Category Archives: Students

Sweet Home Chicago


Senior Molly Shaheen, a member of the 2014 Wildcat Welcome Board of Directors, offers some insight into one of Northwestern’s newest traditions — a day to celebrate the University’s special relationship with Chicago.

Let’s be honest, we’re a bit, er, intense about our traditions here at Northwestern.

Whether in the form of camping out to paint the Rock or screaming your throat hoarse during the Primal Scream of Finals Week, Wildcats gravitate to these unifying, shared experiences. But when we think beyond the silliness of some our common rituals, we find something greater and more enduring: the common values they create.

One of those values, and key elements of the Northwestern experience, is the relationship Wildcats have with the city of Chicago.

Last year, Northwestern’s Office of New Student and Family Programs brought a new event (a tradition in the making) to first-year students on campus: a class-wide trip to Chicago’s Millennium Park entitled “Purple Pride!” As one of Wildcat Welcome’s most successful events, “Purple Pride!” has returned in 2014.

On the first full day of Wildcat Welcome, Northwestern’s week-long new student orientation program, more than 2,000 new students travel into the heart of downtown Chicago for the second iteration of this seedling of a tradition. Under the arches of Pritzker Pavilion, just steps from the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture and the Art Institute of Chicago, the Class of 2018 and transfer students are introduced to some core Northwestern values.

In some of their first activities as a class, students build communityas they learn the choreography to a “new student dance” at Pritzker Pavilion and sing the fight song as a unit. From guest speakers and conversations with their Peer Advisers, students start thinking about the lasting relationships to come and the school’s history and traditions that eventually tie us all together.

In preparation for the Northwestern home football game that falls during Wildcat Welcome, students get a crash course from the athletic department about spirit, showing Purple Pride and supporting our ’Cats on the field. As “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” our fight song is the tune of choice in Millennium Park, and new students get to hear it straight from the Northwestern University Marching Band and Spirit Squad.

With the architecture of the Magnificent Mile to the north and a chilled brisk Lake Michigan breeze in the air, new students hear from successful Chicago-based Northwestern alumni as they reflect on their time in Evanston, their fondest memories from school and the powerful Chicagoland Wildcat network.

From notable Chicago-based alumni such as Mike McGee, co-founder of The Starter League and one of Crain Chicago Business’ 2013 “40 Under 40,” students get a vision of how success at Northwestern can lead to success in Chicago. The city, central to our powerful alumni network, inspires students to start thinking about the lifelong ties they will have to their University after they turn their tassels and pack up their college apartments.

Adjusting to college can be complicated and overwhelming. When we get to introduce new students to the thriving, diverse and always changing urban neighbor that is Chicago, they get the opportunity to start seeing Northwestern as more than just four years but a community that will support them for the rest of their lives.

From Your Peer Advisers: Six Tips for New Northwestern Students

All right, let’s be real for a minute. New students are sitting at home watching a Harry Potter marathon for the 13th time waiting for Wildcat Welcome to start. The void of friends has left you a bit of time to think about the next year, and you may be starting to worry. We got you. We’ve got some tips for you regarding your first year straight from the 2014 Peer Advisers.

1.Come to Northwestern guns blazing” — Jerry Benson ‘17
Come to Northwestern guns blazing. Everyone is going to be nervous or lonely during the first few days so there is nothing to worry about other than being yourself. You have nothing to lose by showing your true colors — the great friends you make will be proof!

2.Find a balance that works for you” — Joona Hamad ‘16
Find a balance that works for you. Figure out what you value, what makes you happy, then incorporate that into your week (e.g., gym, schoolwork, clubs, family, friends, exploring downtown). It takes time, but it’s important to find a balance or you won’t be happy!

3. “Don’t be too hard on yourself” — Jazmine Jenkins ‘17
Learn how not to be too hard on yourself. All Northwestern students are intelligent and hardworking, and we expect the best from ourselves — but we must remember that we are at a highly academic and competitive institution. We are here to grow and challenge ourselves not just academically, but socially, as well. It takes time to learn from mistakes; we aren’t perfect.

4.It’s perfectly normal to be stressed or homesick!” — Katie-Meelel Nodjimbadem ‘15
It’s perfectly normal to be stressed or anxious as a college student. It’s important to share those feelings with someone. I struggled with homesickness and stress my first year, and I wish I had reached out to someone on campus. When I finally did, I realized I was not alone in the least! The Northwestern support system is amazing.

