Ryan Chiao, Senior Photographer

Attention is often devoted to Yale’s largest departments and most popular majors. Less visible are the University’s “tiny” programs and departments, many of which are upheld by a small but mighty faculty. In the second part of a series exploring Yale College’s smaller programs and departments, the News spoke to students and faculty in the Urban Studies major. Read the series’ previous installment here

Urban Studies, Yale’s newest major, now has the backing of alumni who wish the major had been available while they were enrolled.

A newly-formed alumni network, Yale/City, draws professionals from across urban planning, architecture, environmentalism, real estate and other disciplines. Together, they will facilitate professional and career help for undergraduate Urban Studies majors. Jacob Koch ’10, one of the network’s co-founders who wrote an op-ed his senior year advocating for the creation of the urban studies major, said that the establishment of the major generated “tremendous” interest from alumni. 

“There have been generations now of Yale alumni who have studied at Yale when there wasn’t a major or program in urbanism but have gone on to careers in urban-related fields,” Koch told the News. “The commonality is that we’re working in cities and we care about cities, but we’re from a variety of different professional backgrounds and organizations. This was a long time coming.”

The network launched on Nov. 5 with an evening reception at the Yale Club of New York, bringing together roughly 60 alumni alongside students considering the urban studies major. Earlier that day, Koch and Urban Studies Director of Undergraduate Studies Elihu Rubin ’99 led a group of 20 students on a Yale/City-sponsored field trip to Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus and Brooklyn’s Newtown wastewater treatment plant. Yale/City will continue to offer a slate of career panels and field trips to introduce students in the major to professional development opportunities. 

Urbanism-related classes have existed at Yale for decades, but students were previously restricted to pursuing the field as an area of concentration within majors including architecture and political science. Faculty in the School of Architecture, where Urban Studies is housed, began planning the major in 2017, incorporating existing classes from architecture, American studies, anthropology and a number of other departments. The first cohort of urban studies majors graduated last year as part of the class of 2021. 

Giuliana Duron ’24, who declared her major last spring and attended last Friday’s reception, said that the alumni network is “desperately” needed. 

“It’s a great vibe,” Duron said. “Having alumni discussing what they were able to do with the idea of urban studies and give concrete examples of how you can apply this to the real world is really helpful.”

Non-majors, too, can benefit from the new network. Grace Kyallo ’22, an architecture major on the urbanism track, also attended the reception and said she appreciates the support as she enters the postgraduate landscape, where she hopes to work in public-facing architecture.

Rubin emphasized the major’s interdisciplinary nature. He, alongside fellow major co-founders Joyce Hsiang ’99 ARC ’03 and Bimal Mendis ’98 ARC ’02, continue to offer Urban Studies classes and will seek to develop new urban lab courses in the near future.

“We benefit from connections across the University; there are many people at Yale who study urban places, processes, and practices from a range of disciplines and approaches,” Rubin wrote in an email to the News. “It’s exciting because the field of Urban Studies is in the process of becoming; there are so many opportunities for both critical and creative thinking.”

Dean of Architecture Deborah Berke reiterated support for the new major.

She also emphasized that the major is made up of faculty from across Yale’s schools and departments.

“We are the built-environment people on this campus,” Berke said. “It’s not that we do this alone — cities are not so singular — but that we do it with our colleagues across professions.” 

The School of Architecture was founded in 1916.

Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.