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Urban Internship Program Testimonials

Joy Johnson
Alma College

"Being a Detroit native, I did not arrive to Chicago with an excitement for being in a big city, instead excitement for something new. Prior to joining the Chicago Center, I was in search for something that would bring me memorable experiences in a new environment. I wanted a life changing experience that would allow me to view my world through a different lens; joining the Chicago Center gave me just that. Being in a different environment helped give me the courage to try many “firsts”: I traveled alone (long distance) by public transportation for the first time, got to see Judge Mathis (yay!), experienced the gun range, tried new food from restaurants I would have never visited during my normal day-to-day, having my own apartment and etc. I made the most of my short time with the Chicago Center, allowing Chicago to grow a place in my heart. Most staff members, being unique and welcoming in their own way, were able to assist in making my experience the best it could be by paying attention to my needs as a student and doing their best to provide that. I quickly fell in love with my environment, the program, and my internship.  

I was fortunate enough to intern with the University of Chicago Police Department’s Community Relations Unit where I worked with the police and youth at a local middle school. There, I found a placement that felt more like home and family with every laugh, constructive criticism, and most conversations. Every day was a new adventure from teaching inner city youth federal laws to patrolling the streets. The enjoyment that came with this internship is indescribable, I literally had a blast while learning so much from amazing officers, sergeants, the director and the chief. With goals of becoming a criminal law attorney, working at a police force with a former attorney as the director was the perfect match for me. Also, working with this police force gave me the opportunity to see the police in a new light—to see more than what is on social media. A final advantage was the

me on sky thingy.jpeg

confidence boost I received from travelling with a 6’5 police officer every day—very similar to having a personal bodyguard.

Along with a fantastic internship was a creatively-styled class. Although I am from a big city, it is not often that I actually explore that city. Being able to have a class as hands-on as the Communities and Cultures class was insightful and should be practiced at institutions. I love learning as much as the next college students, but the ‘sitting in the classroom’ set up is not for everyone. Learning comes in various ways and Chicago Center’s method is unique and beneficial through visiting different communities, museums, restaurants, and cultures, then discussing them or doing a project on our experiences; not a textbook. My decision to make Chicago my classroom and Hyde Park my small town was one of the best college decisions I’ve ever made. Due to this experience, returning to Chicago is not out of the question—after they fix their aggressive driving, of course."

Alex Rieflin

Hastings College

Jamie cooley

middle tennessee state university

"I’m a Chicago-born student who still had a lot to learn about the city. My interest in the city of Chicago’s history peaked in college and the Center greatly expanded my knowledge on the different neighborhoods in Chicago, specifically the South Side. Professor Chesebro’s enthusiasm about the city has honestly carried over to me and I want to learn as much history as I can, even today.


At MTSU, I study Journalism and Spanish. My internship was with the Hyde Park Herald newspaper, one of the oldest publications in the city. At the Herald, I worked as an intern reporter, but I felt like part of the staff and was welcomed. I did the weekly crime reports, entertainment reporting, and other local events that occurred within the neighborhood. I interviewed local Hyde Parkers, south side comedians, and saw local performances in Hyde Park. As a journalist, I progressed greatly through my internship. 


Our Friday classes included traveling the city as a group and learning about different cultures and history. 


Looking back on the experience as a whole, I am very ecstatic to have been able to be a part of it. I view the city in a different way and almost understand it to a different degree. 

I plan to return to Chicago after graduating in May and continue my studies, while working as a freelance journalist and photographer. My internship coordinator is the person who actually sparked the idea of using photography as more than a hobby; I now incorporate it into my journalism career and I’m grateful for that."

Madeline Svoboda

Hastings College

Ivory Duncan
Missouri Western state university


"I always knew I wanted to live in Chicago. I was born and raised in the Midwest; Kansas City, MO. I imagined living in a city that allowed me to live out my dreams fully. In my fourth year of college I began to think of a way to get to Chicago; I figured an internship could be it.  I googled “Chicago -internships” and The Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture popped up. I applied and was accepted. Three months later I found myself in Chicago, living in Hyde Park-two blocks away from the Obama residency. This was in the summer of 2009 so living in the neighborhood in which our first black president and first family resided was deeply meaningful for me.


Upon becoming a student at the Chicago Center I had the opportunity to intern with the City of Chicago’s Family and Support Services Department. Being an intern with the City of Chicago in which I was in the midst learning about the lives of our youth and families in Chicago and then being a student at Chicago Center in which we explored the history and neighborhoods of the city was a huge learning period for me. I was building experience and learning about a city in which unbeknownst to me would be my home for the next 7 years. After finishing the summer, I was determined to stay in Chicago and luckily I got offered a full-time position as a housing case manager in Altgeld Gardens, a far south side of Chicago housing development. I considered myself lucky to have gotten this position because working with the youth and families in Altgeld Garden’s forever shaped how I approached my work in my career moving forward.


Today I am an education advocate. I have worked as a high school counselor and I am now a Partnership Manager at Teach For America. I build partnerships with Chicago schools in order to place aspiring teachers, particularly students who reflect the background of the students in Chicago schools. Also, in true

millennial fashion, I created a movement called Defining Myself. It is a movement that seeks to transform the way everyday people think of themselves. In its simplest form people buy a shirt and take a picture of themselves with the shirt on and post on it social media with the hashtag #DefiningMyself.

Looking back, I can truly say that being a student at the Chicago Center has influenced much of the work I have done in Chicago. Living in Chicago is a joy and an honor. The Chicago Center influenced me to navigate the city as if it was my classroom and to appreciate what it has to offer. In many ways I am still the student I was almost 8 years ago when I entered the Chicago Center walls. I wake up every day curious and eager to indulge in what else Chicago has to offer. I am grateful for the experience and will always carry with me the learning lens that I developed as a student at Chicago Center."  

Savannah Lopez,

Nebraska Wesleyan University

"The transition from small town Fremont, Nebraska to living in the windy city was smoother than I had anticipated. My biggest worry when I arrived was getting lost and not knowing my way back home. I quickly learned that I was not the only one who shared this feeling. The Chicago Center staff provided us with all the necessary tools such as a crash course on using the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and a street-smarts and urban safety workshop. As a sophomore, coming to Chicago has the been the best decision I could have made. Within the first two weeks I had seen and experienced parts of the city that I never knew existed. Every time my family travels to Chicago, we see the typical tourist attractions that are downtown and never experience the culture of the surrounding neighborhoods.


Throughout orientation week, we explored the city with different members of the CCULC staff building and all of our roommates establishing friendships with them. We were introduced to many unique characteristics about different neighborhoods such as Pilsen, Andersonville, and Bronzeville. If it weren’t for orientation week, I would not have had the privilege of eating goat meat tacos in Archer Heights, watching Priscilla, Queen of the Desert while in Boystown or learning about the architecture in the downtown loop district. We even shared some laughs at the Barrel of Monkeys watching short sketches written by students and acted out by professional adults. After orientation week, we were prepared to successfully navigate our way around the city and had the confidence to travel alone.


Deciding on a placement did not take as long as I had predicted. I knew that I wanted to learn more about the Criminal Justice System directly rather than by reading about it in a textbook. The city of Chicago has a lot to offer within their law enforcement field that I may not have learned about back home. I have always been interested in the legal aspect of Criminal Justice besides my dream of working in law enforcement. This is one of the many reasons I decided to intern at a law firm. My internship at West Town Law Office has been incredibly eye-opening so far. I have seen firsthand within the first couple of weeks how our criminal justice system impacts families in different ways. I have observed a jury trial and witnessed how the jury selection is done. My supervisor, Melinda Power, has been an amazing mentor and is always asking me my opinion on different topics.

The Communities and Cultures class led by Scott Chesebro has been one of my

favorite parts of this experience. We spent our first day of class at the Chicago History Museum learning about the impact that the Great Chicago Fire of 1861 had on different communities. Another adventure has been to the National A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum where we learned about the contributions African Americans made to America's labor movement. 

