Students in the Wheaton in Chicago program reside for a semester in Uptown, one of the most diverse parts of the city, as they study topics of urban development while working as interns with organizations across the city.
According to program director Dr. Noah Toly, Wheaton in Chicago originated in 1998 as a way to give meaningful field experience to Urban Studies students and connect Wheaton academically with the city. “There had been a lot of programs over the years that connected it in a ministerial way, but we wanted students to begin to study and work in the city for a semester,” he says. “Our students participate in great courses, but we go beyond course work. We have students doing internships with some of the best organizations across the city. We have residence life that is meaningful for the students, and a spiritual formation program that is unique to Wheaton in Chicago. All of these pieces create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, and helps them build community, challenge each other, and be supported by one another throughout the semester.”
Since the program’s inception, more than 200 students from a variety of majors have studied downtown. This is, however, the first year that students have had the opportunity to major in Urban Studies.
After participating in Urban Passage as a freshman, Kelsey Nikcevich ’16 loved her experience in the city and this year became Wheaton’s first Urban Studies major. “During Passage we stayed in the apartments in Uptown, and I loved it,” she says. “We went to different parts of the city and volunteered, so when the Urban Studies major became an option, I immediately switched to it.”
Kelsey appreciates having students from different majors in the program. “Everyone brings a different perspective to the table. We hang out a lot together, make meals together, and plan a lot of outings together. Not all of us knew the city very well, so we’ve had a lot of fun exploring the city together.” Kelsey spent her semester interning at Sunshine Gospel Ministries on the south side of Chicago where she learned about the challenges and success of ministry in the city.
Biology major, Andrew Kilgore '14 combined his interest in healthcare and learning in an urban context through his internship at Heartland Health Outreach in Uptown. "I get a lot of patient contact, and being there, on the ground and learning from personal interactions has been great.” He shares that one of the highlights of his experience in the city has been visiting a variety of churches, and learning from the different worship styles he encountered.
Dr. Toly hopes Wheaton students take advantage of this experiential learning opportunity. “They are going to graduate into the most urban and globalized world, and their effectiveness when they graduate will depend in some part on their understanding and being able to live out their calling in that world.”