Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Monthly Archives: July 2013

Urban Studies Fellowship: Week 5! (Cassandra Calderon)

Hello y’all!

This week has been all about meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Monday morning, I went with Laura Lea to one of her business retention and expansion meetings with Oxbow Sulphur Inc. We visited their office here in The Woodlands and met with the office manager. I felt as if I was back in science class learning about sulphur, sulphuric acid and fertilizers, BUT in a more interesting and hands on experience. Not only did I get to learn how sulphur is used on a daily basis, but I also got to learn how the company distributes it. After that meetings, I realized that Laura Lea’s job is to meet with all the businesses established in the area, weather small or big, public or private, member or non-member. Her role in the business community is to connect businesses, advise businesses on community matters, organize forums for the businesses, and provide businesses with resources. She is very knowledgeable about the area and can answer almost every single question I have from who is the developer of a new building site to who is the managerial staff of a multi-tenant building.

Tuesday afternoon, Laura Lea and I went to a lunch appointment with PetroQuest, an energy company that is relocating to The Woodlands. At this meeting, I learned the steps a company must take to relocate. Luckily, PetroQuest is just relocating from the Greenspoint area to the Woodlands area, a 30 minute drive. We met with the executive vice president of business development and land, as well as the business development coordinator. They shared with us the challenges they are facing with relocation, as well as how their company will be impacted.

On Wednesday, Gil and I had a phone interview with the Community Impact Newspaper, which is a Texas news organization that distributes information at the community level. The interview was regarding my Urban Studies Fellowship and project. Not only will the article help my project get recognition in the community, but will( hopefully) also encourage businesses and residents to take the surveys. Here is the link if you would like to read the article: http://impactnews.com/houston-metro/the-woodlands/edp-surveying-woodlands-residents%2C-businesses-about-economic/.

On Thursday morning, we had our monthly board meetings. 42 board members showed up and the meeting ran a bit more than expected. There was a lot discussed regarding the community as two new class A office buildings are being built in The Woodlands. I really enjoy attending these board meetings, plus I get to do a quick report on my project.

Lastly, I have started putting together my final report. Although, I am still not finished collecting all the surveys (my deadline is August 9th), I have started working on a template for the project. As I work more and more on the project, I get more excited to see the final deliverable report finish.

Until next week!


Philadelphia Planning, Week 3 (Nick)

The Mayor’s Internship program has really been taking off. This week has been full of experiences and learning opportunities.

This week, our exploring government session was host to an education and a public health panel. We heard from people that work in the Mayor’s Office of Education, the 2nd in command for the Philadelphia School District and people who run sucessful education programs in the city. It was an eye opening look into the thought processes of policy makers and action takers in the realm of Education, especially in Philadelphia. For those who do not know, Philadelphia is facing a budget crisis which has been refereed to as a “doomsday” scenario. The school district has been forced to make many tough decisions including shutting down 20ish schools (after another 30 last year), removing funding for music, arts, sports, and laying off office staff and guidance counselors. It was exciting to hear from the panel about why the situation is as bad as it is (years of problems made worse by some funding streams disappearing from the federal level), what this means for the families who cannot afford to pay to send their kids to private schools, and so much more. I learned that the situation is much more complicated than I could have imagined, but that there is hope on the horizon with funding sources opening up and strong new leadership taking control of the situation. We were able to talk in a brown bag lunch (more intimate small group conversation over lunch) to Ami Patel who works for the Mayor’s Office of Education about the Mayor’s ambitious goals for the city and how they are being met. The mayor is pushing to raise the High school graduation rate in the city from 65% to 80% and the percentage of people in the city with a college degree from 25% to 35%. So far during the Nutter administration the rates have increased substantially (5% higher college graduate population and 7% increase in high school graduation rate. We were also able to understand what kind of effect the mayor and city administration can have over education in the city, and I was surprised at how little comes from the city and how much comes from the school district as an autonomous unit.

