Immersion experience aims to spur creativity

Michelle Ma

As early as next winter Northwestern undergraduates could work for credit alongside curators at a Chicago museum or devote an entire quarter to full-time laboratory research with a faculty member.

These opportunities could be available through the “Immersion Experience” of the Highest Order of Excellence Part II. This initiative seeks to give undergraduates full-time involvement in a credit-bearing activity designed by students.

A student, faculty and administrator committee finished an outline of the immersion experience initiative last week. If the committee and university administration approve the final document — compiled by Stephen Fisher, associate provost for undergraduate education — students could begin applying for an immersion experience in the fall.

“The focus is on an experience that will have academic content and result in a creative, reflective experience,” Fisher said.

The Highest Order of Excellence Part II was released in mid-November and seeks to give faculty and students more interdisciplinary options to be developed from 2005-2010. The immersion experience program is one of the first concrete plans from the initiative.

Immersion will give students different channels for exploring their interests. For example, a student could work for a non-governmental organization.

The Medill School of Journalism’s Teaching Media Program quarter-long internship for school credit is an example of a program similar to a proposed immersion experience, Fisher said.

The initiative aims to encourage students to pitch ideas about immersion experiences related to their interests.

The program’s structure is deliberately flexible, “to help students and faculty formulate and then implement their ideas,” Fisher said.

The initiative also could expand the existing field studies program to allow more undergraduate participation. Field studies currently allow students to do work and research in Chicago while still remaining connected with an NU faculty member.

Neurobiology and physiology Prof. Teresa Woodruff currently works with undergraduates in a lab and said the opportunity for students to focus on research full-time for a quarter would be beneficial.

“I have a lot of undergrads in the lab who just do phenomenal work,” said Woodruff. “In labs, (students) could have a sabbatical as an undergraduate and really invest time and energy with a faculty member to perhaps uncover something (themselves).”

Although every immersion experience would be different, all would probably be completed for school credit, Fisher said.

If a student was interested in an experience abroad, he or she could use one quarter to travel and collect information. After returning to campus, the student could spend the following quarter completing course work in the form of a paper or presentation. Upon completion, the student would receive a grade and credit for both quarters of work.

Ideas are endless for immersion experiences, said Kevin Palms, a Weinberg sophomore who served on the committee. Committee members discussed multiple experiences, including having students work together to write and produce a play, he said.

“We wanted to leave it open to students to decide,” Palms said. “Steve Fisher wants to make it as open as possible; to open up the doors and let the creativity flow.”

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected]