Senior Sequence

Urban Studies and Planning – Class of 2014

Doing Civically Engaged Research

Course Description and Learning Objectives: All students majoring in Urban Studies and Planning must complete the Senior Sequence during their senior year. The Sequence is made up of two classes including USP 186: Senior Sequence Research Proposal in the fall quarter, and USP 187: Senior Sequence Research Project in the winter quarter. Each student also completes 100 hours of service learning in an internship placement of their own choosing.

Over this six-month journey (September to March), students learn how to: (1) critically review and harvest research literature, (2) devise theoretical informed research questions and investigative strategies, (3) write a scholarly research proposal, (4) execute proposed research ethically with civic and global-mindfulness, and (5) analyze, interpret, write, and share research findings while honoring UCSD’s principles of integrity of scholarship and integrity of research. The final requirement of the course is a Senior Research Project in the form of a 25 page scholarly thesis. Students share highlights of their Senior Research Project in a poster board presentation at Urban Studies and Planning’s annual Urban Expo in mid-March and in a brief video. In addition to learning research design, methods, and science communication, students gain the ability to critically examine ethical and professional aspects of scholarly research that is civically engaged.


Six Skills/Capabilities Students Develop in the Senior Sequence


  • Creating examined conceptualizations of select objects of study—i.e., theory-building


  • Becoming critically self-aware of your normative perspectives (calling into view ethics and the philosophy of social science)


  • Designing/applying investigative strategies through scholarship of engagement


  • Unpacking a whole into its component parts; examining a complex object, its elements, interdependencies and spatiality


  • Building, supporting, and presenting an evidence-based position or argument (through print and multimedia); working effectively as a member of a research team, listening to learn


  • Producing a clearly written research proposal, well-documented thesis, and scientific poster















The course has four major objectives:

1. Build Research Capability: The course will enable students to design and carry out meaningful research that involves civic engagement and science communication. The objective is to build the scientific and technical skills students need to conceptualize and conduct scholarly investigations with integrity. Students will learn how to create examined conceptualizations of select objects of study (i.e., theory-building); unpack a whole into its component parts (i.e., analytically examine an object’s elements and interdependencies); and produce a clearly written research proposal, well-documented thesis, scientific poster and video.

2. Deepen Spatial and Ecological Sensibility: Students will gain “eco-spatial literacy” (i.e., critical awareness of the ecological and biogeographic dimensions of life and placemaking). Why is it, for instance, that certain parts of cities are “food deserts” where people lack access to a healthy food supply? Eco-spatial literacy is conceptual and skill-based. Students will learn the basics of making a map and doing spatial analysis using Google Earth, GIS, and other 3D visualization tools.

3. Enhance Ethical Mindfulness: This course will help students become more critically self-aware of their attitudes, beliefs, expectations, feelings, and surroundings in the context of doing civically-engaged research in relationship with others.  Ethical mindfulness is an intentional reflexive state of being sensitive to oneself (i.e., self-awareness: understanding one’s own interests and motives) and sensitive to others (i.e., relational-awareness: understanding how what you do shapes and is shaped by your interaction with others).

4. Improve Science Communication: Students will develop the communication skills they need to create, justify, and present an evidence-based position or argument through oral presentations, print, multimedia and graphics. The objective is to help students write and express themselves clearly in the context of proposing, doing and sharing research. Effective science communication requires skillful use of conceptual frameworks and narratives (story telling). Students will learn how to produce a scholarly research project and then share the highlights of that project in the form of a scientific poster and video designed to reach diverse audiences.