To learn more about the education issues, look here http://thenotebook.org/taxonomy/term/71 .

To learn more about the mayor’s education goals, look here http://www.phila.gov/education/Pages/default.aspx .

Another eye opening experience I had was meeting with a man who does a lot of development work and worked for the city a long time ago. The conversation that we had was concerning to say the least. I asked some questions about what thought goes into making plans and development decisions around the ideas of gentrification. The response was along the lines that gentrification is not really an issue and that as a developer, he tells people in the communities that he is about to develop in that they should buy their homes so that they can sell them at a higher rate. He also quoted that if people are renting, they are transient populations anyway as the average time a person rents a place for in the city is 9 months. I had some difficulty comprehending that these responses could come from someone who is making and has made big decisions in the city. It is one thing to think of the positive side of gentrification which is an argument that has some warrant, but to deny that it has any effect on people’s lives is another issue. Also, intersectionality needs to be looked at to better break down the situation of renters in the city. Perhaps, as I would hypothesize, people who are wealthier renters are more transient than those who have less income and therefore have less ability to move at will. Finally, to think that people can just buy their homes is mind boggling to me. If people could afford to buy their homes, I believe that the might, but there is a much harsher reality that this person wants to deny a voice in the planning and development process. I believe that to deny is the easy way out that people use to justify their actions, but the harder route that is more just and right is to engage and find comprehensive solutions for not only developers and people moving into an area, but also people who have been living in an area for decades. I am glad that my eyes were opened to the fact that people who have power can have extremely uninformed ideas and views of the world. This is something that I would hope to combat in my lifetime.

On another note, 4th of July is the biggest holiday in Philadelphia as it is the birthplace of the nation. Every year there is the nation’s largest free concert on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This year about 600,000 people showed up to see artists like John Mayer, Jill Scott, Neo, and The Roots and the scene was incredible. It made my heart light up to see so many people brought together with hope and pride in this country and this city. I have some footage that will be in the next video that I put up, but just know that it was an unreal sight.

Some other updates are that I finished researching the zoning for my first district and will be moving on to the next. I have also been given a lot more responsibility with siting in on design meetings, researching for a separate project that will be brought to city council on Roxborough, and designing an introduction card for my bosses boss to be sent out  to the heads of different departments and to members of the city council.

Sorry for late update. Work has been fun, but extremely hectic. Will get some more updates out soon, and one more video coming shortly. Until next time, keep your eyes open and take in what is going on around you. Life is a school.

National Dreamer Conference | USF Week 4, Shelby S.

Last week, I began working with some of the interns from the New York Metro area programs and doing some independent work in the office. I began research on a special program for the New York Metro Area to have a link on their website so that people interested in making in-kind donations can give frequent flyer miles. These types of donations would simplify transit for the “I Have A Dream” staff and Dreamers to the annual National Dreamer Conference in various cities throughout the United States.

This year’s conference was held at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. My supervisors Thierry and Catherine went to the conference with other New York Metro Area staff and Dreamers. The National Dreamer Conference began in 2002. It is designed to expose middle school and high school Dreamers from our programs all across the nation to life on a college campus. Dreamers have the unique opportunity to interact with their peers, professors from the university, students, and even Dreamer alumni. A number of round table discussions are held to expose Dreamers to the college selection process, career options, leadership, public service, and oral communication. Pictured below are a few of the Dreamers at the conference last week in Boulder with my supervisors.


The conference is a wonderful tool to bring students to a campus and help them envision themselves in that space pursuing a degree. One key component of the Dreamer conference is the interaction between Dreamer alumni and current Dreamers.  Alumni support and involvement with the organization is crucial for maintaining a diverse body of mentors and offering students matchless motivation. Alumni have the power to engage with the students on a very personal level, having lived through the same challenges. They truly serve as living manifestations of possibility and have the power to uplift the students in a way that other authority figures and role models may not be able to. Exposing students to alumni of the program helps the students see for themselves the impact that the project can have. This incentivizes student participation and builds faith in the directives of their mentors and the “I Have A Dream” Foundation staff.

