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Back of a person sitting on a park bench overlooking a city skyline

Why I'm An Urban Studies Major

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Back of a person sitting on a park bench overlooking a city skyline


10:43 p.m.

Twenty minutes until I land at the San Francisco International Airport.

14,500 feet in the air and I have the coveted window seat.

Peering through the window, a glimmer of gold and pearl lights begin to glow brighter and brighter. As we descend, the lights begin to intertwine down freeways and busy intersections as the networks of cities and lives inside Bay Area reveal themselves.

Growing up, this feeling of discovering and reconnecting with the urban networks that inevitably surround our lives influenced my initial statement to study Urban Studies and eventually work and develop such cities when I came to Stanford. I wanted to begin my journey towards becoming a city planner and designer, but that pathway was pivoted during my first two years at The Farm.

Stanford represented a paradise of palm trees and everlasting California sunshine I only knew from brochures. When I arrived, my dreams were overwhelmed by the idea that “I could study anything and everything.” I tried out different majors in both engineering and the humanities by taking classes in data science, community health development, and even a graduate seminar in Buddhism. I branched out and joined the Stanford Democrats, the Happiness Collective, and became a Student Ambassador for the Cantor Arts Center.

Although these experiences positively contributed to my time here, when my sophomore year had nearly ended I realized I was missing the intellectual fire that permeates throughout those chilly winter quarter nights. I had hidden my passion for urbanism in pursuit of other endeavors.

This, in turn, resulted in a feeling of confusion and unsatisfaction here at Stanford until my Sophomore Spring, where I enrolled in my first Urban Studies classes: Introduction to Urban Studies with Frederic Stout and Team Urban Design Studio with Dehan Glanz. I realized I was oblivious all this time to an amazing experience.

I’m an Urban Studies major because of the strong community. As one of the smallest programs at Stanford, my advisor Michael Kahan has easily become not only an accessible mentor but also a great friend. The cohort of majors and minors has become an intimate family – a family that reminds me of the belonging that many can miss during college. This family-feeling influenced my quick decision to apply and become a Peer Advisor for the program.

I’m an Urban Studies major because of the interdisciplinary DIY atmosphere. Within the program, one can focus studying urban sustainability, urban design and planning, urban education, and many different topics that shed light into the inner-workings of our environments around us. For myself, I’m concentrating on environmental urban design and planning and eventually applying to Coterm in Sustainable Urban Systems.

Finally, I’m an Urban Studies major because I want to communicate to you and fellow students to not forget to pause and listen to your intuitions and passions in lieu of the “what if I did this?” Learn everything and anything, but please listen to your heart’s passions at the end of this California day.

Sean Volavong

Urban Studies
Class of 2019

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