Center for Civic Engagement announces NU in Chicago program

Annie Bruce, Reporter

The Center for Civic Engagement will organize free, themed trips to Chicago as part of a new program called NU in Chicago. The trips will take advantage of alumni and Northwestern connections in the city in order to give students a unique, behind-the-scenes experience.

“We really are changing the culture of the place in terms of you start to get this message from early on in your time here that Chicago really is a significant part of how we engage with our learning community and how people learn at Northwestern, faculty, students and staff alike,” said Robert Donahue, the associate director for the Center for Civic Engagement. 

The first trip, “Behind the Scenes: Exploring Great Chicago Institutions,” will be held March 1 and will feature three different tracks: sustainability, Chicago history and art. 

Dan Lewis, a School of Education and Social Policy professor, will lead the Chicago history trip, which will include visits to the Chicago History Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center. The sustainability track will take students to the Field Museum and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and will be led by SESP instructor Jennifer Hirsch, a former Field Museum employee. Kate Zeller (Weinberg ’02), an assistant curator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will lead the art track.

Zeller will take students to both the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago. Donahue said Zeller will provide students with a unique opportunity.

“It won’t so much be about visiting exhibits,” he said. “It will be about her connecting with other folks in the museum who will give the students some behind-the-scenes opportunities to see why these museums are organized the way they are.”

The program was piloted two years ago as a One Book One Northwestern event and was designed for groups of about 30-50 freshmen to travel to 10 different neighborhoods in Chicago. The students were paired with professors who specialized in different themes relating to the neighborhoods. Donahue describes NU in Chicago as a year-long extension of this program. 

“It became apparent to us that there was so much in the city we weren’t taking advantage of,” Donahue said. “Even if we do get students into the city, too often we only get them into the same kinds of places. … The city is so rich and so diverse; we really haven’t been doing everything we can to open it up.”

Alex Van Atta, Associated Student Government executive vice president, said an annual University Budget Priorities Committee survey emphasized a desire for more programs in Chicago. 

“We want to use Northwestern’s resources, connections and alumni network to really leverage experiences in the city,” the McCormick senior said. “(The program) will add to the experience apart from just something the student could go down and do themselves.”

Though the program is organized by the Center for Civic Engagement, NU in Chicago is in collaboration with ASG and Student Affairs, with support from the UBPC, Van Atta said. 

To come up with ideas for trip themes, a steering committee, which includes Van Atta and Donahue, is looking into different opportunities. Donahue said upcoming plans for the spring include a Global Language Immersion Day and mentioned other potential themes, including food issues and theater. Donahue said the free trips will be funded using University money.

The number of students who will be able to attend the trips will depend on the programs and sites being offered. Donahue hopes each of the academic year programs will be able to accommodate at least 100 to 150 students.

Kevin Harris, the vice president of community relations for ASG, believes the program will be a fun way to get students into the city.

“Most students right now don’t get into Chicago as much as they could,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “(The program) will continue to look at ways to connect Northwestern students with the city of Chicago in a fun way that isn’t viewed as just another program, or over-programming, but something unique that students will want to take advantage of.”

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