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Student learning enriched by Chicago neighborhood exploration

Students in American Studies: The American Home bolster their in-class learning with out-of-class experiences on several Chicago field trips.

Lake Forest College students have a unique interdisciplinary learning experience in the American studies program, which offers courses from a variety of departments and professors on campus.

Due to the program’s small size, each spring the department offers a senior seminar that is also open to non-majors as a topics course.

This year’s senior seminar and topics course, AMER 200/480: The American Home, was co-taught by Associate Professor and Chair of Politics Siobhan Moroney and Associate Professor and Chair of Education Desmond Odugu.

“The scope of the class has varied from the actual home itself to the racial discrimination of neighborhoods. Both professors have their own versions of the class and that helps cover the different ideas about the American home—they really made the class fun and interesting,” said American studies major James Pruitt ’19.

Throughout the semester, students in the course took guided field trips throughout Chicago and the North Shore that reinforced concepts discussed in class.

“The Chicago field trips have been an awesome way of learning about the American home. We not only read about an area, but also experience it,” Pruitt continued.

The students visited Chicago’s Chinatown, an exhibit on housing as a human right sponsored by the National Public Housing Museum, the Driehaus Museum, two middle schools, and a driving tour of houses in Lake Forest and the North Shore. The class often got behind-the-scenes access to the sites, thanks to their Lake Forest College connections.

“Access to Chicago and the North Shore area gives us unparalleled resources,” said Moroney. “How many cities have a Chinatown? How many cities have restored Beaux Arts mansions? Or a museum dedicated to public housing?”

“Our strong community partnerships with local schools add to this rich resource,” Odugu added, referring to the middle school visits, which looked at how residential location impacts educational experience.

The American studies department is just one of many disciplines at Lake Forest College that capitalizes on access to Chicago to enrich the student learning experience. And the students will agree that they are better for it.

“The field trips exposed me to interesting places that I will see again or show someone who is from out of town,” Pruitt said. “I might never have seen these things if it wasn’t for this class.”