Jacob Huffman wouldn’t be the first teenager with a desire to break away from his hometown and head to the big city, but his reasons would be different from most.
It’s not the dream of becoming a rock star or of seeing his name in lights on a marquee that pulls him to the city. It’s the city itself that he’s in awe of.
Huffman, 19, a third-year geography and earth science student at UNC Charlotte, is passionate about every aspect of cities, from the feelings of community they create to the zoning and land-use issues that arise.
It’s a passion that recently helped earn him the honor of becoming a Newman Civic Fellow.
Newman Civic Fellows Awards acknowledge students who demonstrate leadership qualities and show initiative in solving problems that communities face.
The honor, which began last year by inducting 137 members, is named after Frank Newman, an advocate for responsible citizenship who co-founded Campus Compact, an organization that encourages student roles in public service through a coalition of 1,100 presidents from higher education institutions across the nation.
Each year college and university presidents choose one candidate from their respective campuses to become a fellow.
Huffman, one of 160 new inductees in 2012 from across 32 states, was selected for his driving interest in urban planning and his motivation in tackling community causes.
An active member in Habitat for Humanity, he has taken part in every facet of the organization, from swinging a hammer to analyzing information within its data departments.
Huffman also books bands and organizes shows for UNCC’s Concert & Causes, a club that uses music to help solve community needs.
“We’re all about bringing people together through the power of music, and creating a sense of community at UNCC,” said Huffman.
Last year the club used donations collected from shows to purchase supplies for local humane societies. It also sponsored a canned food drive for area food pantries around Thanksgiving time.
Two years ago Huffman entered UNCC with an undeclared major, but quickly felt the pull toward geography, especially in urban settings.
“I’ve visited a lot of big American cities: San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Chicago,” he said. “I’ve always been really fascinated by the way the urban landscape changes and the way it looks.”
As a kid he used computer program games to create maps of thriving metropolises.
“I always really enjoyed visual representations of large-scale areas,” he said.
This summer, he’ll intern with a Chicago State University professor, studying food accessibility in neighborhoods by surveying owners of corner stores in the neighborhoods of Cook County, the second-most populated county in the United States outside of Los Angeles.
The opportunity was provided through the Levine Scholars Program. Huffman is a member of the inaugural class of scholars, who are awarded full tuition and given summer experiences to supplement their academics.
Next year, Huffman will travel abroad, taking courses to study the cities of the United Kingdom. He thinks he’ll come back to Charlotte at the end of the year with the same basic belief that all city-dwellers have in common.
“It’s a very basic human need to have a place to belong,” he said.