In the week before this year’s O-Week, UChicago first-year students had various opportunities to get to know each other and the City of Chicago. In addition to Chicago Bound, the University sponsored new programs called Chicago Urban Experience (CUE) and UChicago Leads.
The Chicago Urban Experience, offered by the College Programming Office, helped students explore what it means to be a Chicagoan outside of campus. Each day, the program involved lectures and tours around the city focusing on different themes, such as politics, history, art and architecture, environmental science and sociology. Hannah Trower, a participant in the program, said the program helped acclimate her to Chicago as someone coming from a non-urban environment.
She also appreciated how the program sparked her interest in the city, saying, “I’m the type of person who will explore, but I have to have a reason to explore. Now that I have a little taste of what the city has to offer, I’ll want to get out more.”
The brand-new nature of the program provided both challenges and opportunities for both the first-year participants and the leaders. Anthony Lovell Downer, a third-year student leader for CUE, described the first few days as “pretty hectic” and discussed how in many cases, the pre-orientation leaders were learning alongside the students.
Being a leader in the first ever year of CUE also allowed Downer to play a role in shaping the program for the future. Downer said, “I definitely feel I had an impact on the program. I hope to come back, I hope to see some of the students who participated be leaders in the future.”
UChicago Leads, the smallest of the three programs at only 25 students, was also new this year and sought to expose first-years to leadership in diverse disciplines across the city of Chicago. The program had no upperclassmen student leaders and was led by program coordinators from the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement. For each of the program’s six days, the students met with leaders in different fields. One meeting was with the owner of the White Sox, and another was with a behavioral psychologist regarding primate behavior and its implications for human collaboration.
A highlight for Bruce Li, a first-year interested in entrepreneurship, was seeing the collaboration rooms and start-up CEOs at 1871, a co-working community. Li strongly recommends the program to future first-years because it allowed him to get comfortable meeting people before being inundated with new faces during O-Week.
Meera Dhodapkar, another participant, agrees that the pre-orientation programs provide a smooth transition to college life. She continues to talk to her network of friends from UChicago Leads every day.
In addition to the social aspect of the program, Dhodapkar also appreciated the focus on leadership at UChicago, saying, “Coming out of this week where you’ve just learned a lot about yourself and this institution, there’s a clear page turning in terms of going into college.”
Chicago Bound, the only Chicago based pre-orientation program that existed prior to this year, began in 2012 and focuses on immersing 40 first-year students in community service and social justice issues around the city of Chicago. Sponsored by the University Community Service Center and the Institute of Politics, the daily itinerary of the program involved meeting local leaders and participating in service projects and team bonding activities. Students engaged in the local community by making sandwiches for the Night Ministry, an organization that delivers food to the homeless, and painting a mural at a local elementary school.
Sophia Zaller, one of the first-year participants, said that meeting a woman who founded the Office of New Americans at the mayor’s office was her favorite part of the program. One of the overarching themes of the program, Zaller said, was that “[the program’s] leaders really wanted us to see that the South Side wasn’t something to be afraid of. [At UChicago], people don’t go south of 61st, but that’s obviously kind of one-sided and you don’t need to be scared of a certain place. There are good people everywhere.”
Nikhil Mandalaparthy, another participant, also commented on the University’s relationship with surrounding communities and the powerful effect of hearing people talk about the Hyde Park bubble. “Coming [in] as freshmen, we didn’t really know the reputation the University had around different parts of the city and…we weren’t really students yet, but we were already branded as UChicago students trying to get out of the bubble,” he said. “I think that sort of set the precedent for the rest of our careers here—to get out into the city.”