What started as a casual conversation between colleagues from different campus entities became an opportunity for Illinois State University (ISU) faculty and staff to learn more about the rich cultural heritage and lived experiences of future ISU students from Chicago.
The ISU National Center for Urban Education (NCUE), with its focus on social justice and community-based partnerships, typically provides clinical experiences for pre-service teachers with the goal of preparing them to work in urban school settings. Collaborating with partner community-based organizations (CBOs) in Chicago as well as partner schools in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), NCUE designs and delivers both virtual and in-person experiences for ISU education students. However, after sharing the work of NCUE with University College Interim Director Wendi Whitman, she quickly recognized that such an opportunity would be extremely useful for advisors and other campus partners who work directly with first-year students. Once this idea was planted last spring, it bloomed.
On May 18, representatives from University College, the Center for Civic Engagement, and the Provost’s office had the opportunity to visit two NCUE partner communities—East Garfield Park and Little Village. The first group explored East Garfield Park on the west side of Chicago, visiting two CPS high schools, Al Raby (a Hope Chicago Scholarship recipient) and Westinghouse, while the second group traveled to Little Village to visit Farragut High School, another Hope Chicago Scholarship recipient. ISU faculty and staff met with students, teachers, and counselors at the schools, engaging in two-way meaningful conversations.
Students were eager to meet campus representatives and ask them questions about the realities of college life while university staff learned about the college decision and expectations from the students’ perspectives. Faculty and staff agreed on the importance of collaboration with students, families, and each other as students prepare to start their college path.
University faculty and staff also spent time exploring neighborhood sites rich in cultural and community heritage. In East Garfield Park, the group spent time at the FamilyPlex where Breakthrough, ISU NCUE CBO partner in East Garfield Park, provides youth programming to support local families. Later, the group headed to the 184-acre Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest in the country, situated directly across the street from Al Raby High School. An asset to the community, the Conservatory partners with schools across CPS, notably working with a science teacher and her students at Raby on a solar panel project.
Back on the southwest side, ISU faculty and staff experienced the two NCUE partner communities of Pilsen and Little Village, resplendent in their celebration of the Latinx culture. In Pilsen, staff experienced a guided mural walk with Luis Tubens as well as Frida Kahlo, Her Photos, a current exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Both activities provided a deep insight into the historical and cultural context of the Latinx community. ISU NCUE CBO partner Latinos Progresando also shared their community work in the areas of education and beyond.
Knowing that each ISU student comes to the university with their own unique story, we recognize that a one-day trip is only a small glimpse into their lived experiences and history. University College staff members shared that the experience was transformative and that they planned to use their new insights as they build relationships with students. Hearing first-hand some of what incoming students are experiencing as they leave their home “nest” will inform the work of staff.
Advisor Sarah Nafziger noted that she will strive to ensure “ISU can help build a new “bird’s nest” for our new Redbirds by intentionally creating community, showing authentic care, and providing services holistically and individually.”
NCUE will continue to provide these opportunities to all members of our campus community. ISU colleges and departments interested in planning meaningful school and community experiences with NCUE can reach out to Dr. Maria Luisa Zamudio-Mainou, NCUE executive director.