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On Campus

August 27, 2001 - VOL. 28, NO. 10

greek columnspacerArete: Sean Wheeler


Rick Cherwitz and Sharan Daniel, Office of Graduate Studies


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Editor's note: Arete is an ancient Greek word for virtue, describing the quest for individual excellence. In this regular feature of On Campus, the University salutes its graduate students — whose considerable contributions to the academy and larger community are truly virtuious. These features will be framed and posted in the lobby of the Office of Graduate Studies, Main 101.

spacerName: Sean Wheeler
spacerHometown: Kansas City, Mo.
spacerDepartment: Sociology
spacerEducation: B.A., 1995; M.A., 1997; Ph.D., 2001, UT Austin; also attended The University of Ghana, West Africa (1993-1994) and DePaul University, Chicago (1991-1992)

Sean Wheeler grew up in a neighborhood he describes as "your typical inner city community during the '80s, (with) high crime rates, gang activity and the use and sale of crack cocaine."

He credits this environment with leading him to study urban issues in college.

Wheeler uses complexity theory, first applied in natural sciences and now catching on in social sciences, to examine social systems. Urban communities can be viewed as "naturally evolving social systems, or complex adaptive systems" such as those found in natural sciences, Wheeler said.

He suggests that communities, too, have a "natural ability to adapt after periods of chaos and instability" — unless something interferes and prevents them from doing so. Wheeler argues that policies focused mainly on social control measures — such as increased policing and imprisonment — provide just such interference, preventing troubled communities from adapting to environmental changes through their own innovation.

Rather than short-circuiting communities’ adaptive abilities, Wheeler advocates fostering them.

"This is why entrepreneurship and community development programs play central roles in my work," he said.

Wheeler was one of two awardees nationwide of the Byron Hanke Fellowship, sponsored by the Community Associations Institute Research Foundation. This recognition will enable 205,000 community associations throughout the country to benefit from his research.

Among Wheeler’s other honors are the African American Legacy Award, presented to him in winter 1999 by the Multi-Cultural Information Center; Outstanding African American Male (1997 and 1998); and a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship, all UT Austin awards.

Now teaching in Riverdale, N.Y., at Mount Saint Vincent University and Manhattan College, Wheeler said he especially values the opportunity to work with youth from the inner city.

As a student in the Graduate School Intellectual Entrepreneurship course in consulting, Wheeler started his own consulting firm. With that experience, he now serves as a consultant to the mayor of New York and the New York Police Department.

NOTE: Nominations (including self-nominations) for ARETE should be sent to Associate Dean Richard Cherwitz at spaj737@uts.cc.utexas.edu

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August 21, 2001
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