We have seen many different perspectives on relevant issues and I am very grateful for these experiences. We are currently researching murals in different parts of the city and learning about the different stories a mural may tell about a neighborhood. So far, I have learned to think critically in different situations. I am very appreciative of this experience and can't wait to explore more neighborhoods."

Grace Rempp, Fall 2016 of Hastings College.

"I don’t know if I can properly articulate how nervous I was at the beginning. I think I was almost sick with worry on my flight over. I suffer from a lot of anxiety so this was very much a lesson on how to manage that in new experiences. All that aside, this semester was absolutely worth it. The Communities and Cultures class was the highlight of my week. It always engaged me, challenged me to see so many different perspectives on very relevant issues, and encouraged me to always question the single narrative. I am also so grateful for the recreational opportunities I was afforded by being in Chicago that I could have never experienced in Nebraska. I saw one of my current favorite musicians in concert and I SAW HAMILTON, which I am such a big fan of so that was almost a religious experience for me. I openly wept during the entire show with varying degrees of intensity. I interned at the Chicago Public Art Group, a nonprofit that seeks to install murals, mosaics, and sculptures in Chicago’s public areas to deepen community ties and to make art accessible to those who may not have the ability or means to see it go to a gallery or museum. I deeply loved the organization and am so moved by their mission. I really enjoyed considering and thinking about their mission philosophically. I spent a lot of time thinking about the inherent impermanence of public art and what that means, and how public art and murals fit it into art history especially because murals and graffiti just inherently aren’t permanent. I was also moved by its historical relevance in Chicago since as a double major in history and philosophy, I’m always moved by things with long histories.

This semester has been powerfully important for me. I went to school in my hometown in Hastings, Nebraska because my mom’s professorship at the school allowed me to attend without tuition costs. I don’t regret Hastings College as my choice for college. It is going to be really great to end my BA mostly debt free. I have incredible professors, and my advisor is one of my greatest role models. Regardless of all of its positives, I still went to college in my hometown and I think that has limited my growth in terms of general independence and pushing me outside of my comfort zone, which is why this semester was so important for me. The Chicago Center expanded my worldview and has taught me to see every experience as an opportunity to think critically."

Emma Robinson, Fall 2016

of Willamette University

"My internship at Cornerstone Community Outreach has been incredibly eye-opening so far. Although I primarily work in the EBay store, the most impactful moments have been when I'm serving food, helping in the after school tutoring program, passing out cans of food during the Food Pantry, or working with my coworkers on planning the Talent Show. 


In the EBay store, I help process high-end retail donations people make that can be resold for a lucrative amount to benefit the shelter. Often times, the shelter needs the money they can make from the donations more than the family needs the items. I help to sift through the donation bags to look for valuable items, make a listing for it online, photograph it and log it as inventory. I'm picking up a lot of business skills along the way that I never expected to learn, but am very appreciative for. Aside from the EBay store, I get to help serve lunch everyday to people in the shelter, as well as people from the community. Cornerstone serves three hot meals a day, totally free to everybody in the shelter and community members. Serving lunch is one of my favorite things to do because I get to have direct contact with the people I am helping. People are very kind when accepting food, always thanking me for the time I am giving up to help them. I love having interactions like these because I can feel them breaking down that layer of socialization I have inside me that makes me think all people experiencing homelessness are mean, dirty and dangerous. Every smile shifts my mindset, just a little bit every time. 


I've been working with my co-volunteers to plan the first ever Cornerstone Talent Show for the kids in the shelter. So far we have held three auditions and are prepping for a dress rehearsal in a few weeks. Seeing all of the kids work so hard at planning their routine to perform has been great, and I've loved helping them practice. Becoming friends with my co-workers is also something I never anticipated happening, but I'm so glad to say that it did. They are so different from my friends back home, and only one of the ways in which this internship is helping me step outside of my comfort zone. All of the people I've met, amounted with all of the experiences I've had, have been truly amazing. Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if I'd actually gone abroad for a semester, but I know that I never would have grown half as much anywhere other than here, in Chicago. I've pushed myself in ways I didn't even know I could, and for that, I am truly thankful."

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