New civic engagement program enables students to explore Chicago


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

The “El” arrives at the Davis Street station in Evanston. Three undergraduate students spearheaded “Spring into Chicago,” a new program co-sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement which will offer students free CTA passes and new ways to explore the Windy City.

David Fishman, Reporter

It just got easier for students to escape the “Evanston bubble.”

Beginning on April 5, the Center for Civic Engagement will allow students to rent Chicago Transit Authority passes pre-loaded with 10 rides for the weekend. Along with free transportation to Chicago, the center has also planned two guided trips geared toward illuminating the city’s history, restaurant scene and diverse neighborhoods.

“Chicago is ground zero for lots of challenges that big cities present,” said Dan Lewis, director of the center. “Lots of our students want to be very involved in creating social change and improving life opportunities for people. There’s literally no better city in the world to learn about those challenges.”

English Prof. Bill Savage will lead the first trip, a free bus tour on April 2 which features a visit to a classic Chicago-style hot dog stand. The tour will take students to parts of the city largely unexplored by tourists, Savage said, including the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair site, local stockyards and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.

“Chicago is a world metropolis. It’s one of the great historic cities of North America,” Savage said. “To spend all your time at Northwestern north of Howard Street would be like going to Paris and never getting around to going to the Eiffel Tower.”

Since opening its doors in 2009, the center has built programs geared at increasing student civic engagement and public service. Savage said that graduating students often lament about their lack of familiarity with Chicago, having been stuck in the “Evanston bubble” for all of their years in college.

Three undergraduate students launched “Spring into Chicago” this year, a pilot program to make trips into the Windy City easier and more desirable. Steffi Brock-Wilson, a Weinberg senior and co-coordinator of the program, is one of the three students who helped launch the program and said the initiative would increase accessibility to Chicago through free transportation.

“In the past we’ve focused on different themes such as food insecurity in Chicago or politics in Chicago,” Brock-Wilson said. “(This quarter) we’re focusing on increasing access. The city is really vibrant in the springtime and there’s a lot to learn and a lot of organizations to get involved with, but the first step is getting into the city.”

The center partnered with a number of other organizations to co-sponsor the program, including Student Enrichment Services, Office of Campus Life and Associated Student Government.

“I’m hoping that word of mouth … will get people thinking about the fact that when you get up on Saturday morning you’re not actually chained to your dorm,” Savage said. “This should be something you should do for fun, because you’ve got to balance the studying and the hard work on extracurriculars and internships with a little pleasure.”

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