I remember my first time visiting Stanford. Although I only did a walk through tour and visited the book store, just being on a campus and understanding that it could potentially be my home for four years was magical. It was different and exciting; an experience that really got me thinking about how much a college decision could change my life. That moment of discovery and self-exploration is exactly why the work we do at the “I Have A Dream” Foundation is so important. All students deserve to feel like the world is at their fingertips.

Urban Studies Fellowship: Week 4! (Cassandra Calderon)

Hello Everyone!

Last week, I visited a couple of community centers, i.e. YMCA’s, churches, apartment complexes and libraries, to drop off several flyers outlining my project and a link to the surveys. This week, I got many more responses from residents of The Woodlands. Once I receive a survey by email, I input all the data into an excel spreadsheet. As my data set is expanding, I am starting to see the different perspectives from residents and from business leaders regarding community matters. I have also started reading and looking at other community development and business expansion surveys that have been conducted in different cities throughout the USA in order to get an idea of how I want to put together my final report.

As of right now, most of my surveys have been received through electronic means. However, next week, I will personally be conducting the surveys. I have been given permission to conduct surveys to residents in an apartment complex. By doing this, I hope to be able to diversify the pool of residents from which my surveys are conducted. I have realized that my surveys are usually taken by residents that have been living in The Woodlands for a minimun of eight years. While this is extremely beneficial for my surveys as the residents have personally experienced the change in The Woodlands, I also want to get feedback from younger residents.

Besides working on my project, I have also been very active in the daily tasks of the office. On Tuesday, I went with Laura Lea to a lunch meeting she had with a CFO of a pharmaceuticals company headquartered here. I truly enjoy attending all these business retention meetings because I learn a lot. I also attended a Ribbon Cutting of a new company in the area who just joined The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce. I met other interns working at different companies.

But my favorite outing this week was attending a public meeting (pictures below). Since The Woodlands is not incorporated it has a special status and does not have a city council. It has its own form of local government that is overseen by The Woodlands Township. In this public meeting, Gil Staley presented his proposal for a budget increase for next fiscal year. After his presentation, he faced very tough questions by the chairman as well as the directors. He was asked to return with a presentation outlining his projects for the increase in the budget. Gil also presented a motion to grant Layne Christensen Company a seven year tax abatement. The motion was approved. This was my first time to attend a public meeting. It was very interesting and I learned about new policies. I wish to attend the next public meeting in August.

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Until next week,



Grants, Games, and Interns | USF Week 3, Shelby S.

Last week I began some of my major grant writing initiatives for the “I Have A Dream” Foundation. Throughout the internship one of my major objectives is to create a comprehensive grant calendar that not only shows the grants that we’ve applied for in the past (with varying degrees of success) but also with information for new grants. In order to find new grants that our organization qualifies for as an education focused and community building 501c3 company, I will begin intensive research at the Foundation Center in the coming weeks. The Foundation Center is “the world’s leading source of information on philanthropy, fundraising, and grant programs.” Located on New York’s famous thoroughfare Fifth Avenue, the Foundation Center’s grant database contains hundreds of thousands grants that are available for organizations in the social sector.


The Foundation Center’s Vision is

“a world enriched by the effective allocation of philanthropic resources, informed public discourse about philanthropy, and broad understanding of the contributions of nonprofit activity to increasing opportunity and transforming lives.”

In compiling this massive document to support the incoming Development Manager, I am setting the stage for grant writing success! The document explains who is offering the grant, what their unique mission statement is, the general guidelines for the grant, and what specific “I Have A Dream” Programs could bolster our application for the grant. I also list due dates and contact information if there are additional questions that aren’t explicitly laid out on the website or the document.