5. “Laugh!” — Diane Arthur ‘17
Laugh. College is serious, but there is so much excitement and humor in the little things. Your ability to learn to enjoy the difficulties and find happiness in the perils will determine the quality of your first year. Grades may not go according to plan, friendships may not be peachy at first, and the Chicago weather may throw you off, but laugh it off! Your grades are not your identity. There is more to life than this paper. So relax, take a deep breath, and laugh.

6. “Try things differently from your usual routine!” — Daniel Stromfeld ’16 (transfer student)
Try things differently from your usual routine. Join an arts-based group, a dance crew or do volunteer work — anything you’ve never done before! I was not expecting to be a part of any of these, but ended up having the time of my life when I found new passions at NU. Our four years here are short, so we must get a taste of everything to make it last.

Living and Learning With Faculty-in-Residence

When Jacob and Freda Smith go home at the end of the workday teaching and advising at the School of Communication, they don’t have far to go. In fact, they don’t even leave campus. The Smiths just finished their first year of living among students in Elder Hall as Faculty-in-Residence. Their role, part of Northwestern’s Residential Community Program, is to provide leadership in the hall by organizing intellectual, cultural and social events, or just giving residents a good, solid piece of advice when needed. Jacob Smith, an associate professor of radio/television/film, offers an inside look at his family’s experience during the last year.

It started out as a standard Sunday morning. The family woke up, gathered in the kitchen and made a cup of tea or two. We warmed up the waffle iron and pancake griddle. But what happened next makes our family’s Sunday morning different. When we opened our front door, 150 Northwestern freshmen were waiting to share our breakfast with us. That’s because our home is theirs too: I am the Faculty-in-Residence at Elder Residential Community, and I live in the faculty apartment with my partner, Freda, and our son, Henry. This was our last event of the year, a waffle and pancake breakfast to say goodbye before the Elderites finished their final exams and headed home for the summer.

The academic year began 10 months earlier, when we welcomed arriving students with an open house and trays of candy apples. We wanted every freshman in Elder to know who we were, where we lived and how the Faculty-in-Residence would fit into their coming year. Students were surprised to find a snazzy family apartment stuck onto their residence, and it still surprises us sometimes that a step outside of our quiet home, there is a busy student hallway and lively dining hall. That is the blend that makes the Elder residential community special — the hall is a space for diverse interactions with the broader Northwestern community. Our apartment was a place where students could have informal chats with faculty about Super Bowl ads, the environmental impact of consumer products or the depiction of race in Hollywood films. It was also a place for socializing at casual buffet dinners with faculty or in small yoga classes by the fire.

Our home was part of Elder, and the rest of Elder felt like part of our home. On weeknights, we ate dinner in the dining hall and sometimes ended up doing impromptu student advising. Every Sunday we served hot cider in the first-floor lounge where students would take a study break and hear short talks about Northwestern organizations. In the spring, I taught a class on the history of recorded sound in Elder and held office hours onsite. It was amazing to have a walk downstairs be my commute to work! We converted the classrooms into a soothing retreat during Reading Week by hosting relaxation nights with professional chair massage and meditation tips. Our programming reached beyond the building into the broader community as well, like when we took field trips to Chicago to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Looking back over this remarkable year, from candy apples to pancakes, I’ve learned that a “Residential Community” provides a unique experience at the University. Elder is a community composed of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and Residential Life staff, all of whom share a space, eat together and interact everyday. Together we explore the many different interests, career goals and commitments that make up the University, as part of a community that is big enough to allow for amazing diversity and small enough so as never to be intimidating or overwhelming. It has been an incredible opportunity for me as a member of the faculty to interact with students as part of the Elder community. My family and I will soon be warming up the cider pots and waffle iron for what will surely be another fascinating and engaging year!

Weightless Wonders: Students Perform Experiments in NASA’s Zero-Gravity Simulator

This summer, a team of four Northwestern students got the chance to conduct experiments like they were in outer space without ever leaving Earth’s atmosphere by flying in NASA’s famous “Weightless Wonder.” The undergraduate group, assisted by David Dunand, the James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor of Materials Science, and the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, hopes their experiments, if successful, could lead to better solar cell production for greener power on Earth and, eventually, in Earth’s orbit and beyond. Kristen Scotti, a School of Professional Studies biology major, led the group. She recounts her long journey to microgravity flight.

