Chicago Center for Urban Life & Culture

Apply Online Now! »
or call 1.800.747.6059

News & Events

After her Chicago Internship Program: Shelley’s Apprentice Highlight

June 3rd, 2014


Receiving the opportunity to be a Chicago Center Apprentice was truly a serendipitous occasion.  I had graduated from college roughly half of a year prior and now that I had caught up on some long-overdue sleep and taken time to enjoy my summer months, it was time to be serious and find a big person job.  Naturally, a day job related to theatre and the arts would be optimal, and I didn’t do the Chicago Center internship program just so I could kiss Chicago goodbye and never return.  I had an interest in living and working in Chicago for a very long time and I thought this may be a way to get my foot in the door, so to speak.  So, of course, I applied, interviewed, and was ecstatic upon finding out they wanted to take me on!

I moved to Chicago on January 3, 2013 and was greeted by fellow apprentices Eric Highers (who I knew from the internship program) and Justine Sawyer (one of my sorority sisters from my alma mater), and felt right at home!  The city was certainly colder and snowier than when I was a student, but many details from my memory came back to me- navigating the CTA, shopping in Lakeview, fantastic food of all kinds.  On my first day, I learned that I was the Practicum Coordinator, the apprentice who helps plan orientation and class events for the long program students, as well as assisting with class.  I was swiftly thrown into the swing of things as far as being an employee of the Chicago Center.  I learned how collaborative the office is, as well as how efficiently we must work to ensure that participating students and staff have an enriching experience.

The long program students arrived and I gradually got into the groove of things; planning events, communicating with resources, and of course, driving.  It was exciting being a part of the planning process and seeing how programs are put together.  I enjoyed revisiting sites and people that I remembered from my time as a student and watching the students for the first time hear Ranjana Bhargava discuss her arranged marriage and Jose Guerrero emphasize that there is no “art for art’s sake”.

One big challenge directly related to being Practicum Coordinator was placing May Term students in internships.  I drew on my experience as a student trying to find an internship and remembered how tenacious I had to be.  I made a plan for where I would try to place the students (with second and third choices), and I found myself juggling incoming and outgoing phone calls.  At times, I thought I was close to getting a student placed at a site, and then I would receive word that it wouldn’t work out.  Eventually, all of the supervisors confirmed that they would take on the students and all I needed was a few logistical details.  One day, one of the supervisors emailed me and said that she would only be able to take one of the two students I had placed with her, leaving the other without an internship.  This happened roughly twenty minutes before I had to dispense placement information to the students.  Emily told me to contact Mark Walden about placing the student.  I immediately called him and explained the situation and he agreed to take on the student.  It worked out well, because that student ended up being involved in some important projects at the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce and I think he had a great experience.  We had placement check-in to see how the students were doing at their internships and it was gratifying to hear them say how pleasantly surprised/ excited they were.  A few of them turned to me and thanked me for placing them where I did.

I wrapped up my time as Practicum Coordinator in August and worked on lining up theatre gigs and researching apartments and, oh yes, finding my next day job.  I ended up living at the Boulevard for a spell, but I knew that I needed to find some source of income, as well as a place to live.  The clock was ticking.  Towards the end of my stay at the Boulevard, the Chicago Center approached me (serendipitously!) about a position that needed to be filled.  They wanted to help me continue to make a life in the city, and offered me a part-time Group Living Coordinator position.  The position would entail working with Lane as my supervisor to address maintenance and interpersonal concerns at the Boulevard and assisting with orientation events.  They would house me at the Everett apartment again, and being part-time, I would receive a stipend, but also have time in my schedule to pursue supplemental employment and theatre work.  I was incredibly grateful that they were willing to work with my unconventional schedule, and took the position in September.  It has been great relating to students in a different capacity, and I am glad to be on the staff of the Chicago Center again.  Nowadays, I am also busy with rehearsals (I have worked on and acted in a handful of shows so far), voice and dance lessons, as well as temping and other short-term paid gigs.  I have reconnected with Stage Left Theatre (where I interned) and I continue to make new theatre connections in the city.  It is definitely a juggling act at times, but having good communication and support makes it doable.  I am trying to incorporate what I learned from my first shot as an apprentice, and I hope to come away from this experience with improved organizational skills and a more entrepreneurial spirit.


After her Chicago Internship Program: Ashley’s Apprentice Highlight

February 5th, 2014


The Urban Apprenticeship is an exciting opportunity we offer Chicago Center alumni that have just graduated college. More than a job it offers opportunities for learning and skill development in a supportive urban learning community.

