When sophomore Savannah Lopez heard that the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture was making a visit to campus, she was among the first to make an appointment.
"As they were telling me about their program, I realized that the program was exactly the type of educational experience I wanted,” said Lopez. “I applied that same day."
Soon Lopez was headed east where she would make Chicago her classroom for a semester.
The Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture specializes in experiential learning for college students. Dedicated faculty and mentors connect students with the best resources—people, programs, and internships — to equip participants with the most authentic living experience in diverse, urban neighborhoods.
Lopez began the program with an intensive two-week orientation to help her transition to the Windy City. Stepping off a university campus and into the depths of an acclaimed city evokes a cultural shift for students, and the Chicago Center staff worked to ensure that shift was a smooth process, said Lopez.
“I learned to read the city by living and studying it with the help from the Chicago Center staff," she said. "They help their students transition from their small-town campuses to big city living with emphasis on community."
Program participants cannot simply observe from afar. By immersing themselves into the neighborhoods they help, students like Lopez begin to tangibly serve and intangibly learn. Lopez accomplished both facets by interning for a local law firm in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. Though initially hesitant about exploring the legal aspect of criminal justice, the criminal justice major is ultimately glad she made the decision.
"Interning in a law firm was a great experience,” she said. “My boss entrusted me with a lot of responsibility. My favorite part was sitting in on interviews because I got to learn about the client's background and compare my impression of the client with my boss."
Whether she was completing legal forms or participating in interviews with the firm's clients, Lopez is certain of the impact the surrounding community had on her personal growth. She became highly invested in her clients’ well being, and she’s hopeful her role was influential in helping them to move forward.
In addition to an internship, program participants attend seminars and complete a research project that adds to their experience. They spend hours absorbing different cultures visiting businesses, internationally-recognized museums, live music and theatre.
"Learning through living is much more beneficial for a student compared to classroom learning," Lopez said. "Experiencing a cultures hands-on provides a different perspective than a textbook."
"I had a very positive experience living in the city,” she added. “I have grown to be a more independent person and have embraced some of my values and done things I never would have without this program."
—Story by Quinn Hullett, public relations intern