After working on the document for a week or so I’m growing to realize how many funds are available to organizations like ours. It’s not money availability, but the actual grant applications that appear to be the real challenge. Scanning through the application questions and list of requested documents I’ve come to the realization that the more detailed the application, the better. Organizations want to know exactly what they’re giving their money to and what type of programming they’re supporting. Feedback and scoring rubrics from previous grants we’ve applied for have revealed that we could always stand to go into a bit more detail. To summarize, one major takeaway from last week’s work on my big assignment is to be as detailed as possible. Consistency, clarity, and details are key to solid grant application. I’m excited to continue working on this important transition document in the coming weeks!

When I wasn’t in the office working on development items, I spent some time with the Chelsea Program’s Dreamers. On Thursday we went to a Yankees Game at the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It was really cool to finally see a borough other than Manhattan or Brooklyn. It was quite a long ride on the subway from the Central Offices, but all the students knew exactly what to do and filled me in on all the latest Yankees news on the way! Apparently that was Derek Jeter’s first game with the team since his injury and we were playing the Kansas City Royals. I asked about my hometown team, the Milwaukee Brewers and the two boys I was talking to (Brandon and Joseph) just laughed. Yikes! Despite the Brewers slander, I had tons of fun with the students and staff at my very first Yankees game.


Me with the Dreamers at the Yankee game on Thursday. I’m wearing my cardinal red Stanford hat, of course. 


I look forward to next week when I’ll be working with some new Dreamer interns and meeting Dreamer alumni at one of their mixer events.

Until Next Week,


The “I Have A Dream” Foundation

The “I Have A Dream” Foundation Dreamer Pledge

I have a dream.
I am a Dreamer.
I believe in my dreams, I believe in myself.
My family believes in me.
My teachers believe in me.
My Sponsors believe in me.
My family, my teachers, my Sponsors, I won’t let you down.
I am going to stay in school- work hard, study hard.
I am going all the way to college.
Make it big.
I am proud to be a Dreamer.
I have a dream.
I have a dream.

The “I Have A Dream” Website

Urban Studies Fellowship: Week 3! (Cassandra Calderon)

Hello all!

This week has been super interesting and busy. However, I would like to start off my blog with what I consider to be the highlight of my week. As I mentioned earlier, The Woodlands Area EDP is an integral part of The Woodlands Community and is involved in many different aspects. As a consequence, this past Monday I was able to attend a private hearing in which Carlos Gutierrez, former US Secretary of Commerce, talked about the upcoming immigration bill. As an immigrant, I could truly connect with Mr. Gutierrez. The discussion mostly dealt about the significance for passing the immigration bill and what it meant for Republicans to support the bill. Mr. Gutierrez made interesting remarks that really captured my attention. 

Throughout the week, I got to attend other smaller meetings. For example, I attended the Commercial Real Estate Association’s monthly meeting where the members discussed the construction and opening of a nearby county-owned public-use airport. I learned about the importance of having public-use airports, which to be honest, I never really gave them any importance. I also accompanied Laura Lea to one of her business retention and expansion meetings. We got to go to GE’s Water & Process Technology Headquarters here in The Woodlands. I didn’t even know that GE had an office in Houston! Every day I am learning something new about my own community.

Now, regarding my own research project. Responses are coming in (: However, I have received many more responses from businesses than from residents. As a consequence, this morning I visited more than a dozen community centers, such as YMCA’s, churches, departments, and recreational facilities to drop off a copy of the flyer describing my research (a snapshot of the flyer is shown below). I will be visiting more organizations next week to promote the surveys. 