The apprenticeship started in 1990 and grew out of the mutual interests of Chicago Center alums to prolong their contact with Chicago Center and the Center’s interest in strengthening its staff and program. It has exceeded expectations in both arenas and has become a great strength of Chicago Center. The Urban Apprentice usually spends one full year in residence at Chicago Center. This month Ashley Baumann, Practicum Coordinator talks about her experience with Chicago Center.

When I received an email from Chicago Center about the Urban Apprenticeship, I knew right away I wanted to apply. Receiving the phone call from Emily Nelson about my position as the Practicum Coordinator for Chicago Center brought pure excitement; I could hardly say anything on the phone. Patiently waiting until August, when the apprenticeship started, I began to reflect on my experience as a student attending the Chicago Center. The apprenticeship was not only a new beginning for me, but an extension to my experience.

I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan and I also attended Alma College, which was located in a rural town in mid-Michigan where I graduated with a degree in Sociology. Attending Chicago Center opened me up to so many different experiences. The Communities and Culture’s seminar was one of the greatest highlights as a student. I was not only living in an urban setting for the first time, but also having so many hands on experiences that taught me so much about Chicago and myself. I became more comfortable and independent with myself.

Reflecting on my experience as a student is ongoing. Not only do I reflect on my experience as a student, but I reflect on the past five months of my apprenticeship. As the Practicum Coordinator I assist with the seminar, which not only connects with my experience as a student, but builds a deeper foundation as an apprentice. I am able to not only enjoy each weekly seminar, but also continue to learn so much about the city and different neighborhoods. I have developed a greater independence in my position as the Practicum Coordinator and have gained knowledge that will always benefit me. Attending the weekly seminar is very rewarding. I am able to see how each student grows throughout their Chicago Center experience. Not only do I have the opportunity to witness this growth, each student discovers more about themselves.

The Urban Apprenticeship has helped me extend my time in Chicago and continue to grow and learn as an individual. I have developed and grown as a person and I am only half way through my apprenticeship. It will definitely be hard for me to say goodbye to the Center. My time has been well spent thus far at the Center. Every day is a new and exciting adventure. I have been fortunate to have such an amazing job.

We’d like to thank Ashley for telling us about her experience and letting us share it with our potential students and alumni!



December 19th, 2013


During her time as a student of our program, Julee Freeman, Fall 2013 Urban Teaching Practicum, shared her experience of living with other students of the program in our student housing facility, the Boulevard.

by Julee Freeman

Before I came to Chicago, I was under the impression that by leaving the small town and entering the big city my life would somehow become glamorous.  I certainly have those opportunities – from a concert series in the park, to student tickets to the Chicago Lyric Opera, even the plethora of late night excursions downtown. There is always something to do in                                                          Chicago, sadly I’m always too tired to do much of anything.

I commute an hour to and from work every day. I’m happy to find a seat on the bus but frequently that joy is replaced with paranoia when I can’t tell if the seat is wet or just cold. To put this in context – sitting on a wet bus seat is equivalent to eating yellow snow. I work about 8 hours a day and by the time I return home I’m so exhausted all I do is grade papers, eat and sleep.

My weekends are filled with work. Between journaling, lesson planning and my KPTP (education majors know what I’m talking about), I barely have time to sit back and enjoy myself. That doesn’t mean I hate my life and that I do nothing fun. In fact, I’m having the time of my life in Chicago! I owe most of this to my Chicago Center Family.

The Chicago Center of Urban Life and Culture owns an apartment building in Hyde Park that is used for student housing. Fun fact: our house, lovingly referred to as the Boulevard, was recently featured on the season two premiere of Chicago Fire… it was on fire.

The third floor houses ten student teachers from various colleges around the Midwest. Some are from Wisconsin schools, two are from Luther College in Iowa and one is from a small liberal arts school in Michigan. The rest of us are from Kansas colleges and have bonded over the daunting task of the KPTP. The final resident of third floor is Michael Jordan… ok so not the actual MJ but a life size cardboard cutout!

“They are amazing and I love them!” said Jenny Dwyer another Bethany College student teacher who lives on third floor.  It’s interesting because we each have different backgrounds and personalities. It’s like they stuck ten complete strangers in a house together, except unlike the Real World we actually live and work in the real world.

“We look out for each other” continued Dwyer. It’s nice knowing that if you’re having a tough day or need to take a break and blow off some steam, someone is there for you.  Sometimes we go out and do something “glamorous” but most times we sit at the dinner table having awesome conversations or watching football with our crazy “former Sterling football player” roommate, there is rarely a dull moment on third floor.

We’re kind of like the Gumbo we made on our first night at the Boulevard. We each are extremely unique flavors but we make some pretty good food.


