Blockwalking with AAH: Rice University’s Urban Immersion Program

Article contribution by Truce Pham, Rice University Urban Immersion Program Coordinator.


On July 14 and 21, sixty Rice University students worked with Air Alliance to learn about the organization’s impact on environmental policy and action. The students were part of a summer program called Urban Immersion that was focusing on the history, culture, and social issues of the East End as well as the neighborhoods of Montrose and Third Ward. Each year, Rice University accepts applications to the program from incoming students around the U.S. to stay in Houston for a week while learning about the city through traditional and nontraditional volunteer work.

The group split up to go to the neighborhoods of East Lawndale, Magnolia Park, 5th Ward, and South Park to go door to door informing residents of the upcoming air pollution sampling that would take place in their respective neighborhoods in the next few weeks. Air Alliance, in collaboration with U.T. School of Public Health, Rice University, and the City of Houston, is researching and analyzing the impact of metal recycling facilities near residential areas. At each site there will be a parked mobile laboratory and tripod located at each sampling unit. The volunteers were to inform the residents of the sampling project and encourage them to become involved. The students were able to speak to a few residents about their thoughts on the metal recycling facility as well as answer some questions about the sampling process. The students received many different responses and left flyers for those who were not at home during the day. Many residents were curious and wanted to know more about the type of equipment that would be used. Some were not aware that a metal recycling facility was located a few streets down from their home.

Many of the new students had never gone door to door speaking to people or worked with an organization that focused on environmental policy and research. Some had only been to Houston once or twice. This is the first step for the new students in becoming engaged civic leaders in their future communities.