“I wanted to be in a city to add some real world experience to my English major, and to find different directions where I could use writing and communications and research skills,” said Eric Anderson, who recently graduated from St. Olaf College with a major in English and a minor in media studies.
Eric Anderson on the lakefront in Chicago.
Photo courtesy of Eric Anderson
With its internship, independent study project, and emphasis on experiential learning in Chicago, the ACM Urban Studies Program was a perfect fit.
Anderson discovered that his semester in this Midwestern city – making connections, meeting a wide range of people, and immersing himself in the life of a neighborhood – brought with it a strong global perspective, as well.
Chicago’s bid for the Olympics
When Anderson arrived in Chicago in January 2009 for the spring semester, the city was preparing its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. A sports fan, Anderson already had a keen interest in the Olympics. He also saw how the process of preparing the bid for the Olympics covered a range of issues that he would be studying on Urban Studies – affordable housing, homelessness, jobs, and community development, to name a few.
He decided to focus on the Olympic bid for his independent study project (ISP), one of the program’s four academic components. Along with the ISP, all students in the three Chicago Programs – Urban Studies, Chicago Arts, and Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society – take an internship, a program-specific seminar, and a Core Course that addresses urban issues and themes across all three programs.
|See video clips of student presentations, including Eric Anderson, at the 2010 ACM Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study!
“I chose to look at community involvement in the decision-making process” surrounding the city’s bid for the Games, said Anderson. He was particularly interested in ways that development related to the Olympics would affect housing. What would happen to people displaced by the development? Would there be increases in homelessness as a result? After the Olympics, would housing built for the event include affordable units for lower income residents?
As part of his research, he interviewed a variety of people – including City Council member Toni Preckwinkle – who were involved in the ongoing give-and-take over development projects related to the Olympics, and the impact of the development on various neighborhoods and their residents. He also gathered information about past Olympics to place the Chicago bid in a larger context.
Eric Anderson presented “The American City as Global Classroom: Chicago’s Bid for the 2016 Olympics and Human Rights” at the ACM Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study in April.
Ultimately, Chicago lost its bid for the Olympics when the International Olympic Committee selected Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Games, but Anderson noted that issues surrounding the impacts of development on Chicago’s neighborhoods and residents continue.
Connections through work
Anderson’s internship at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs brought him more insights and connections. “I was doing public policy research there, mostly in immigration reform,” he noted, “and also a lot related to the Olympics. The organization was creating (its) own policy statement on the Olympics, so I did some of the research for that.”
The internship worked out so well that Anderson stayed on through the summer, getting a total of six months worth of the “real world” experience he was seeking. “I got funding from St. Olaf and my church to do that,” he said. “It’s a nice thing to have on my resume and also to have worked in an organization that long, especially extending to 40 hours (per week) in the summer. I got a much better gauge for how an organization like that functions day to day.”
“Most of my research last summer was focusing on immigration reform, and I’d be interested in learning more, just to be able to speak more about America’s history of immigration and then also what contemporary immigration looks like, in broader terms.”
In the summer, he continued living in the Logan Square neighborhood on the city’s Northwest Side, where he had lived during the program. “I volunteered at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association as part of (an Urban Studies) project, and made some connections there, and stayed in contact over the summer,” said Anderson. After returning to the St. Olaf campus last fall, he contacted the Association and lined up an internship during the college’s interim term in January.
So once again, this past January, Anderson was in Chicago. “I spent five weeks doing foreclosure research and helping put together materials for homeowners” in Logan Square as part of the Association’s outreach efforts, he said. “It turned out way better than I expected.”
Becoming an engaged citizen of city and the world
“One particular aspect of (Urban Studies) that I think informed my project and my research was the fact that we were not on a campus,” said Anderson. “The only campus was the (Chicago Programs office), which is just one floor of an office building. So as I introduced myself as a student to those I was meeting with for my research, I was a student of ACM and of St. Olaf, but I was more a student of the city and an engaged citizen of the city.”
Anderson’s internships, Urban Studies courses, and independent study sparked his interest in issues such as affordable housing and immigration reform. The everyday experience of living in Logan Square, a neighborhood undergoing change and gentrification, reinforced his understanding of those issues.
“I was able to see how even (my) presence or my practices – like where I was shopping – (reflected) the way the neighborhood was changing,” said Anderson. “Seeing how I was interconnected in the neighborhood (brought) out more of the language of global interconnectedness. It actually made me feel like I was interconnected in a way that was economic and relational.”
Eric Anderson says that one of his favorite features of Chicago is seeing the murals and other artworks that decorate the rail lines, both those in use and those, like this abandoned track, no longer in use.
Photo courtesy of Eric Anderson
“Global citizen is kind of a cliché, but it’s difficult to think of yourself as a global citizen at (college) when you’re so focused on everything that’s happening on that campus, that’s your one community,” Anderson concluded. “Just living in a city made me think about myself more as a citizen, of the city and, by extrapolation, the world.”
- ACM Chicago Programs: