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SOA Hero

Turning Wildcats into Chicagoans, one passport at a time

You have a group that you automatically have at least two things in common with. You go to Northwestern, and you're interested in the event. That can be a really great common ground.”

Malik Rice
Weinberg Second-Year

Thanks to the new Passport Program, the Windy City is your oyster

Northwestern’s Student Organizations and Activities (SOA) has been built around the mission of barrier-free student involvement. This means no extra interviews, qualifications, applications or costs to get active and participate in the Northwestern community — you come as you are.  

All over campus, registered student organizations like NU Nights embody this value, and this fall, SOA took another step forward in this goal through the SOA Passport Program. 

SOA Director Tracey Jackson-Gibson and Assistant Director K. Parker Hess built the program around an idea: create a program that allows students to get the full Chicago experience with friends at no cost to them. 

Their ticket to these activities? A small purple passport provided by SOA.  

“As a student, you just need to be willing and wanting to go,” Hess said. “We purchase the tickets, we even provide transportation and if the experience allows, we try to provide a little add-on memento that students receive to remember their experience.”  

When students attend one of these events — whether it be a Chicago Fire game, a production of Hamilton or a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry — they bring their SOA passport with them, which gets stamped on site. Throughout their time at Northwestern, students can continue to collect stamps and at the end of their educational journey at Northwestern, they can turn in their passport for a prize.  

soa-shedd.pngHess explained that having a tangible, physical booklet can serve as a good reminder that there is always an open, low-pressure, low-commitment opportunity provided by Northwestern to explore Chicago. 

“I've seen some [passports] that are already beat up. That's what I love! That's the whole point,” Hess said. “It's like, ‘I already have a passport, all I need to do is go.’ It's one more incentive to get out the door to go have fun—even if you're not fully involved yet, because you'll find friends along the way.”  

SOA student employee and Weinberg second-year Malik Rice said bringing events to life takes a lot of logistical work. In the end, however, being able to see the Northwestern community’s engagement made it all worthwhile.  

In the fall, the Passport Program offered free transportation to the Art Institute of Chicago for a tour of the museum's collection inspired by Northwestern’s One Book, “Crying in H-Mart.” The lobby of the museum was bustling with Northwestern students lining up for a tour. 

“The line of people going on the One Book tour [took up] the entire lobby, ” Rice said. “Most of them were Northwestern students, and it just spoke to the scope and interest of the event. It’s really amazing to see that because it’s like ‘Yeah — that’s what we do!’”  

Rice said one of the joys of this program is the spontaneous moments of engagement with the event and other students in the campus community.  

“You have a group that you automatically have at least two things in common with,” Rice said. “You go to Northwestern, and you're interested in the event. That can be a really great common ground for a lot of things.”  

Hess says he got the opportunity to witness these moments of connection during the Chicago Fire game during fall quarter.  soa-passport-art-institute.jpg

“There were three women who went by themselves and then hung out with each other the whole night,” Hess said. “And I was like great, they got involved and just made friends! And that involvement—you don't have to do anything. You don't have to show up to meetings. You don't have to do any work. All you do is read the emails, say hey I'm interested in that and sign up and go.”  

For student participants like Weinberg first-year Anna Humphrey, the Passport Program has been a way to meet new people and a space to hang out and form deeper bonds with current friends in new, exciting settings.  

“For the Chicago Fire game, it was pretty early on in the year, so I loved getting to go to the city and getting to meet new people,” Humphrey said. “For Hamilton, I just had a really great time with my friends. Just to see such a high level of theater was really amazing. The actual theater itself was beautiful.”  

Because the program is still in its first iteration, there is a lot of learning and growing to do, Hess said. But in his vision for the program’s future, there will be fewer barriers and more student involvement, both in enrollment numbers and in planning and coordinating positions.  

This was especially important to Hess and SOA coming out of the pandemic, as students faced challenges in returning to the norm, especially when involved in extracurriculars and clubs.  

"Students have felt disconnected and isolated, especially after making efforts to seek involvement only to be met with rejection,” Hess said. "We [SOA] jumped into conversations to find a way to cultivate community which resulted in launching the Passport Program.  And, immediately I was like, ‘We should offer [the program] at some of these resource fairs!’” 

Hess hopes that getting to know the city of Chicago on a personal, experiential basis will help students ground their Northwestern journey in a sense of place, purpose, and fun.  

“I think it means something for students to find a second home,” Hess said. “They don't feel like a stranger in a strange land.”