Gil Staley, the CEO of The Woodlands EDP, has truly helped me with the project. He has put me in contact with various people, who have also helped me distribute the surveys. On Wednesday, I visited the Woodlands Area webpage in order to get more background information of the area and this is what I found: 


I was so happy to see my survey on the webpage. Hopefully, I will be very busy next week collecting all the survey responses. Will keep you posted 🙂


Exploring Transportation – Nick Fellowship Update Week 2

Hello again,

First thing I learned, time does not slow down for the busy. This week flew by so fast and the work was flowing. At the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) I have been working on getting parcel data and mapping out the Lower North East Philadelphia District. Just over the course of the week I have gotten so much done and feel like I am exceeding expectations which means that people have been entrusting me with more responsibility and taking me seriously in the office.


There were a few interstitial engagements this week that really helped round out the experience for me and acted as productive breaks. The first was an intern welcome which the office held so people could meet all of the interns in the office and we could mingle. There were two things that really struck me at the welcome. The first is that it is refreshing and rewarding to talk with other people who truly care about and are interested in something you are. I was chatting with a bunch of people in the office and it was apparent that they got it and we could talk at an elevated level without having to inform each other on the history of urbanization or Philadelphia politics. The second thing was that with so many graduate planning students in the office, I could learn a lot about different approaches schools take to teaching planning and which one works best for me. I have more and more been considering going to urban planning or design school and this will be a great summer for figuring out if it is right for me and how it fits into my life and goals.

Another great learning experience was attending the last public meeting for input on the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) 2040 plan. I was able to leave work early one day to attend this meeting and take notes on what might be in store for the region. There was so much information and I think I learned so much by seeing how a different organization handles planning on a totally different scale. Some of the main takeaways are:

– The public does not engage with regional planning at the scale is should (there were seats for 70 and 15 attended)

– There is very little money for progress no matter how much we want it. Over the past 5 years funding for transport has decreased from $60 to 50 billion because funding avenues are drying up. This means all the money will be spent trying to maintain our unsustainable systems instead of investing in transit and density.

– Money is authority. The DVRPC is a funding distributor and an advisory body. It has no direct control over the planning process. The only way they can direct is by providing funding avenues or taking them away.

– The world in so many ways is still run by an older white male demographic and it makes me uncomfortable. Almost every person who was working for the DVRPC was a white male. I am also one and that makes me feel like I am playing into the perpetuation of a messed up system. While I try to learn how to be an ally to many people, I recognize I cannot speak for everyone nor will I try, but my hope is that as I grow, I can work to change this and embrace diversity to have more comprehensive and responsible planning. I was also the only person under the age of 45 in attendance. A 2040 plan should not be drawn out by one demographic of people who cannot speak for all, and in the case of age, will not be around when their plan is complete.

Bottom line, the meeting brought a lot to light and I felt very strongly about what I heard and saw.


Through the Mayor’s Internship Program this week we learned about public safety by hearing from a panel which included the Police, Fire, and Prison Commissioners. I was impressed and learned a lot about not only how the departments functioned, but about how they play in to the bigger city picture. Their approaches to their fields are more progressive than I would have expected as Philadelphia is an old city with old traditions, which was nice to hear about.

I have been told I talk a lot, and I guess that translates to the keyboard as well. Sorry.

Until next time.



Cultural Competence in East Harlem | USF Week 2, Shelby S.

Last week I left the foundation’s main offices to go to the East Harlem site for the very first time. This unique “I Have A Dream” site is the newest to the national program—the students who receive our resources are rising first and second graders. They’re truly little bundles of energy— always excited to participate in class and learn new things. The students are really special and a lot of hard work goes into making their summer program experience great.

Schools that have unqualified teachers, deficient textbooks/ irrelevant instructional materials, and educationally inappropriate facilities, certainly carry with them a stigma that impacts students of color. Leading scholars like Linda Darling Hammond suggest that these institutions atrophy self-esteem, positive attitude towards school, and performance. The nagging sense of marginality as a result of the schooling environment and overall quality of the classroom experience compounded with pervasive images in pop culture reinforced by circumstances at home are more than enough for children to grapple with. These sorts of educational environments are detrimental to children’s understanding of their abilities as students and foment self-hatred. Furthermore, they turn impending failure into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Each day, educators must enter their classroom wondering how they’ll raise the self-esteem of a child and their academic achievement at the same time.

