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Nora Sullivan, a third-year in the college, is graduating early next spring with a Comparative Human Development major under her belt—as well as a Chicago Studies certificate.

Although Nora grew up in a suburb just outside of Chicago, she never fully explored the city beyond the Loop until participating in Chicago Bound as a first-year. The week-long pre-orientation program introduced her to nearly a dozen communities around Chicago, and taught her ways to create positive social change through direct service, research, entrepreneurship, and more.

“I appreciated the opportunity to see all that Chicago has to offer—especially the South Side,” Nora reflected. “Chicago Bound instilled in me the importance of engaging with the city while at UChicago.” 

Nora was then formally introduced to the Chicago Studies program as a second-year through Professor Emily Talen, who taught a course titled “Chicago Neighborhoods” last fall. Since then, Nora has completed the Chicago-focused courses required for the Certificate by taking “Research in School Improvement and Urban Schools” and “Urban Schools and Communities,” two classes taught by members of the Urban Education Institute. All three classes gave her insight into the systematic issues affecting Chicago on the district level, particularly in relation to education policy and reform. Nora’s interests in school reform influenced the focus of her Capstone Project, which seeks to address the 2013 Chicago Public School Closings and the subsequent repurposing of unused school buildings. The project, which doubles as her BA thesis, is fittingly advised by Professor Talen.

“I am trying to typologize and evaluate the various ways the buildings have been repurposed and the extent to which they are still serving their respective communities,” said Nora. “Throughout my engagement with Chicago Public Schools, particularly on the South Side of Chicago, I have seen a number of vacant school buildings that were closed in 2013. I found myself wondering about the potential of these buildings, so I decided to investigate!”

As a teacher in the Jumpstart program, Nora has spent three years at the James Wadsworth Elementary School working with Ms. Nixon, whom Nora credits for being an incredible mentor. After being placed in John Fiske Elementary School for a quarter last year, however, Nora accidentally went to the old John Fiske building, which had been closed in 2013.

“I learned that Fiske had moved into the building of Sexton Elementary, which was also closed in 2013,” said Nora. “In the 2013 closings, Fiske's building was closed, but the school was maintained. Conversely, Sexton Elementary was closed, but the building was maintained. This experience of accidentally going to a shuttered school inspired to learn more!”

Hoping to continue applying educational theory in practice, Nora plans to become an early education teacher after she graduates, either by attending graduate school to get certified or by participating in a teacher residency program. Moreover, she hopes to continue teaching in Chicago, a city that has exposed her to the very educational issues she hopes to address.

“First, Chicago was my home,” said Nora, “then it was my school, and hopefully it will be my workplace next year.”

For Nora, someone whose role as a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system merges academia and civic engagement, Chicago Studies has been a fitting addition to her college experience. 

“Prior to becoming involved with Chicago Studies, I thought that research and civic engagement or activism were mutually exclusive,” said Nora. “Turns out that isn't the case! I think this intersection is unique and has great potential for positive impact.”

November 15, 2018