Graduate Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development

Closing Symposium

Monday, June 7 and Tuesday, June 8

10:00am to 11:30am on 6/7.

9:30am to 11:30am on 6/8.

Full presentation schedule below. 

Register here for Zoom link


The University of Chicago’s Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development recognizes graduate student work addressing one of the most challenging and important issues of our time: Sustainable Urban Development.

Please join us for the Closing Symposium with the inaugural cohort of Certificate Students. Members of the cohort from across degree programs in the social sciences, public policy, and business will present the conclusions of projects done during the Program. In the spirit of the Certificate, student projects reflect efforts to better understand how aspects of cities work to advance a more sustainable and equitable future. Using a diverse mix of disciplinary methods, students explore urban issues related to climate, equity and prosperity to realize the global potential of cities and to improve the human condition in an increasingly urban world. Student projects done under the Certificate Program represent high-level coursework, dissertation research, or equivalent professional experience.

The Certificate is awarded in conjunction with existing UChicago graduate degree programs. It establishes the scientific and intellectual underpinnings for a career in the emerging field of sustainable urban development. The program is built as a cohort experience for graduate students supported by the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. Participants from different backgrounds and with diverse objectives meet and engage in constructive debate, collaboration and synthesis.


Symposium Agenda

*event is virtual

Monday, June 7

10:00AM – Kate Schertz, PhD Integrative Neuroscience, Psychology Department

Title: Greenspace usage is negatively associated with crime in Chicago and New York City

Abstract: Crime is a costly issue in many urban areas. Within cities, there is spatial heterogeneity in where crime occurs. Prior research has shown that urban greenspace may be one factor that influences crime, in that greenspace is often negatively associated with crime. How individuals engage with greenspace, as opposed to simply its physical presence, however, is important to explore to understand this association. A recent study using cell phone mobility data found that neighborhoods in Chicago and New York City where residents visited parks more often have lower levels of violent and non-violent crime, adjusting for various sociodemographic factors as well as local street activity. However, the measurement of park visits in that study was limited to one month. Thus the replicability of these findings is important to determine. Using two years’ worth of crime and cell phone mobility data (January 2018-December 2019), I found that more frequent park visits were significantly associated with fewer violent and non-violent crimes in both Chicago and New York City, adjusting for sociodemographic factors, such as poverty and education. This successful replication demonstrates the important role of the physical environment of cities in potentially reducing crime and adds to the growing body of work supporting the idea that equitable access to greenspace should be viewed as a necessity for sustainable and inclusive cities.

10:30AM – Annalise McGrail, Master’s of Business Administration, Booth School

Title: EFCampus: University Lab User Engagement on Energy Savings Measures

Abstract: In support of University of Chicago’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030, Environmental Frontiers Campus (EFCampus) initiated the University Lab User Engagement on Energy Savings Measures project. Laboratories are an important target area to meet GHG emission reduction goals, as they are responsible for 38% of campus building energy use despite only representing 10% of campus building floor area. To target efforts, we analyzed data from UChicago and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) Laboratory Benchmarking Tool to identify which UChicago laboratory buildings consume above average energy amongst their peer set and which equipment are most important in driving this energy use. We found that fume hoods, cold storage, and lighting represent the most important equipment focus areas. Building upon these findings, we built a new lab design decision making tool, enabling laboratory Principal Investigators (PIs) in collaboration with facility services to understand the long-term operational energy costs and environmental impacts of different laboratory design decisions. This fills an important gap in university lab design across the country. Additionally, we leveraged these findings to design a UChicago specific behavioral change campaign.

EFCampus is an initiative run through the University of Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. EFCampus brings together students, faculty, and campus facilities/operations to explore environmental sustainability via UChicago data. Its faculty leads are Professor Elisabeth Moyer and Professor Sabina Shaikh.

Tuesday, June 8

9:30AM – Sidhant Wadhera, Master’s of Public Policy, Harris School

Title: Local Urban Factors and Undergraduate Two-Year Student Retention

Abstract: Student retention—staying in a degree program till completion—has long been considered an issue in higher education. For many institutions, ensuring student retention is an important part of promoting long-term success. This is particularly true for public institutions that serve predominantly low-income populations. Chicago State University (CSU), a public four-year undergraduate university located in the South Side, is the focus of this research on student retention. CSU faces a crisis of student retention, where nearly 40% of students in a given incoming class do not return after their first year. Given CSU’s proven role as a vehicle of economic mobility for its mostly low-income and Black students, it is essential to understand the underlying drivers of retention. This project uses data from 2014-2019 about undergraduate students at CSU to understand some of the underlying demographic and institutional factors that have an effect on two-year retention. The results find that the most important (and statistically significant) predictors of retention among students are their prior GPA and the number of major courses they take. This project also analyzes the role of place, and some of that place’s associated characteristics predict retention. Understanding the main institutional and personal drivers of two-year student retention can go a long way to promoting greater college completion, and subsequently creating a pathway to greater economic equality in cities around the United States.

10:00AM – Emily Selch, Master’s of Public Policy, Harris School

Title: An Evaluation of the Relationship between Public Housing and Gun Arrests in Chicago

Abstract: Housing affordability remains a pressing concern in the United States. A growing affordable housing shortage for low-income families coupled with underfunded housing programs has contributed to the near half a million people experiencing homelessness and perpetuates challenges in accessing educational, social, and professional opportunities for cost-burdened families. Housing subsidy programs are increasingly used to address housing shortages, connect low-income families with social benefits tied to neighborhood income, and create distance between affordable housing programs and public housing fear mongering. In Chicago, neighborhoods with the highest number of housing voucher holders are also those with the highest rate of violent crime and lowest median household income. Even though similar crime and poverty trends led to its removal from the center of the housing agenda, recent calls to return to public housing are growing louder. This study tests assumptions made about public housing in order to evaluate whether returning to public housing is a viable solution to the housing shortage. By examining the spatial relationship between criminal activity and Chicago Housing Authority (“CHA”) public housing developments, this study suggests that the fear of public housing and crime is misplaced.

10:30AM – Arvind Illamaran, PhD Comparative Human Development

Title: Student-Parent Future Planning and Postsecondary Trajectories: Whether and why it matters for minorities, first-gen, and low SES

Abstract: The general problem of interest is understanding the determinants of college completion in the US. Such determinants can belong to students, parents, school and community. We are interested in parental engagement activities in secondary school, preparing their children for college. College readiness is conventionally measured by choice of courses in high school suited for college admissions, high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores. We look at the impact of parents helping students in choosing high school courses and preparing for ACT/SAT exams. More importantly, we also study the distribution of these effects over observed characteristics of students, parents, school and location. We use data from Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS:2002) to study this problem. The observed characteristics were measured in the base year of the survey and the outcomes are derived from the third follow-up eight years later.

Learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Urban Science and Sustainable Development here