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Student Profile: Brianne Zika

September 19, 2006

The word FUP, short for Freshman Urban Program, may raise a few eyebrows in conversation. But anyone who knows co-chair Bri Zika, or any of the group's participants (they're called Fuppers) will know exactly what you're talking about. The pre-New Student Week program is billed as a way for freshmen to explore and work in neighboring communities while considering issues such as housing, health care, education and gentrification. FUP is the way many new students are introduced to their peers, to Northwestern's community service emphasis and to the Chicagoland area they'll call home for the next few years.

Zika is a senior in the School of Music and the Weinberg College. The former FUP counselor and current co-chair helped to plan and execute this year's entire program. And before she leaves Northwestern, she hopes to expand FUP as a model for service learning on campus. In fact, if she has anything to do with it, any initial FUP confusion will be replaced by, “Yeah, I've heard about that. How do I get involved?”

How and why did you get involved with FUP?

When I came to Northwestern, I knew that I wanted an introduction to Chicago. But I thought I could do it on my own, so I didn't sign up for FUP. But within my first two weeks at Northwestern, I discovered that all the people I was drawn to were Fuppers. I became a counselor in my second and third years.

How did you become interested in community service?

My mom taught in a Los Angeles public school, and she had to learn Spanish. One of my first memories of that time was when she voluntarily taught classes to the parents so they could help their kids on homework. The parents were non-English speakers. They didn't know anything about homework, but they were so eager to learn. I was really touched by my mom's generosity and the concept of using your talents to serve your community.

Growing up in Los Angeles and trying to learn music, I had to rely upon a non-profit community organization because our school system cut music education. I signed up for a singing program when I was in middle school. It was basically just a group of volunteers giving me voice and piano lessons. The incredible content of the program really turned me on to something I didn't have the resources to do. That's when I learned about non-profit administration and grant writing.

In high school, I volunteered at the Los Angeles Opera. As a senior, I was writing lesson plans to help elementary school teachers introduce opera to their students while still teaching the required curriculum. How do you get students excited about a performance of the Barber of Seville without neglecting American history? I really got into education policy because I was so fired up about the opera and its effect on these kids. It was the first time I felt like I was really good at something.

What are you studying at Northwestern?

I'm working on a double degree in the School of Music and Weinberg College. I'm a musicology major. It's essentially music history and theory. Instead of taking voice classes, I study the history of Wagner's operas. I might change that to an ad hoc, or create-your-own, in community organizing for the arts because I want to do non-profit work. That would give me a chance to take classes like economics and accounting and get credit toward my major. I'm also studying urban education in America through my American Studies major.

Besides planning for FUP, how did you spend your summer?

I spent seven weeks on a study abroad program in South Africa. Also, I had received a research grant from the Office of Fellowships, so I started to work on my senior honors thesis in American Studies. My thesis is on the housing and education transformation of Chicago's South Side. I shadowed administrators and policy makers in the city's Renaissance 2010 charter school reform movement.

What did you do in South Africa?

I lived and worked in Durban, Johannesburg and a rural town called Amacambini. As part of a team, I observed six different schools, trying to understand post-Apartheid education policy, where funding goes, what the new curriculum is and how people deal with segregation. I was put into situations where I didn't have time or materials to prepare. I thought there would be teachers in these classrooms, but there weren't. So I walked into one classroom with 120 Zulu-speaking students. I had to teach them economics and I had nothing but paper and pens. So I had to figure out how to get these concepts across to them. And I thought it would be really awful, but it turned out to be the most incredible experience. I pulled six students up to the front of the class to create a paper airplane on an assembly line. The fact that they got it was just an incredible emotional experience for all of us because we recognized the difficulty of the language barrier.

I understand that teaching is much more intense than that, and that it's a life choice. But I enjoyed what the experience brought out in me. I think I'll definitely go into teaching for a little while, or maybe a long while.

What did you take away from your South Africa experience?

I need to learn more about the big picture, like the macro-economic situation. Economic trends and America's economy, for example, have a huge impact on even the most remote towns and villages. To be a more effectual leader in education, I want to take classes in economics and foreign policy.

Also, everybody should go abroad. People always say that. But it's given me a completely new perspective on my life at Northwestern.

Topics: People