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November 4, 2011

More than hot chocolate

Undergraduate access to graduate school resources should be expanded.

Walking in is easy. Slip past the doors, look mildly professional, move with purpose and upright posture. Wayward stares may unnerve you. Ignore them: You belong here. Kinda. Either way, you’re here now, and free to gape open-mouthed and wide-eyed, your drool a slow waterfall cascading down your jaw. Yes, dumbstruck reader: This is the Booth School of Business. There is grass on the other side, and it is a million times greener.

This has been my after-class routine the past few weeks. The Regenstein, bless its ugly concrete heart, just didn’t cut the mustard anymore. Hallowed Grounds—well, after witnessing a hipster couple playing footsie on the pool table, I decided my studious efforts were best pursued elsewhere. My apartment is good for watching Breaking Bad and cooking heart attacks on a plate, but not for writing my latest column. So I’ve settled on this refuge of pre-professionalism, with its classy cafés, lounges with complimentary coffee and hot chocolate, and sweater-vested students.

Let me tell you what I’ve observed. First: The people are unusually attractive. They have a swagger that comes either from their tailored suits or the success they all know is hurtling toward them with each new investment bank interview. They are young, smiling, and brimming with confidence.

The facility is even more beautiful. This is the second-oldest and third-richest B-school in the nation. They have motion-detected filtered water stations to refill bottles. They have rooms made specifically for sitting in leather couches while exchanging business cards. There are Merlot-laden mixers, functions, and information sessions every hour. This place is a corporate El Dorado. It is a Mecca of glass and steel and triple-digit salaries. It is the Promised Land.

So why, in the name of all that is “life of the mind,” is it walled off from the undergraduate community?

This isn’t meant literally, of course. Doors are readily provided around the building. But the Booth School, like every other graduate school of the University, remains curiously detached from our lives. This could be because the graduate student body is a particularly sneaky one. There are 10,000 (twice as many as us) of them swarming Hyde Park during the day. Their residence halls pepper the streets north of campus. Their parties are legendary. They are our TAs and our writing assistants, our neighbors and our peers. But somehow, they become white noise.

This is bad news. These schools aren’t just corollary buildings on campus; they are homes to literally some of the most prestigious faculty and institutions in the world. We lowly undergraduates should have more chances to dip our toes into these golden, real-world waters. Opening up these resources—the business school in the east, law school in the south, and medical school in the west—would do wonders to forge a more fulfilling education.

This has been said before, and baby steps have been taken. But the current extent of these programs is minimal: You have the Chicago Careers In (Law, Business, Arts, etc.) programs, scattered lectures hosted by graduate schools, and the occasional Q&A session in graduate departments. Sure, the CCIB initiative is immensely helpful, but it’s restricted to those first-years who apply and are accepted. Same with joint-degree programs like the one offered by the Committee on International Relations. CCIL admittedly offers a quality law student mentor program for those wannabe lawyers (read: this guy) who need guidance. But most other programs feel forced and incomplete, and have the strength and length of a Kim Kardashian marriage.

The list goes on: Graduate classes, besides those taught by the accommodating professor, are mostly inaccessible. Graduate events aren’t advertised or publicized, though they feature some of the most celebrated speakers and compelling panels each year. And faculty in the graduate departments rarely venture out of their esteemed offices to mingle with the less-specialized College folk.

I’m not advocating an invasion of the graduate departments; no Occupy Booth movement is in the works. Undergraduates should, by no means, suddenly decide to barge en masse into graduate seminars, annoy graduate professors with incessant questions, or converse randomly with busy graduate students. They have lives as well, and I don’t mean to compromise their experience.

But students and the administration should make a concerted effort to establish some overlap in these two student spheres. There’s always been muffled controversy as to how much attention the University is paying to its graduate schools versus to the College, but the two don’t have to trade off. The “undergraduate experience” is a nationally encouraged cliché that shouldn’t have to be isolated from the graduate opportunities that could complement it. We’re not talking about the separation of church and state. We’re talking about bringing together the minds and resources of two connected student bodies. Such an initiative could supplement all the work CAPS does, inspire more rigorous and informed student work, and create a more cohesive campus community.

In the Booth School, there are stacks of a red, textured journal called the Gradbook. Inside are listed various ways to take advantage of U of C resources, entertainment, and activities—most of them facilitated by undergraduate student organizations and RSOs. So graduates get their information about us, but where’s our scoop? There should be more chances than the occasional flyer in Harper or TA office hours to immerse us in the resources of the graduate world. I want more than the free hot chocolate.

Sharan Shetty is a third-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.

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