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short-term program leaves lasting impact

Erin Johnson's first introduction to the Chicago Center was as a student of Keystone College during a short-term trip to the city. Now as an instructor of public health at that same college, Erin is providing her students access to the same resources that sparked her interest in public health. We're excited to share the most impactful moments from her experiences with the Center and how the pandemic couldn't stop her from exposing students to the stories of our community partners.

CC: Tell us about your introduction to the Chicago Center and how you became involved with bringing students to Chicago?

EJ:  I was initially introduced to the Chicago Center as a student at Keystone College. After I began to teach here, I had the opportunity to bring my class to Chicago. This area is incredibly different from our rural campus. We take the Introduction to Public Health and Restorative Justice classes. This experience helps to give our students new perspectives! 

CC: As a student, what were your initial impressions of the city, and how did that evolve over the years?

EJ: I fell in love with Chicago. It was my first time experiencing this city and I caught the "travel bug" as my professor called it. I love bringing student there to experience that same feeling. 

CC: What made you interested in public health as a student?

EJ: I originally started at Keystone as a nursing student, but I was interested in helping on the population level instead of the individual level. The Chicago trip as a freshman is what sealed the deal for me. 

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"The Chicago Center experience is an amazing opportunity for students to experience different aspects of public health they would not have otherwise had the chance to. The experience allowed them to see different perspectives and needs of a community."

All About Me

CC: Were there any experiences during your trips with the Chicago Center that were particularly impactful for you personally?

EJ: The experience which impacted me the most was visiting Kids Off the Block. I was in awe and inspired by the work Diane Latiker does to make her neighborhood and the lives of the young people who live there better. Seeing all of those pavers with the names of those who lost their lives was heart-wrenching.

CC: Now as a professor, what have been some of the most impactful moments for students during their programs in the city?

EJ:  One of the sites that was most impactful for students was Access Living. They were able to see a building which was entirely accessible and run by those with disabilities. They learned all about their advocacy and services!

CC: You mentioned the differences between the rural environment you and your students come from and being in the city. What similarities have you or your students noticed?

EJ:  Students have noticed many of the same services between the two areas, but there are differences in delivery. In our area, the transportation system cannot get you to many different areas the way the CTA can. 

We asked Erin about...

The Best Food You ate in chicago?

The best food I’ve ever ate in Chicago is the jibarito at Nellie’s on W. Division St. They are my favorite food to have there!

most memorable cta moment?

I would say my most memorable CTA moment was when the faculty and students were sent on excursions the first day to learn the CTA system. I had gotten the faculty on the wrong bus and we met a very nice lady who gave us the right directions!

first place you'd want to visit on your next trip to chicago?

The first place I want to visit when I return to Chicago is Nellie’s! The food never disappoints and I learn something new on every walking tour of Paseo Boricua!

CC: What kind of growth have you seen in Keystone students as a result of their visits to Chicago?

EJ: I have seen them take the theory of what we learn about in class and translate it to real-world situations. It is wonderful to see them leave their comfort zones and experience different neighborhoods and cultures in Chicago.

CC: When the pandemic interfered with your yearly trip to Chicago two years in a row, we pivoted to a virtual experience for Keystone students. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?

EJ: One of the side effects of the COVID pandemic was the need to pivot to virtual learning. While it was disappointing to not be able to participate in person, it was wonderful that these students were able to still hear from the amazing people previous classes have been able to meet.

CC: How has the program impacted the students virtually? What are you looking forward to when you return to Chicago to complete the program?

EJ: The students have appreciated having the opportunity to hear from some wonderful people and organizations, but they have definitely missed the experience of being physically there. I'm most looking forward to the complete experience of being in the hostel, riding the CTA, and eating the food!

CC: What would you want to tell other professors about your experiences with the Center?

EJ: The Chicago Center experience is an amazing opportunity for students to experience different aspects of public health they would not have otherwise had the chance to. The experience allowed them to see different perspectives and needs of a community. The wonderful thing about this program for our students is we make requests for who we want to meet, because those are the aspects we focus on in class. In the intro class, we focus on broader public health components, such as environmental health and access to food. The speakers we meet with are then able to speak on those topics from their own experiences. 

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