Past Programs

Over the course of a year, NU in Chicago hosts a diverse set of events, varying in location, group size and topic. Every September, NU in Chicago kicks off the school year with a Fall Neighborhood Exploration Day where hundreds of students explore themed tracks in neighborhoods across the city, on excursions facilitated by Northwestern faculty.

Demand for robust Chicago programming continues to grow as students learn about the many resources Chicago has to offer. Accordingly, NU in Chicago hosts events throughout the school year on different civic issues and themes. Continuing to bridge the gap between students and the city, these events promote interactive learning and encourage independent student engagement in Chicago.

Fall Orientation Day
Spring into Chicago
Indigenous Peoples of Chicago Day
Chicago Humanities Festival at Northwestern
Food Issues and Innovations in Chicago
NU in Government Day
MLK in Chicago: The Fight for Fair Housing
Global Neighborhood Excursions
Exploring Great Institutions

Fall Orientation Day

NU in Chicago’s Fall Neighborhood Exploration Day orients undergraduates to the different civic resources and neighborhoods in Chicago. Every year, nearly 300 students join the Center for Civic Engagement and NU in Chicago for interactive excursions in neighborhoods across the city.

This program began in 2012, in conjunction with One Book One Northwestern, to celebrate the stories and see the neighborhoods of Alex Kotlowitz’s book “Never a City So Real”. Since the inaugural day in 2012, the NU in Chicago Fall Neighborhood Exploration Day has brought over 1,000 NU students into the city.

When registering, students have the choice to participate in different thematic tracks, such as Chicago History, Sustainability, Arts in Chicago, Parks and Public Spaces, Global Neighborhoods and more. Each track typically consists of 2-3 site visits at organizations, city landmarks, or museums. In the past, site visits have included the Center on Halsted, Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the 606, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Union Stockyard, and many other Chicago classics.

Though the day is open to all undergraduates, it is not uncommon for it to be an incoming student’s first introduction to Chicago. In order to facilitate this experience, faculty and alumni with expertise in the track’s topic accompany the students.

The success of the fall day every year demonstrates students’ desire to better connect with Chicago. We look forward to building upon and improving the model of this fall orientation trip in the future.


Spring into Chicago 2017

Spring into Chicago returned for a second year to connecting students to the city all quarter long. From top speakers and new neighborhoods, to world-class museums and community theaters, NU in Chicago took undergraduate students to key civic sites across the city.


Logan Square, Hip, but for whom?
Exploring a changing Chicago neighborhood

Spring Quarter 2017 kicked off with a trip to Logan Square, a neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side, hosted by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, to gain an understanding of gentrification issues residents face in the area.

“I knew and heard about gentrification, but it was powerful to hear from LSNA who shared their testimonies about landlord intimidation, influence of developers and community activism,” said Weinberg senior Hayeon Kim. “Northwestern students who are not from the area or who have not experienced gentrification are definitely susceptible to perpetuating this violence, so it was meaningful and urgent that we had a trip like this to educate our community.”

About 40 students explored the changing neighborhood of Logan Square with the neighborhood association and visited a local Puerto Rican restaurant and Chicago’s new elevated park, The 606. The group happened to run into State Representative Will Guzzardi and had the chance to hear his thoughts on neighborhood change and communities. In addition, participants heard from several long-time Logan Square residents about their experiences and feelings related to their changing neighborhood. “It’s hard when the stores don’t sell the same things we always saw when I was a kid,” one high school student said.

Lookingglass Theatre

 A CCE Fellow & theater-enthusiast led students on a trip downtown to one of Chicago’s historic theater companies – The Lookingglass Theater. The Lookingglass Theater specializes in compelling and experimental productions, and “Beyond Caring” is no exception.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Students explored the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory while getting away from midterm woes with a trip to the beautiful oasis nestled in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.

Devon Avenue

NU in Chicago took a deep dive into Devon Avenue, home to the largest South Asian community of Chicago. 

