Course offers opportunity for students to impact NU community

Jillian Sandler

Students will continue a tradition of helping their peers become more effective leaders in the Northwestern community this fall through a program that gave rise to campus staples such as SafeRide.

Communication juniors Jazzy Johnson and Effie Yang will co-teach the Northwestern Community Building Initiative, a quarter-long class that aims to help participants foster a sense of community throughout the University.

“We feel like what’s lacking at Northwestern is a sense of broad community,” Yang said. “For some reasons, we don’t have a unifying sense of all these Wildcats.”

The application process for the class recently began, and applications are open to rising sophomores and juniors until May 4. The class will be held Tuesdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Though Yang said the program is not “super competitive” to get into, only 14 students will be accepted, so not everyone who applies will be granted admission.

As part of the class, which was established in 2001, students break off into groups, devise a proposal to improve some aspect of the NU community and present their ideas to administrators at the end of the quarter. Yang said students are encouraged to try spearheading their project after the quarter ends and often receive the assistance of NU’s Associated Student Government if the idea is “big enough.” Project proposals may also be archived with ASG to make them accessible for future reference, Yang said.

ASG Vice President Brad Stewart said the class is a great way to foster leadership and new ideas in the NU community.

“I think it’s a really awesome initiative,” the Medill junior said. “I think one of the things ASG wants to push in general is peer-to-peer mentoring.”

In addition to SafeRide, other ideas generated by past NCBI participants include Winter Fest, a program implemented this year that features festive lights on campus and hot chocolate sales at the Norris University Center ice rink, and Deering Days, which Yang said is currently being developed by the University. Yang said the latter idea, which her group proposed when she took the class in fall 2011, would bring student groups to Deering Meadow to host events and activities.

Weinberg junior Amalia Namath, who co-led NCBI in fall 2011 and proposed the Winter Fest idea with her group in 2010, said the idea was sparked by the lack of a large-scale winter event on campus.

“There was no big winter culmination,” said Namath, who is currently serving as co-president of Northwestern Community Development Corps. “We knew that other schools have these winter carnivals where they had ice sculptures and events outside. We wanted to do the same thing with Northwestern.”

ASG Vice President of Services and SESP sophomore David Harris said ASG hopes to expand Winter Fest next year.

“I think everyone wants it to happen, but it’s a matter of funding and the politics involved with planning it,” he said.

Johnson, who also participated in NCBI in 2010, said the class will not only give students the tools for making such proposals, but will also teach them how to overcome obstacles to work as a team.

“The class teaches things that go beyond Northwestern as far as how to deal with conflict and how to work together toward a common goal,” Johnson said. “I definitely experienced disagreements in our group about our project … (We were) people who had completely different ideas and backgrounds, (and) we had to learn to work together.”

Johnson said she and Yang want to improve the program by giving students more tools, such as advice on following up with administrators to continue pitching and developing their proposals after the class ends.

“One of the things we often want to work on is how we develop the leaders and (make sure) that they feel equipped to implement the projects and to work with one another once the class is over,” Johnson said.

Weinberg senior Brooke Cunningham, who took the class in 2010, said she hopes it becomes easier to implement project proposals.

“That’s the biggest fault of NCBI, that it’s hard to pass things off,” Cunningham said. “You don’t pass these projects down to next classes. I just think it’d be better if they had funding as well as some kind of institutional structure that would let them continue projects.”

Despite this difficulty, Cunningham said she appreciated the opportunity she had to create a project proposal and become familiar with the administrative matters behind the spearheading effort, a process she found to be different from challenges encountered in other classes.

“You can’t approach this class like you’d approach others,” Cunningham said. “You take it in bits week by week, and you meet with so many people that you have to constantly be on top of what you’re doing.”

Yang said the class will also feature speakers such as University President Morton Schapiro, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin and possibly Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. Student leaders and NCBI alumni will also visit the class to talk to students.

Though Yang and Johnson said they are still in the process of figuring out the specifics of the class, they said their main focus now is recruiting students to apply and increasing campus-wide knowledge of the opportunity.

Johnson said the opportunity to teach the class will allow her to help develop a new set of leaders on campus.

“If you really want to change the community,” she said, “you have to invest in the younger leaders.”

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