Just two of the 17 students in Luther College professor Don Jones’ class had been to Chicago before, and for most of them, it was their first time in such a large city. But within 24 hours of arriving in the Windy City, the students were heading off in small groups, riding buses and “L” trains to explore different neighborhoods and bring back a variety of ethnic food to share in a potluck dinner.
“The moment when [ACM Chicago Program Director Robyne Hart] said, ‘Now we are going to send you all out and get dinner’ I was astonished,” one of the Luther students recalled. “I didn’t think that she was just going to send us all in different directions our first night in the city, but I was glad she did, because it was a rewarding experience.”
A group of Luther students pauses at Chinatown Square during the “scavenger hunt.”
It was J-Term, the shorthand for Luther’s four-week January Term in which students plunge full-time into a single course. This group of students had begun Jones’ E-Marketing course on the Luther campus in Decorah, Iowa. Now they were concluding the class with a week in Chicago, where they would interact with nearly 20 marketing professionals from a variety of industries and organizations.
The “scavenger hunt” around the city to pick up dinner was part of a day-long orientation to the city presented by Hart and her Chicago Program faculty colleagues Mary Scott-Boria and Dorothy Burge. They led interactive sessions about Chicago history and geography, safety, and using public transportation, before sending the students out to put into practice what they had just learned.
“The students were pretty much typically students up to that point,” Jones observed. “Then [the staff] said, ‘OK, here’s where you’re going to go. You have to go to a restaurant and have to find these landmarks, you have to do it in a certain amount of time, here’s some money, and you have to bring back supper. That just wowed ’em. It completely took [the orientation] up to a different level.”
On the bus ride to pick up dinner.
According to the students, the activities and excursion helped give them the confidence to make the most of their week in Chicago. “Learning about the city’s culture, food, transportation, and entertainment past and present allowed me to feel more at ease and not as intimidated about the big city,” one of the students wrote. “The session regarding safety and transportation was very beneficial and gave me a better sense of security. I found the group activity to different parts of the city to be a hoot and loved every minute of it, especially because it was a way for us to quickly become familiar with the transportation system.”
Bringing students to Chicago as part of his J-Term class was a natural for Jones. For ten of his 20 years at Brunswick he was the Director of Marketing-Retail, based in the Chicago area, before making a career change into teaching as an Assistant Professor of Management at Luther. He used his extensive business contacts to line up the guest speakers who shared their “real world” insights with the students.
In January 2010, Jones taught a J-Term course on Social Media Marketing that included a trip to Chicago. This year, as he was making plans to take another, larger group of students to the city, he contacted Hart to see whether the program could provide help with logistics, classroom space, and the orientation. The earlier trip, he said, was “not anywhere near as easy or as convenient as it was [this year] being based out of the ACM [Chicago Program] office.”
In the Uptown neighborhood.
For Jones, the most important difference was that speakers could come to one location where the students were. During the week in Chicago, 17 people addressed the class at the Chicago Program classroom, and the group traveled to other locations in the city to meet with the other two presenters. “Think of the time that saved,” Jones noted, estimating that they saved the equivalent of two days of class time by not having to travel to different locations to meet with the speakers.
Along with the orientation and use of classrooms, program staff took care of other arrangements for Jones. “We arranged the hotel accommodations and got all their CTA [public transit] passes for them,” said Hart. “The students were also able to save money because they brought food and they could use the kitchen in our program space.”
According to Jones, the Chicago Program’s support was something of a “safety net” throughout the week. “I’m very appreciative of all of ACM’s efforts,” he said. “They’re first class. It was great.”