Urban Teaching Practicum Alumni Return to Student Teaching Seminar

November 27th, 2013

NancyHeadshotFor the past 10 years,  Nancy Friesen, Urban Teaching Practicum Director, has brought in alumni who are currently teaching in Chicago to connect with our current students. This gives our students the opportunity to hear from people who have both experience in our program and experience finding a job in the city post-graduation.

What advice do you have for us as we begin our careers?  What were your first weeks in the Chicago Public Schools like?  How did you get your job?  How did you manage reciprocity between Illinois and your home state?  What do you wish you’d been told                                                          before you started?

These were just some of the questions posed last week to fifteen local teachers– alumni of our student teaching program—who returned to our Seminar class to share pizza and their experiences.  Their teaching situations are as varied as their paths to their current jobs.  Some teach in the schools where they student taught, some teach in Charter schools, some are in their second or third classrooms in as many years.  A few are working on Master’s degrees.  Many are living right around us in Hyde Park, and many are living with or keeping up with friends they made during their student teaching semester.  It was a reunion for alums too as they greeted former housemates they don’t get to see often in their busy lives.

The alums spoke of how they used their networks to find positions and of delivering resumes to many schools.  Some were poised to interview from many miles away.  They discussed how to frame student teaching experiences so they are impressive to hiring administrators, what it takes to get certification, and what it’s like to wait until August for competing job offers.  They spoke of positions cut as funding evaporates and of building arts programs where there had been none.

We talked about lessons learned while student teaching through Chicago Center that have served them as beginning teachers.  They have accepted the challenges of jobs throughout the city, due in part to how comfortable they became traveling through various neighborhoods and working with students in them.

As I listened to these young teachers, it became clear to me that they are the experts now.  They have learned to balance never-ending work demands with home life, and have asserted their visions with principals and colleagues.  Gone was any hint of hesitancy in their gestures as they described leading their classes.  They make the curricula work for their students and forge lasting connections with them.  Current students took notes as alums shared wisdom on topics ranging from troubled students to the latest technology for student assessment.  Several student teachers later reported success with tips gleaned from the amazing array of strategies these young teachers have collected.

Teachers didn’t sugar coat the struggles they have with establishing authority, lack of support, students with challenges beyond their scope, or mandates that don’t enhance their abilities to teach.  They all agreed that it’s easy to complain about things that aren’t as they should be.  Yet they talked at length about how to be the solution you want to see.  One teacher offered to teach a class she thought her students needed, another suggested a discipline system adopted school-wide.

As the teachers lit up about the joys and rewards of their jobs I remember why I like this seminar class the best:  the future of education is in good hands.


Chicago Center Teachers Win Golden Apple Awards

May 22nd, 2012

Congratulations to Chicago Center co-operating teachers
Monique Blakes, a first grade teacher at Oscar DePriest Elementary School; and Elizabeth Luna, a kindergarten teacher at Murray Language Academy.  These teachers have been named Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award recipients for the 2011-2012 school year. The three CPS educators are among 10 recipients of the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching and were selected from a pool of 560 nominees from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.

The recipients of the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching receive a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and a $3,000 cash award. Golden Apple teachers also become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, which develops and supports programs for teachers to make them more effective in the classroom.

Monique Blakes started crying as Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped into her first grade classroom Thursday morning.

He was followed by some of her colleagues and family, including her sister, aunt and three nieces who drove up from St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I’m so honored,” she said. “I work really hard and my students, all of this is for them.”

Blakes has taught at Depriest Elementary in the Austin neighborhood for seven years.  Before that, she went through the Academy of Urban School Leadership’s one-year teacher training program.

“You have the best teacher,” Emanuel told Blakes’ students. “She’s been recognized as number one.”

And her students agreed.

“She’s nice, funny and sweet, and she always takes care of us,” one girl said. “And she helps us learn stuff.”


Siri’s Chicago Experience

April 24th, 2012

Here at Chicago Center, students get firsthand experience in issues of social justice and community engagement every day.  Spring ’12 Social Work Practicum student Siri Lokensgard wrote about an unforgettable experience during her Social Work placement.

“Throughout the entire day, I was at Legal Assistance Foundation in the South Loop helping them with a Children Across Borders Event, in which lawyers, judges, social services providers, and attorney generals from around the world come to the United States under the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Visitors from Brazil, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Uruguay, Netherlands, and Cambodia (to name only a few) were present to discuss issues regarding children, such as poverty, abduction, foster care, trafficking, and immigration. All of these individuals were coming together to provide more insight into these issues internationally and offer the United States a better understanding and perspective of these problems at large. This was probably one of the coolest and most interesting things that I have ever been a part of. It was very neat to see this unification of influential leaders from around the world come together to address and fight against these social injustices.

In the afternoon, I attended the meeting, interacted and talked with these leaders about social justice issues. I felt so fortunate being able to discuss issues that I have been researching, getting a better understanding of international efforts and cultural practices. I think it helped me become a lot more competent not only culturally but also academically. It definitely made me reflect on and critique the way our systems work in the United States. For example, in many of the countries being represented, they do not believe in nursing homes, viewing them as shameful and disrespectful to the elderly. In addition with all of this, we broke up into smaller groups to discuss specific topics, such as community engagement, trafficking, social work, and immigration issues. I had the honor of actually leading one of these discussions. I couldn’t believe that, as only an undergraduate student, I would get to lead a group of influential leaders from around the world on issues that I am passionate about. In this discussion, we talked about social work efforts, theories/models, challenges systemically and institutionally, and creative strategies. In this discussion, I learned a lot more about foster care efforts in other countries.

Finally, we ended the event by having a time for networking. I had been itching to talk with this man from Cambodia on the issue of sex trafficking, since that is a passion of mine and a field of practice for him, as I learned during introductions. Through this connection, I was able to see possible work in Cambodia some day for myself. This entire day just empowered me, giving me new energy to take on social justice issues around the world, teaming up with others to truly make a difference.”


Chicago Center Vlog: Ask An Alum

April 5th, 2012

See how Emily’s understanding of Chicago’s communities and cultures paved the way for new opportunities in the Windy City.


Chicago Center Vlog: First Voice First Listen

October 26th, 2011

What are people listening to during their Chicago commute?


Chicago Center Vlog: Emily’s Top 5

September 22nd, 2011


After her Chicago Internship Program: Megan’s Apprentice Highlight

July 8th, 2011

The Urban Apprenticeship is an exciting opportunity we offer Chicago Center alumni that have just graduated college. More than a job it offers opportunities for learning and skill development in a supportive urban learning community.

The apprenticeship started in 1990 and grew out of the mutual interests of Chicago Center alums to prolong their contact with Chicago Center and the Center’s interest in strengthening its staff and program. It has exceeded expectations in both arenas and has become a great strength of Chicago Center. The Urban Apprentice usually spends one full year in residence at Chicago Center. This month Megan Crawford, LearnChicago! Coordinator talks about her experience with Chicago Center:

“I can’t believe it’s already my turn to write an Apprentice blog! That means our time as employees of Chicago Center is almost over. I have some amazing experiences as the LearnChicago! Program Coordinator. I have had a blast working with so many great colleges and diverse groups. I’ve loved participating in the programs and learning along with the students. I’ve been challenged and encouraged to take autonomy of my position, and my own abilities and career goals have, undoubtedly, been strengthened. Truthfully, I have loved every part of the past year and it still seems surreal that I get paid to work with such a fantastic group of individuals.

The Center is an amazing organization and, if anything, this year has showed me that it serves a different role for everyone. Each student finds something unique within its pedagogy. Some find answers to personal struggles within their class discussions; some find their vocation through internships; others arrive in the big city and find their future home. Regardless of the form it takes, each student who attends Chicago Center finds one thing: transformation.

Truthfully, I applied to the Apprenticeship program with very selfish reasons. I was at a point in my life where I needed change and I wanted to live in a city where I would be accepted. I wanted a job that would let me transform, both professionally and personally – and it has.

Chicago Center has become like family; it has given me the courage to start over, the confidence to live openly, and a supportive environment in which to question my beliefs. We are all different: not everyone on staff necessarily loves Barack Obama, holds the same religious beliefs, or even thinks the White Sox are God’s gift to baseball. But those differences [except maybe disliking the White Sox] are encouraged.

In my opinion, that’s the best part of Chicago Center and the highlight of my position as LearnChicago! Program Coordinator. I have been able to witness how the programs and activities I’ve planned have affected dozens of students. Whatever the class and wherever state they’re from, there’s always at least one student who voices how Chicago transforms him. I have seen so many students come to this city and find a community that meets their needs and interests and, for the first time, feel a certain acceptance. I’ve watched students face their fear of living, working, and navigating big cities and discover an independence they hadn’t thought possible. Some just leave with a more open mind and a better understanding of the world around them. I am so grateful to have been a part of it.

In one of his all-staff emails, Scott Chesebro, our venerated Executive Director, described a recent political change as “an affirmation of the value of inclusion in dialogue and of the recognition of the human experience of difference.” To me, this speaks to the heart of the Center. This program allows students to express and embrace the most important, and often vastly unique, parts of them. And, fortunately for me, it allows staff members to do the same.

So thanks, Chicago Center: hopefully the new Apprentices find their year on staff just as transformative as we did.”

We’d like to thank Megan for telling us about her experience and letting us share it with our potential students and alumni!