New Plough Chair of Urban Studies Ready to Build on Community Based Learning and Scholarship
Publication Date: 3/7/2012
Dr. Elizabeth Thomas joined the Rhodes faculty this semester as Associate Professor of Psychology and the new Director and Plough Chair of Urban Studies. Thomas comes to Rhodes from the University of Washington Bothell, where she served as Associate Director for Graduate Education in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program.
“What was very attractive to me about the Urban Studies position here at Rhodes was the focus on community based learning and scholarship,” says Thomas. “There is incredible potential involved in being at a liberal arts college right in the center of Memphis. We have the ability to leverage the resources that are here to improve the quality of life in Memphis. It felt like such a great opportunity.”
Thomas’ background is in community psychology, and her research has focused on how children and youth actively engage and shape their learning environments as well as the role of community-based arts and public art in community development. Her research into arts in communities is something which she says ties into her vision for the Urban Studies program.
“I see the program as being an interdisciplinary academic hub for students, faculty and community partners from all areas—from the arts and humanities to the social sciences and natural sciences,” Thomas says. “Urban issues are interconnected, and I think our approaches to addressing these issues have to be interdisciplinary. We really want to draw on the talents of faculty and students from across the campus to address urban challenges.”
In her position as Plough Chair, Dr. Thomas has been working with other members of the Urban Studies faculty committee to enrich the curriculum for Urban Studies majors. She has also been working with interns and post-graduate fellows who are a part of a Plough grant to learn about neighborhood revitalization projects that they are currently engaged in. In addition, she is teaching a course on “Introduction to Urban Studies” and a course in Community Psychology.
“My plan is that I’ll do a lot of listening this semester and then have an opportunity to reflect back what I’m hearing and incorporate my perspectives with other people’s ideas. “That way, we will develop a shared vision for Urban Studies.”
Thomas says she is grateful for the foundation that has been laid in Urban Studies by former Plough Chair Dr. Mike Kirby, who retired in 2010, and Dr. Thomas McGowan, who has served as interim director since then. Rhodes students are heavily engaged in the community, and she says she hopes to help even more students become involved in working on community issues in greater Memphis.
“A liberal arts education provides students with challenging encounters with important issues,” Thomas says. “And I think Urban Studies is a great way to realize that. One part of my vision is that we engage students in really meaningful ways in Memphis, and in ways that deepen their connection to the city over time.”
The Plough Professor of Urban Studies was provided by an endowment grant from the Plough Foundation in 2005.
(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Lucy Kellison ’13)
Founded in 1848, Rhodes College is a private, coeducational college of liberal arts and sciences. It aspires to graduate students with a lifelong passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world.