Social and economic equity are more than just buzzwords for Solana Rice ’97. They are integrated into her daily life. Rice, who lives in Oakland, Calif., is a senior associate for PolicyLink, a national action and research institute that focuses on creating more inclusive communities where everyone can have the opportunity to prosper.
“We work on local policies and federal legislation that direct funding for infrastructure and healthy places,” says Rice. She has worked in Atlanta, Detroit and the San Joaquin Valley on research, mapmaking and writing reports to improve life in low-income communities and those where people of color live. “It’s fulfilling work,” says Rice, who recently organized the institute’s fourth national conference in Detroit.
“The deep and varied culture of service and justice at Gilmour was by far the most important value and gift that has influenced my everyday experience,” Rice says. She contends that volunteering at the Cleveland Children’s Museum, the Foodbank and other venues taught her the importance of giving back.
“Through these experiences, as well as academic coursework, I was exposed to the tremendous needs of communities and the injustices and inequities that stem from systems and policies,” she says. Rice recalls that part of her senior thesis was to research the trends of gentrification in downtown Cleveland. The experience led to “a lifelong pursuit of trying to understand how access to economic opportunity is influenced by the built environment and how we design and plan for neighborhoods and communities,” she adds.
Rice graduated from Washington University in 2001 with a bachelor of arts in architecture and minors in business and anthropology after receiving the John B. Ervin Scholarship. She served with AmeriCorps VISTA for two years, focusing on youth education and health in St. Louis’s Soulard neighborhood, teaching young people to construct affordable housing. In 2005, Rice earned a master’s degree in urban planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After graduating from MIT, Rice began her career working as a comprehensive planner for St. Louis County, sat on the board of a community land trust and remained involved with Washington University. Since marrying Nate Dewart and moving to Oakland in 2008, she has provided technical assistance and directed advocacy efforts for PolicyLink. Rice worked with a team to craft and pass state legislation to improve sidewalks, road striping and bike racks to allow children to walk and ride bikes to school safely. Yoga, hiking, cooking and travel are favorite pastimes.