other flooding events,” said Elizabeth Vann, director of programs and partnerships for the CCL. “City, county and community leaders in Houston recognize the urgency of this issue and are looking for ways to address it.” This concern and attention made affordable housing an ideal topic for Rice students to tackle, she said. 

View full story by Katharine Shilcutt of Rice News HERE


Rice students to reckon with Houston’s affordable housing challenges

Feb. 6, 2019

The Houston Centered Policy (HCP) Challenge, a yearly event hosted by the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), asks students to tackle citywide problems from a public policy perspective, crafting proposals that are presented to a panel of politicians, civil servants and other area experts. This year’s competition will focus on affordable housing

More... »


Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium

Jan. 16, 2019

Rice students will have an opportunity to present their work or research to a communitywide audience April 10 at the annual Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS) in Tudor Fieldhouse.

Now in its 17th year, RURS is the leading event for undergraduates across all disciplines to present their projects and compete for recognition from schools and research centers at Rice.

View full story by Katharine Shilcutt of Rice News  HERE


Loewenstern Fellows’ service spans five continents

Oct. 24, 2018

At the CCL’s annual Fellows’ Presentation, Rice students who were awarded a Loewenstern Fellowship in International Critical Service and Civic Research shared poster presentations of the work they performed over the summer, highlighting a diverse array of projects that included rural health clinics on remote islands in the Pacific Ocean, refugee boat-spotting and emergency response in the Mediterranean and microfinancing programs in Africa.

More... »


Urban Immersion 2018

July 30, 2018

Urban Immersion 2018 introduces incoming Rice students to more than just service work in the city

This summer, 47 incoming Rice freshmen and one transfer student were introduced to Houston in one of the most immersive ways possible.

During the Center for Civic Leadership’s (CCL) annual weeklong Urban Immersion program, they visited the East End and the Third Ward, Chinatown and Pasadena; they took Metro buses throughout the city to reach each daily destination and slept in downtown’s Christ Church Cathedral each night. Each day was designed to tackle a different social justice issue while taking the students on a tour of their new city: Tuesday’s topic was gentrification and community development during a volunteer shift with the Southeast Houston Transformation Alliance and a tour of Project Row Houses; Wednesday’s visit to Finca Tres Robles and a “toxic tour” of the Second Ward provided by Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS) illuminated issues of environmental justice.

View full story by Katharine Shilcutt of Rice News here.


Alternative Spring Break 2018 in the news

July 5, 2018

To Rice University Students, Texas' Maternal Mortality Is A 'Social Justice Issue'

A group of students at Rice University embarked on a trip to Austin last spring to study maternal mortality in Texas. The students say health disparities and social justice issues are at the core of why some women are dying while pregnant or shortly after giving birth.

Listen to the full interview, by KUT's Ashley Lopez, here.


Houston-Centered Policy Challenge

Feb. 16, 2018

More... »


Civic Leadership Capstone Scholars

Sept. 30, 2016

The four Capstone students are spending this semester designing project plans that will build the capacity of a community partner. Projects include working with neighborhood coalitions, non-profit organizations, and educational associations. After successfully completing their capstone projects, they will be eligible to receive the Certificate in Civic Leadership.

Here's what they had to say:

Caroline Brigham

Year: Senior

Major: Architecture; Minoring in Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities; Global Health Technologies; and Water and Energy Sustainability 

CCL programs participated in: HART Health team, Susan McAshan Summer Service intern in Cape Town, South Africa (PJHC)

"I see the CCL Capstone as the culmination of service learning at Rice. In my case, I have developed a deep interest in sustainable urban development at the intersection of architecture, health and the environment. I hope to learn how conscious urban design can help to alleviate poverty and inequality in cities, and how best to combat homelessness with development of sustainable, affordable housing and accessible healthcare."

Misha Carthen

Name: Misha Carthen

Year: Senior

Major: English & Psychology

CCL Programs Participated In: Alternative Spring Break, Loewenstern Fellowship

"I am passionate about celebrating the immense and ebullient spirits of those we come across. My Capstone hopes to embrace refugee populations in Houston as well as refugee resettlement agencies, offering these powerful communities with a voice to speak of the challenges and tribulations they face. Particularly, I am working with the nonprofit organization PAIR, the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion for Refugees, as well as with Rice educator Dr. Elizabeth Munoz, and Houston museums to celebrate the diversity of resettlement narratives."