Beyond the Book

Students today are exposed to more global ideas than any of the proceeding generations, be it through social media, art or their classmates. “Beyond the Book: Education for the Next Generation,” a Chicago Council on Global Affairs event, presented Koldyke Global Teachers as they shared stories and best practices for guiding future global citizens.

Ismaili Center in Glenview 

NU in Chicago offered a suburban edition of Spring into Chicago trips, taking students to the Ismaili Center in Glenview to meet with leaders of the Ismaili Muslim community to learn more about their faith and heritage and tour the center.

Lincoln Park Tour

Undergraduates explored Lincoln Park, learning some Chicago history and eating delicious pizza, enjoying a walk through Lincoln Park and discussion about Daniel Burnham‘s plan to keep the lakefront public to all. 

Michelle Alexander & Naomi Klein in Conversation 

Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein visited Chicago for a wide-ranging conversation about the connections between ecological and economic crisis, racism, mass incarceration, deportation and police violence, and the potential power of mass movements of ordinary people to articulate and fight for an alternative. Alexander and Klein offered a chance to understand how all of these issues are connected from a marginalized lens.

Hyde Park Neighborhood Tour

NU in Chicago helped students explore a bit of Hyde Park with a special emphasis on the Obama legacy. This trip included a visit to the Hyde Park Art Center for a docent-led tour of “The Presidential Library Project: Black Presidential Imaginary,” discussion of the meaning of Obama’s presidency at Burnham Park Promontory Point and a visit to 57th Street Books, a bookstore the Obamas frequented.

Jane Jacobs Doc & Talk

No one revolutionized the way we think about cities more than Jane Jacobs. During a special Movie Club event, Janet Smith, PhD, from UIC Chicago’s College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs, led a discussion related to “Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City,” an invigorating documentary about Jacobs’s thrilling David-Goliath battles with almighty New York building czar Robert Moses.

Volunteer at Open Books

This trip offered an exciting service opportunity with the nonprofit Open Books during a Creative Writing Workshop. Students spent the morning working with a class of third grade students to help them with a slam poetry exercise about “What I Love To Do.” 

Volunteer at Breakthrough

Students spent a Sunday evening serving up a delicious meal with Breakthrough, an organization working with people affected by poverty in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood. Spring into Chicago participants learned more about the neighborhood as they collectively created a menu, prepared the meal and shared dinner with guests who reside in the women’s shelter.

Adler Planetarium

An Adler Planetarium staff member (and NU alum!) took students behind the scenes at the first major planetarium built in the United States! She led the group through the museum, pointing out her favorite exhibits along the way.

Read more about the initiative here. This pilot program was sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement and Associated Student Government.

Spring into Chicago 2016

In Spring Quarter 2016, NU in Chicago launched an initiative to make access to Chicago easier than ever before by providing additional weekend resources and opportunities for civic engagement in the city.

Spring into Chicago encouraged students to take advantage of the warm weather and explore the city’s civic institutions by compiling guides about Chicago resources for NU students, providing limited time free passes to museums and providing CTA cards for students to travel to these sites. These resources were intended to promote independent and small group student engagement with Chicago neighborhoods and civic institutions.

Additionally, Spring into Chicago included two events that explored Chicago history and community involvement. Facilitated by faculty and alumni, students had the opportunity to attend a trip “Beyond the Bean: History, Hot Dogs & Hidden Gems of Chicago, with NU Prof. Bill Savage” and “Life in Chicago: Food, Conversation & Neighborhood Exploration,” with civically engaged young alumni in Chicago.

This initiative was co-sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement, Student Enrichment Services, Office of Campus Life and Associated Student Government.

Read more about the initiative here.


Indigenous Peoples of Chicago Day

NU in Chicago hosted a trip to the American Indian Center where students heard from executive director Andrew Johnson, toured the urban gardens with Northwestern adjunct faculty member Eli Suzukovich and ate native food. The day focused on the use of indigenous symbols and peoples as mascots, and Chi-Nations Youth Council gave a presentation on their activism around this issue.

Thank you to our cosponsors: Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) and One Book One Northwestern.



Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) at Northwestern

As part of the CHF’s fifth annual Morris and Dolores Kohl Kaplan Northwestern Day, the Center for Civic Engagement and NU in Chicago sent students to the lectures for free. The Chicago Humanities Festival is a premier resource for exploring humanities, and the 2015 fall festival focused on the theme of “Citizens”. CCE and NU in Chicago programs. Through the NU in Chicago program, students had access to free tickets to hear public talks from Lawrence Lessig, Peter Singer, and Ta-Nehesi Coates. The tickets were distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and “sold out” almost immediately.

The Chicago Humanities Festivals’ Morris & Dolores Kohl Kaplan Northwestern Day was co-presented by the Chicago Humanities Festival and Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, with the support of Northwestern’s Office of the President, Office of the Provost, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.


Food Issues and Innovations in Chicago

This NU in Chicago trip brought students to a closed-loop urban farm and the Greater Chicago Food Depository to explore issues of food access in the city. Students travelled to Back of the Yards to visit The Plant, an old meatpacking facility converted into a net-zero energy food business incubator. The excursion ended with a visit to the grand opening of The 606, Chicago’s new trail system on repurposed old rail line. NU Alumna Katy Voft joined us for the day to frame the discussion and share her experience with Chicago startup Food Trace.

Thank you to our cosponsors: Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED), NU Real Food and Points for a Purpose.


NU in Government Day

This NU in Chicago trip focused on careers in public service and brought students into the city to meet with local lawmakers and political organizers in their workplace. Students traveled first to the Thompson Center to meet with State Senator Napoleon Harris (NU ‘02) and then to City Hall to talk with Tonantzin Carmona (NU ‘12) and Tony Iweagwu (NU ‘02). The day ended exploring the field of political organizing with a visit to Organizing for Action, Barack Obama’s grassroots community organizing movement. NU Political Science professor Thomas Ogorzalek joined us for the day and provided a great introduction to Illinois politics.

Thank you to our cosponsors: Associated Student Government, College Republicans, College Democrats, and IIRON Students for Northwestern United.



MLK in Chicago: The Fight for Fair Housing

NU in Chicago hosted a trip for undergraduates about Martin Luther King Jr.’s time living on the West Side and fighting discriminatory housing practices. Students visited the MLK Fair Housing Exhibit in North Lawndale to learn more about MLK’s role in the Chicago Freedom Movement. Dan Lewis, Center for Civic Engagement director and professor of Human Development and Social Policy, facilitated the trip and lead a discussion at the exhibit. Prexy Nesbitt, a Northwestern alumnus, joined us for the conversation and a guided bus tour of the Neighborhood.

NU in Chicago also hosted this trip for graduate students in collaboration with The Graduate School. The Graduate School day ended with a community gathering at the Chicago History Museum.

Thank you to our cosponsors: Sustained Dialogue and The Graduate School.



Global Neighborhood Excursions

NU in Chicago hosted an afternoon introducing students to culturally and linguistically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. Immigrant communities have shaped many Chicago neighborhoods, and students had the choice of going to Lincoln Square, Chinatown, Argyle or Pilsen. Each trip was led by a language professor relevant to the area and included a local dinner.

Thank you to our cosponsors: Department of German, Department of Asian Languages & Culture, Department of French & Italian, and Department of Spanish & Portuguese.



Exploring Great Institutions

NU in Chicago brought students to several key Chicago institutions to learn about how museums can be hubs for generating knowledge, educating citizens and building richer communities. Students could choose between three different tracks: Sustainability & Conservation, Chicago History & Culture and Experiencing Art. Students were joined by faculty and alumni facilitators, including alumna Kate Zeller, the Assistant Curator at the School of the Art Institute.