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UNT student earns Rotary Global Grant to study urban management and development, explore future of affordable housing

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Charles Wood, a graduate student in the University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service, earned a $40,000 Rotary Global Grant to pursue his dream of leading local government and community efforts to address the growing need for affordable and accessible housing.

Wood will graduate from UNT in May with his Master of Public Administration, with concentrations in nonprofit and local government management. In August 2023, he will head to the Netherlands to attend Erasmus University Rotterdam, where he will complete his second master’s degree in urban management and development with a concentration in urban housing and land justice.

Following his graduate study in the Netherlands, Wood plans to find a position in local government where he can work in housing and urban development.

As a student and as someone who hopes to own his own home someday, Wood has studied the nation’s growing housing crisis for years. When he began working as an eviction prevention specialist for United Way of Denton County in 2021, he was shocked by how dire the situation was for some members of his own community.

“People would call in and say, ‘I’m about to be evicted,’ or ‘My utilities are about to shut off.’ People were living in their car. These were people right here in Denton — some were even UNT students. It opened my eyes to the fact that there are fundamental problems with housing in Texas that extend even beyond homelessness. I have friends who are paying more than 50% of their income on rent. It shouldn’t be like that.”

He notes that in the U.S., housing insecurity is widely considered to be an individual problem, whereas other countries — including the Netherlands — approach it as a community problem.

“I’m excited to learn from people who view housing differently than I do so I can be a better public administrator in a country that’s incredibly diverse, in a state that’s also incredibly diverse,” he said. “Of course, we can’t just lift whole models and expect them to work the same here. But I think there are elements of planning that we can implement to design more effective and sustainable solutions.”

Originally from Abilene, Wood chose UNT because of its affordability and proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth — and because of its thriving theatre department. He completed his bachelor’s degree in theatre in 2020, envisioning a career as a stage manager, but his priorities shifted when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. He started volunteering with organizations in the area, including going door-to-door to encourage vaccine signups for the Denton Medical Reserve Corps’ Texas Motor Speedway Vaccination Clinic.

“I realized how much I wanted to be a part of making my community better,” he said. “Public administration offers exactly that.”

Since May 2022, Wood has served as president of the UNT Public Administration Student Association, a student-led networking organization dedicated to improving educational and employment opportunities for current students and alumni.

“Our organization took a hit during COVID — fundraising was harder, we weren’t hosting as many events,” he said. “My administration has been focused on building that institutional knowledge back up so it’s easier for the next generation of leaders to do more, get even bigger and continue strengthening UNT’s reputation with local governments. I think we’ve accomplished that goal.”

Being selected for a Rotary Global Grant was a defining moment for Wood. Studying abroad has been a lifelong dream, and UNT’s thriving international community of scholars and instructors showed him he could make that dream a reality.

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“I’m grateful to Rotary for entrusting me with this opportunity,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to experience the world and learn from a large diversity of people, and I feel like that’s something that’s always been encouraged at UNT. My education has been shaped by having a diverse group of friends and professors, and being able to draw from opinions that I never even considered growing up.”

Source: UNT

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