It is important to note that students of color understand their disadvantage. They recognize that their schools don’t have the resources that schools in more affluent neighborhoods have and that while some students are taught to lead, others are taught to follow. Labels like “regular” and “honors” resonate. Former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein remarked,

If people believe the game is rigged, if people no longer believe that you can start out anywhere and end up at the top successfully in America, that the American dream is part of the past, I think that erodes a sense of belief and confidence in our nation. 

Every American has a stake in the future of education; empowering these students to “upset the set-up” and motivating them to be excellent will make all the difference in years to come. It is simply not enough to offer schools more funding. It is not enough to design universal curriculum standards. It is not enough to eliminate zero tolerance policies.

What goes on in classrooms affects far more than educational trajectory.


The value and importance of human connection and sense of understanding between teacher and student—whether through an accepting classroom culture, mentorship, or encouragement—is undeniable. For this reason, one of the most significant and far-reaching policies that can be implemented is cultural competency training.

The teacher and volunteer training for the East Harlem “I Have A Dream” Program lasted three days, for about seven hours each day. One piece we read on the second day of training really struck a cord with me. It was the introduction to Richard Rothstein’s 2004 novel Class and Schools. The piece essentially argued that the reason the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap persists is not merely bad teachers, low expectations, standards, lack of accountability, and lack of motivation. Rothstein asserts that environmental factors like access to healthcare, lack of stable housing, and even the type of job their parents hold have great bearing on the students’ success in the classroom. His argument undoubtedly has merit. I was impressed and very pleased that the “I Have A Dream” training and support staff took the initiative to delve into these difficult topics. The article and ensuing discussion fostered very important dialogue among staff and volunteers about why our program is under special circumstances. All in all, it bred greater understanding of the challenges the Dreamers face.

In many ways the discussion was a gateway to the cultural competency training that I advocate for in my education courses at Stanford. It was exciting to be in an environment with so many other people passionate about creating opportunity for advancement and who were committed to thoroughly addressing the challenges students face. I hope to continue to explore these ideas and grow in my understanding through working with the Dreamers and the “I Have A Dream” Foundation staff.


If you’re interested in the ideas discussed above, read more about it! There is tons of literature out there that can help you better understand the issues our young people face. I’ve listed some suggestions below: 

1. Lani Guinier,  “From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy: Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Divergence Dilemma”
2. Darling-Hammond, Linda. The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future
3. PBS Newshour
4. TED Talks Education


Urban Studies Fellowship: Week 2! (Cassandra Calderon)

Hello everyone!

Woahh, it feels so weird writing about the second week already. I guess it is mostly because this week was so different from last week. I came in Monday morning and I knew what to do. First thing: check email and respond to email. 

Second thing: check if anyone needed help around the office. 

Third thing: go to staff meeting.

Fourth thing: work on my assignment. 

Besides my research project, I was asked to put together a powerpoint with three different proposals to be presented to The Woodlands Development Ad-Hoc Committee. So The Woodlands Development Company has some extra $ and has decided that it will invest it in a project that advances both community wellbeing and business promotion. In the staff meeting, we brainstormed different ideas. My favorite one was offering free community wide wi-fi. Anyway, after doing some initial research I put together the powerpoint and then went back to working on my project. 

I got my first survey response this Monday! It was very exciting to see someone take my survey. As of today, I have ten survey responses from ten different businesses. So far, the answers have been very thorough and to the point. Ask I compile the answers on an excel spreadsheet, I am getting a better idea of what my final report will look like. 

The staff team has been very helpful in promoting my surveys. The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce included my business survey in their monthly newsletter. Similarly, thewoodlands.net, the neighborhood website, posted my resident survey on their website. 

Well, I hope everyone had a good 4th of July! 



Until next week,