Urban Studies

Undergraduate Program

Through experiences both inside and outside the classroom, Urban Studies concentrators learn to analyze urban life and the built environment through a variety of disciplinary lenses, to think creatively and critically about both the problems and potential of cities, and to use evidence-based approaches to address real-world issues.

Above all, our students are dedicated to understanding, envisioning and creating cities that are inclusive and sustainable.

An Urban Studies degree prepares students for a wide range of careers, with our graduates going on to work in government, the non-profit sector, business, law, education, planning and design, public health and medicine, academia, media and technology, and the arts. 

These are some of the hallmarks of our program: 

A quintessentially interdisciplinary program, urban studies equips students with the tools to seek comprehensive approaches to the complex challenges facing cities today. Concentrators can choose from urban studies classes that draw upon American studies, anthropology, economics, sociology, history, political science, history of art and architecture, design, environmental studies, literature, media studies, cultural theory, education, archaeology, international affairs and public policy, and more. The program encourages students to draw from these diverse disciplines to craft an individualized concentration course plan that explores their own interests in particular urban themes; for example, cities and climate change, urban inequality and justice, or transportation planning and public space (to name just a few). In the process, students are taught to examine urban life using both qualitative and quantitative methods, to communicate their ideas clearly and convincingly, and to collaborate on both scholarly and applied projects.

Students in our program are taught to apply their knowledge and skills to urban contexts around the globe and down the street. Several courses introduce students to broader processes and diverse histories of urbanization in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America; while others offer a deep dive into urban issues and debates in our own backyard of Providence, Rhode Island. Many of our concentrators also choose to enrich their coursework at Brown by spending a semester or summer studying abroad in a new city, taking advantage of the over 130 overseas programs offered by the university and its partners. 

Urban studies concentrators have the unique opportunity to work closely with faculty from departments across the university. In addition to teaching classes, urban studies faculty offer advising and mentorship to students pursuing independent studies, community service projects, capstone papers, and honors thesis research. All urban studies faculty serve as concentration advisors for our undergraduates, providing individualized attention to guide students in crafting a set of courses and experiences that reflect their academic and career goals. Faculty members hold frequent office hours and welcome students to discuss their interests in urban issues and the concentration. 

The Urban Studies Program has a close relationship with the city of Providence. Faculty members have served on local and state government commissions and lend their expertise to a wide range of community initiatives. The program assists interested students in finding summer internships with relevant local government agencies, cultural institutions, and non-profit organizations, where they can apply lessons they have learned in the classroom to real-world issues beyond campus.  Students are encouraged to undertake research involving the study of Providence and nearby cities for their honors theses or capstone projects. Urban studies concentrators also have the option of pursuing an Engaged Scholarship Certificate, a program that trains students in community-oriented research methods and facilitates collaborative projects with a variety of local organizations.

Engaged Scholarship Certificate

The Engaged Scholarship Certificate (ESC) is geared towards urban studies concentrators who are interested in making deeper connections between their concentration curriculum and sustained community-engaged activities, such as internships, public service, humanitarian and development work, and a range of other collaborative projects. The ESC combines preparation, experience, and reflection to offer students opportunities to enhance the integration of academic learning and social engagement.

Students interested in pursuing an ESC should review the Swearer Center’s ESC page and Engaged Scholarship Certificate Pamphlet for full details on requirements and timelines. Please email engaged-scholars@brown.edu with any questions or to schedule a student office hours appointment with one of the Swearer Center's Peer Advisors.