Madhuri Venkateswar

Name: Madhuri Venkateswar

Year: Senior

Major: Chemical Engineering, PJHC, CCL Certificate

CCL programs participated in: Urban Immersion, Women's Empowerment ASB Site Leader, SafeClear HART Research, Loewenstern Fellowship

"I am passionate about equality and justice. Specifically, gender inequality in STEM. I chose to pursue the Certificate in Civic Leadership because I want to connect all my civic experiences in a cohesive narrative. In this way, I can pursue an autonomous capstone project and build on the social impact experiences I have had in college." 

Demetrie Luke

Year: Senior

Major: Philosophy/Religious Studies

CCL Programs Participated In: LRME, Beyond the Sallyport, Rice Leadership Workshop

"I chose to participate in the Certificate in Civic Leadership because I'm interested in pursuing community development and education within Afro-American communities and creating a better context for youth in those communities. I'm passionate about living life and having a world that celebrates diversity amongst different people, and about the transformative powers creativity can have for individuals and communities."


Building a bridge to clean air in Houston

Aug. 3, 2016

The Bridge to Clean Air project aims to raise awareness about pollution in Houston and ultimately to reduce it. In the first phase of the program, a Houston Action Research Team of four Rice students used monitoring equipment from the City of Houston to measure air pollutants at the Hazard Street bridge at U.S. 59. - Read more in Rice News.


Rice student helps create sustainable change through Loewenstern Fellowship

July 26, 2016

Check out Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD)'s video on how interns like Loewenstern Fellow Wen Ting Li are working to help create sustainable change in communities across the globe.

In the summer of 2015, through the Loewenstern Fellowship, Wen Ting served with FSD in Tola, Nicaragua. For nine weeks, she worked at a health post in the rural community of Las Salinas on a research-based water quality project. During her time in Las Salinas, Wen Ting strove to promote better water consumption habits in order to reduce cases of diarrhea and urinary tract infection that are commonly known to affect community members as a result of contaminated water consumption. 


LRME mentor inspires Rice undergrads

June 28, 2016

This summer, 50 Rice students are interning in cities across the U.S. and abroad through the Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience (LRME), a competitive summer internship program for Rice undergraduates who wish to develop their leadership capacity and civic responsibility through the mentorship of experienced professionals. In New York, Samantha Ding, Eric Hsu, and Mai Pham have internship placements with the design firm Kurani, and are working in Design and Research as well as Marketing and Public Relations. The students work under the mentorship of Danish Kurani, founder of the design firm and Rice alumnus, to develop their professional skills, civic awareness, and leadership.

Halfway through the eight week program, the students have already gathered valuable takeaways from their internship. "I've learned how to communicate architectural concepts to the public in a compelling way and show them why design matters to their lives," says Samantha Ding (Architecture, '18).

Their mentor, Danish Kurani, received his Bachelor's in 2007 from the School of Architecture at Rice University and in 2013, founded his own firm. Kurani partners with education providers and builds physical environments to help people learn and grow. The firm approaches design with the belief that the traditional classroom environment does not support student performance or help teachers do their jobs, and that a space intentionally designed to be conducive to learning will positively impact academic success. Danish gave a recent TED talk on the importance of learning spaces for educational development.

Mentors like Danish can certainly inspire students through their work. The role of the LRME mentor is to provide guidance that will build leadership capacity, whether through challenging students to develop new knowledge and skills or exposing students to learning opportunities within the organization. "My discussions with Danish have really taught me to understand how important it is to involve everyone in the design process," says Mai Pham ('19).

The Center for Civic Leadership seeks to develop connections with alumni, and through programs like LRME, to link current students with alumni to expand students’ civic leadership opportunities.

“Central to our mission is developing students’ capacities for civic responsibility and leadership," says Caroline Quenemoen, Executive Director of the CCL. "The LRME program highlights this goal not only by developing the professional skills of the undergraduate interns, but by strengthening students’ understanding of how leadership and civic engagement are connected within the context of their mentorship placements.”

Students in the LRME program are challenged not only through the mentored internship, but through course readings and assignments that strengthen their abilities to foster meaningful work relationships, to develop professional behaviors, and to understand leadership and civic engagement.


Luce Scholar reflects on a year abroad

June 8, 2016

Nick Thorpe, who graduated from Rice in 2015 with a Bachelor's in political science and environmental policy, was selected to be a Luce Scholar for 2015-2016. He was nominated by Rice and chosen for the nationally competitive fellowship program along with 17 other students across the U.S. who have a record of high achievement, outstanding leadership ability and potential for professional accomplishments. Nick recently completed two months of summer language training followed by 10 months of professional placement in Hanoi, Vietnam.  

