The inaugural class of the Carthage in Chicago program just completed the Fall 2014 semester living, working, and learning in one of the world’s most dynamic cities. With internships at such organizations as CPUrx and The Onion, students matured by the minute. “We’re growing into those people we’re going to become in the next five to 10 years,” said junior Michelle Balcerzak.
By Mike Moore
Piercing the white noise of taxi horns and CTA bus brakes, the shrill alarm from a clock or smartphone app rouses each of the dozen Carthage floormates. Three floors down, they toast their morning bagels. Pushing open the lobby door, they greet a city of 2.7 million people and limitless possibilities.
Just a typical weekday for the first participants in the Carthage in Chicago program.
Knowing the value of immersion and experiential learning, the College designed a program that offers both. Students live, work, and study in the Windy City for a full semester. Based on early feedback, these pioneers are hooked.
“By all indications, these students are having a truly transformative semester,” said Thomas Kline, associate vice president for strategic initiatives at Carthage. “Seeing this first class grow and mature confirms what the research told us: that this program has great potential.”
Internships are the central component. Although all 12 students are taking one or both of the courses offered there this fall, they spend the bulk of their time working.
For Justin Henderson ’16 and Juan Robles ’16, that means a short walk to the “El” train stop. From there, the Pink Line whisks them to their internships at CPUrx, which provides IT support, phone systems, and other technology services.
Justin, an accounting and finance major from Lapeer, Michigan, took the season off from the men’s soccer team to pursue this. Within a month, he earned enough trust at CPUrx to take responsibility for his entire department when needed. He approves time sheets, sends out and pays invoices, and plans to set up a monthly financial schedule to help predict expenses.
Where Sean Rogers ’15 interns, the ties are loosened — or, actually, left at home. He works with video production teams at The Onion, the satirical news publisher whose websites draw more than 11 million unique visitors monthly.
While he’s excited to get a sneak peek at wacky headlines like “Pueblo Indians Can’t Keep Pace With Area Mom’s Appetite For Earthenware,” Sean is no mere observer. On a project for The Onion’s main website or its new spinoff, ClickHole, he might be asked to hold the boom microphone, edit footage, or add graphics.
His input helped the team polish a video of a man eating soup, set to the stirring theme music and opening credits from “Game of Thrones.” For the graphic design major from the nearby suburb of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, the future suddenly is coming into focus.
“I get to see one way my major could work in the ‘real world,’” Sean said. “It doesn’t have to be, ‘I just make logos 24/7.’”
Home to 31 Fortune 500 companies, the Chicago metropolitan area is flush with career prospects in just about any field. The initial Carthage in Chicago class encompasses majors from computer science to studio art.
“I’m already seeing great results from the students down there,” said Carolynn Friesch, director of internships for the College. “During my site visits, it’s clear that they’re excited about the work they’re doing and the chance to do it in a professional setting.”
Staying in the Loop
At the end of the workday, the students trickle back to HI-Chicago. Carthage takes up half of the fifth floor at the award-winning hostel. On weekends, they might sample a new restaurant or catch an indie movie at the Music Box Theatre. “It’s nice to have these only-one-in-the-world locations we can go to whenever we want,” Sean said.
Michelle Balcerzak ’16 is the resident assistant. Just like RAs on campus, she makes the rounds to stay on the pulse of her crew. “Some of my residents are older than me, but they’re still my kids,” Michelle said. “Everyone is friends. We’ve become a very cohesive unit.”
The marketing major from Tinley Park, Illinois, has an internship at Pritzker Military Museum. Ditching her trademark sweatpants for business attire, Michelle sees a more mature professional in the mirror this fall.
“We’re growing into those people we’re going to become in the next five to 10 years,” she said.
Students were alerted up front to expect some bumpy patches during the program’s first run. Settling in 68 miles south of the Kenosha campus, they have adapted.
“It very much feels like we’re living in an apartment and working for a living,” said Sean Conley ’15, an international political economy major from Indianapolis.
Roommates quickly settled into their roles. Sharing a two-bedroom suite, Sean Conley cooks, Sean Rogers stocks the gaming consoles, Justin Henderson motivates the guys to work out, and Juan Robles — from Bogota, Colombia — breaks the ice with Spanish-speaking hostel guests.
A portable classroom
Teaching space is available in the hostel’s common area, but the Carthage classes only occasionally meet there. The city makes a better classroom.
Professors Maria Carrig and Christopher Lynch teach “Politics and Play,” which explores Chicago politics and theatre, and the ways they intersect. During the semester, students attend six plays with political themes. After each, they hold a discussion with the cast and crew.
Every student also researches the cultural and political changes over time in a different neighborhood. Both faculty members chip in tidbits they’ve gleaned as longtime residents. A lifelong Chicagoan, Prof. Carrig even shared anecdotes from her parents’ time at the chaotic 1968 Democratic Convention.
“This class depends on residence in Chicago for its success,” she said. “It enables me to share my love of Chicago and its theaters with Carthage students, and Chris gives us all a better understanding of the city’s political history.”
Although she’s a Wisconsinite, Professor Anne Cassidy leapt at the chance to hold classes at venues like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. She teaches “Arts of the Indigenous Americas in Chicago.”
During one session at the Art Institute, each art piece sparked a discussion. As students examined anatomically distorted Mexican figurines or the Mayan “Vase of the Seven Gods,” Prof. Cassidy challenged them to explain what the artwork signified about people’s views.
To apply for Carthage in Chicago, students submit resumes and references. Faculty and administrators interview the eligible applicants and select a pool of up to 20. Each student has the option to be paired with an alumni mentor in the vicinity.
Barely a year after planning began in earnest, in September 2013, the program took flight. As chair of the advisory committee, Thomas Kline sees room to blend the Chicago initiative more fully into the College’s curriculum as it develops.
“It took the combined efforts of many individuals and offices across campus, as well as our alumni, to make Carthage in Chicago succeed,” he said. “I believe we have succeeded in building a program that will become a hallmark Carthage experience in the years to come.”