Civic engagement center hosts coffee break

Caroline Dzeba

Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement hosted a coffee break for the civic-minded on Wednesday at the first of its Coffee with Eight Strangers events.

Communication senior Kristen Cragwall, a Center fellow, said she hopes these events will draw attention to civic engagement on the NU campus as the Center completes its first quarter of operation.

The Center originally planned to host four coffee dates at the close of Fall Quarter, but due to the overwhelming number of applicants, it will host seven “coffee breaks” on four separate dates over the course of the next two weeks. Cragwall said she was “really happy” with the response. More than 70 people applied to participate in the Coffee with Eight Strangers program, with applications coming well after the Nov. 9 deadline, she said.

The coffee program borrows its concept from the popular Dinner with 12 Strangers events sponsored by the Northwestern Class Alliance. Coffee with Eight Strangers connects eight students and faculty members for an intimate conversation over coffee, hot chocolate and dessert snacks.

David Unger, a Center staff member, said the idea for the program arose from the desire to unite all of the student groups participating in civic engagement on campus under one roof for a forum.

Unger said the Center’s open house for its launch in October was an opportunity for various student groups to gather together for the first time.

“It was exciting to have all these groups under the same roof,” he said, adding that a goal of the Coffee program was to “re-create” the atmosphere of information sharing.

SESP senior Maddie Orenstein, a coordinator of the Northwestern University Public Interest Program, will attend Thursday’s coffee hour at the Center.

“We (NUPIP) were one of the first programs in the Office of Civic Engagement,” Orenstein said. “I thought this would be a great way to reach out to people.”

The Coffee with Eight Strangers events will connect students already involved with civic engagement, faculty and staff that serve on the Center steering committee, and students who simply may have a curiosity about what the Center does.

“We’re excited to just invite people,” Cragwall said.

Center organizers said they hope to continue the event in the future.

“We want this to be a fun and relaxed event, but we do want to focus on how NU students engage currently and how NU can help them,” Unger said. “We want to facilitate some sort of reflection on student involvement on campus; what students and faculty are doing already and what they can be doing better.”

Orenstein, who matches graduating NU seniors with jobs at Chicago area non-profits in her role as NUPIP coordinator, said the program was a good way to encourage involvement in civic engagement at the Center.

“It’s a great first step,” she said. “It is to the Center’s benefit to get more students just in the building, talking about what they care about, so the Center can know how to leverage what students are already up to and what students are passionate about.”[email protected]