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New Students Get Down to Work Before Classes Begin

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September 19, 2006

For many upperclassmen, the week before fall quarter began was a chance to enjoy the last remnants of summer break. For incoming freshman and transfer students, it was time to get their good first look at a new home.

During New Student Week, incoming students made the transition to Northwestern life through a comprehensive list of activities: Get WildCARD; Visit Health Service; Register for classes; Check out the Freshman Facebook.

There was plenty of time, as well, for fun social events to help students get a taste for the campus culture outside of class. Some tried Pilates and yoga sessions, others took in dance and a cappella performances or the annual Fling at the Field, a popular dance party at Chicago's Field Museum.

The Essential NU workshop series, mandatory for all new students, introduced the issues of alcohol abuse, campus safety, sexual harassment, and plagiarism, among others.

Freshman Urban Program

For those eager to get an even earlier jump on college life, there were a number of pre-New Student Week programs. For example, 69 freshmen participated last week in the Freshman Urban Program (FUP), a service learning immersion experience that explores diverse issues such as education, immigration, politics and public housing in neighborhoods of Chicago and Evanston. Fuppers, as they're called, worked at community organizations on the kinds of local grass roots initiatives that they may have only read about in local news stories.

FUP organizers say the program is based on the theory of asset-based community development. It embraces the philosophy that the resources necessary to improve a community can be found within the people of that community.

Jory Pomeranz, a freshman in the Weinberg College, said he hopes to return soon to Pilsen, the mostly Mexican-American Chicago neighborhood where he and other Fuppers went door-to door passing out fliers and talking to residents about the importance of voting. He said the experience can be an important lesson for students.

“The common thing you hear is, I've seen poor people. I've seen homeless people,” Pomeranz said. “But there's a big difference between seeing it and experiencing it. We weren't just looking at pictures. This is real."

Aireale Rodgers, an Education and Social Policy freshman and Chicago native, was surprised by her lack of knowledge about issues in her own city. She talked about a visit to the last building of the Robert Taylor Homes housing project in the Bronzeville neighborhood of the city's South Side.

“I thought I was pretty educated about these things," Rodgers said. "The media portrays these areas in a certain light, but often it's not the whole story. Seeing it on the news is totally different from talking with someone who lives in a housing project.”

Rodgers said her face-to-face encounter in helping an elderly woman prepare for her citizenship exam inspired her to return some time to the Chinese Mutual Aid Association.

The experiences of working with residents in far-flung areas of the city bring practical advantages that will be useful over the course of their Northwestern careers. Students who have never been to Chicagoland take advantage of a crash-course introduction to the area that they wouldn't otherwise get. They learn the city map, major landmarks and how to ride the El train.

One of FUP's co-chairs, senior Bri Zika, hopes to help expand the program as a model for continuous volunteering and service learning throughout the school year.

In other pre-New Student Week programs, students practiced teamwork and leadership skills through CATalyst, went backpacking as part of Project Wildcat and volunteered at a work site organized by Alternative Student Break.