Less than a month separates me from one year since I first touched-down in Hanoi on a hot and humid summer day in late June. My excitement and anxiety about my year in Asia as part of the Luce Scholars Program seemed to get rid of any of my jetlag. For almost one year, I have been living with a wonderful homestay family, working as a policy researcher at an environmental non-governmental organization, and studying Vietnamese. While much of my day consists of a routine (commuting to work by motorbike, being in the office, and then meeting up with friends), this year in Vietnam has taught me to be prepared for anything and to realize that every day brings about a new and unexpected adventure.   

I have never been to a place where 100% humidity exists, where leather items mold because of the humidity, and where a convenient store opens within a week of previously being a clothes shop. Hanoi itself has been an exciting place to live, with the constant and rapid change, the fast pace of life, and the charm of tree-lined streets and lakes around the city. I particularly have enjoyed the liveliness of the streets and sidewalks: hungry customers eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on plastic stools on the sidewalk; parents attempt to keep control of their children as they wobble around the motorbike- and car-congested streets; and motorbike drivers speed on the sidewalks to avoid traffic during rush hour. On top of that, the streets are constantly changing. In the morning, one spot on the sidewalk could be selling a bowl of pho. During the afternoon, it could be full of workers drinking trà dá (iced tea), before turning into a grilled meat spot full of young Vietnamese teenagers and college students at night. There really is nothing quite like being part of the streetlife and taking it all in.

As I reflect on the year, I am reminded by how amazing of an opportunity it is to spend time outside of the United States and to learn more about the world around us. Each country and place has its own culture, history, language, cuisine, people, and interests, yet we sometimes forget about the importance of physically being in a place to soak everything in – especially given how connected we are through social media and other means. Through traveling to various regions in Vietnam – from the rice terraces in the far north to religious temples of the once-powerful Champa empire in the center to the bustling commercial center of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south – I have explored the historical and cultural differences among the country’s regions. In order to connect with people at a personal level, especially at work, I made it a goal of mine to become conversational in Vietnamese, which meant studying hours each day, conversing with my homestay family, and practicing with street vendors and university students. Because of my understanding of the language, as well as the fact that very few foreigners take the time to learn even a little bit, I have shared so many unique and special moments with people: whether it is a kid jumping up and down when I casually said “xin chào” (hello) or a street vendor staring at me in disbelief when I ordered a plate of pho bò xào (street-fried pho noodles with beef).

I am particularly grateful to spend time abroad immediately after graduating from Rice. While there were difficulties in transitioning from college to an environment where I knew no one, could not speak the language, and had very little understanding of Vietnam, I feel like I have grown in ways that I do not quite know yet. It will not be until I am outside of the context of Vietnam that I will truly understand the impact of this year. I will always remember this year with fond memories of my homestay family, coworkers, as well as family and friends who visited. I feel motivated to take on the complex and interconnected challenges of the world, and my time in the diverse, rapidly developing, and culturally rich region of Asia has instilled in me the importance of international perspective, of adaptation, and of connections with people. And after one year, I have only scratched the surface.   


Rich Family Endowment supports student leadership and creativity

May 16, 2016

The Hilda and Hershel Rich Family Endowment, housed in the Center for Civic Leadership, supports student engagement with societal issues through volunteerism, internships, research projects and other relevant activities. Each semester, the CCL uses the endowment to fund student projects intended to make a distinctive impact upon society, raise awareness among the Rice community and foster and encourage leadership and creativity among Rice students. Recent awards have ranged from $300 to $15,000.  

“Hilda and Hershel’s generous gift allows the CCL to develop the leadership capacity of Rice students as they collaborate with community partners to address important social issues,” said Caroline Quenemoen, Executive Director of the CCL. “It has been rewarding to work with Sharon (Rich) and Renie (Carniol) to fulfill their parents’ vision of fostering social responsibility and creativity among our students.” 

Read more about this year's projects in Rice News.


KHOU highlights HART team findings on pollution in Houston

May 11, 2016

A Houston Action Research Team's (HART) findings on pollution in Houston was featured on local news station KHOU. You can watch the video here.

The Center for Civic Leadership's HART program consists of small, interdisciplinary teams of Rice students who work together with city offices and community organizations to address issues and challenges facing Houston and its residents. This particular HART project, the Bridge to Clean Air project, is a multi-year collaboration between Rice University and Air Alliance Houston to create a relatively inexpensive air treatment system to reduce vehicle pollution at a prominent traffic hotspot in Houston. The project aims to design and build a stationary air treatment system that would remove air pollution from a portion of US 59 at the Hazard St. Bridge.

In the spring, a team of HART students conducted Phase 1 of the project, working with Dr. Loren Raun in the Statistics department and representatives from the City of Houston’s Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention to sample air and test for ambient levels of PM, VOCs, and NOx. Team members prepared and analyzed the data to: (1) characterize pollution at the site in order to determine the appropriate treatment equipment and strategy, and (2) record background levels of pollution to measure the impact of the project.

Members of the HART team were: Vera Liu (Statistics), Will Deaderick (Mathematics), Ryan Saathoff (Policy Studies and Political Science), and Bilan (Jackie) Yang (Mechanical Engineering). Rice graduate student Taylor Barnum (Environmental Analysis and Decision Making) served as team coach. The results of the team’s work will serve as the air pollution benchmark for the project and will be compared to air samples taken once the air treatment system has been installed to determine the system’s effectiveness. 


Rice students win Fulbright Scholarships

May 10, 2016

7 Rice University students have received Fulbright Scholarships, which will give them the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research abroad.

“The students who receive a Fulbright grant have a strong academic background, leadership potential and a passion for expanding mutual understanding among different nations and cultures,” said Madalina Akli, Associate Director for Global Engagement with the Center for Civic Leadership. “We are excited and honored to have seven Fulbright winners at Rice in one year.”

Students interested in applying to the Fulbright for next year should contact Dr. Akli for advising.

Read more about this year's winnners in Rice News, here.


Anjali Bhatla selected as 2016 Truman Scholar

April 25, 2016

Anjali Bhatla, a Rice junior majoring in health sciences and policy studies, is one of 54 college students in the U.S. selected to be a Truman Scholar. Recipients of the highly competitive scholarship are awarded up to $30,000 to be used for graduate study in the U.S. or abroad. Scholars are selected based on their strengths in leadership, public service, and academic achievement.

Students interested in applying for the Truman Scholarship for 2017 should contact Danika Brown, Director of Curriculum and Fellowships in the Center for Civic Leadership.

Read more about Anjali in Rice News, here.


HART students win awards at RURS

April 21, 2016

The Center for Civic Leadership (CCL) annually sponsors an Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS) open to students from all disciplines. The symposium offers students an opportunity to showcase their research, develop professionally, and compete for prizes. This year, the CCL Houston Action Research Teams (HART) had the opportunity to present their research concerning issues and challenges facing Houston and its residents. Three of the HART teams were awarded prizes for their hard work and dedication to the Houston community.

The Park Improvement Preferences of Under-Surveyed Populations team won the Shell Center for Sustainability Award. The team was comprised of Sally Hodges-Copple, Lucy Matveeva, Emily Jacobson, and Tanvi Sharma.

The Dynamic Role of Libraries: How do Customer and Library Characteristics Drive Houston Public Library Usage? won first prize from the School of Social Sciences. The team, which included Tiffany Tang, Melanie Zook, Shaan Patel, and Madeleine Tibaldi, focused on public library usership in the Houston area.

The Effects of Local Library features on the Distance Travelled to Houston Public Libraries team also tied for first prize from the School of Social Sciences. The team consisted of students Derek Holliday, Benjamin Hamm Conard, Jena Lopez, and Natalie Polacek.  

The full list of 2016 RURS winners can be found here.


HART students co-author paper on Houston parks planning

March 28, 2016

recent article in CityLab referenced a paper, "More Inclusive Parks Planning: Park Quality and Preferences for Park Access and Amenities" co-written by a Houston Action Research Team (HART) that was published in the academic journal Environmental Justice.

In Spring 2015, on behalf of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD), a team of Rice undergraduates sought a greater representation of user improvement preferences for public parks, focusing on Hispanic and African-American communities in Houston  The HART students designed and conducted a survey targeting minorities at parks on the east side of the city.

Along with Alan Steinberg, Associate Director of the CCL, and graduate student Kevin Smiley, the HART students, Tanvi Sharma, Sally Hodges-Copple, Emily Jacobson and Lucy Matveeva co-authored a paper based on the survey data that was published in the February 2016 volume of the academic journal Environmental Justice.

According to the article's abstract:

"Parks are increasingly viewed as places that prompt environmental justice analysis. While these studies have focused on inequalities in access to parks and amenities within parks, we offer a third important topic of study: the opinions and preferences of minorities with regards to park usage. We link empirical environmental justice analysis on parks with the core environmental justice belief that marginalized communities must have a voice in planning processes. Using data from two surveys conducted in Houston, Texas, we analyze the park preferences of these communities ... Overall, we highlight the importance of integrating community voices into parks planning."

You can read the published paper in its entirety here.