“Float like an astronaut and fly like a superhero” is the tagline used by Zero G Corporation to describe the experience of parabolic flight.

I might add, “Fall like a meteorite hitting Earth,” somewhere in between floating and flying.

A microgravity flight consists of a series of parabolic maneuvers or flying in a trajectory shaped like a parabola. Each begins with 20 seconds of hypergravity, followed by approximately 25 seconds of microgravity. It ends with an additional period of hypergravity.

The final hypergravity portion is immediate. In an instant, you go from floating in the air to slamming into the floor at a rate of about 17.64 m/s2. It only takes a few parabolas before you learn to prepare yourself for the fall.

My journey goes back to 2011, when I was attending classes at William Rainey Harper College and was selected as a NASA Aerospace Scholar, earning an internship at Marshall Space Flight Center. My first NASA flight was a year later.

Visiting Marshall was one of those life-changing moments, where once you get a taste for something, there’s no going back. I was surrounded with like-minded students and NASA personnel who were motivated purely by their desire to learn.

Some of the other Aerospace Scholars and I decided to form a team and propose an experiment to NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program. Surprisingly, our proposal was accepted. We began our experimental flight preparations. This was my first experience managing a research team.

It was then I transferred to Northwestern University with the assistance of a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Once at NU, I reached out to Dr. David Dunand and Dr. Bryce Tappan (Los Alamos National Laboratory) for guidance.

A few months later, a mentor at NASA advised me of an opportunity to propose a program to NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. I reached out to Dr. Dunand and Dr. Tappan again, and with their agreement to continue to offer guidance, I felt confident enough to give it a shot.

I compiled a team of NU undergraduate students, and we submitted our proposal to create titania foams as electrode materials for dye-sensitized solar cells in microgravity. Nearly a year later, our proposal was accepted by NASA as both a knowledge and a technological advancement payload.

In other words, our experiment served two purposes: to understand the effects of gravity during metal foam formation and to enhance the material properties for maximum efficiency in dye-sensitized solar cell applications.

This past July in Ellington, my experimental preparation felt very different. I had a bit more experience, so I knew what to expect; I felt I’d be better able to prepare myself for the falls.

Our team integrated students from three schools within Northwestern: Kimberly Clinch (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences), Emily Northard (McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science), Felicia Teller (School of Professional Studies) and myself. As a team, we armed ourselves with knowledge as we immersed ourselves in literature, bounced ideas off of each other, solved problems and genuinely respected one another for our individual strengths.

When we hit a trough, we worked together to soften the fall.

Visiting NASA has always provided me with new vigor and desire to learn. NASA is the epitome of passion, commitment and the joining efforts of individuals in the pursuit of knowledge. Our team flew four flights in July; I was on three of them.

I left Houston feeling very proud of the team that I was a part of and excited to continue working with them over the next year analyzing our samples and incorporating them to improve overall efficiencies.

At Home with Death: Reflections on a Residential College Tutorial

Balberg Tutorial at Movies

Death is a difficult topic to tackle, but Mira Balberg, assistant professor of religion and Willard Faculty Fellow, found an intriguing way to make the subject accessible to students living in the Willard Residential College. With plates of cookies handy and a variety of ancient and modern texts as guides, Balberg created a powerful 21st-century academic learning experience. Modeled on the Greek symposium, the residential college tutorial brought together a small group of avid learners in a lively conversation in a non-classroom setting. In designing the tutorial, Balberg was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients, “who famously believed that an awareness of death and an ability to look death ‘in the eye’ as it were, is the key to good, meaningful living.”

As in many other things, the ancient Greeks were the first to get it right: they considered the most meaningful and enjoyable form of learning to be a conversation, which takes place not in a classroom but in a banquet hall. The Greek symposium was essentially a small gathering of friends who dined together while discussing a topic of choice, considering intellectual stimulation to be the flavor of the evening. The Greeks thought of the process of learning itself as a feast, in which, as Plato described it, “wisdom flows from one to the other like wine into glasses,” and found it only appropriate that it would be conducted as such.

Can a college class in the twenty-first century follow the model of the Greek symposium? Insofar as wine, sofas and hired musicians in the background are concerned, probably not: but insofar as genuine, lively conversation taking place in a non-classroom setting among a small group of avid participants is concerned, I discovered that the answer is a resounding yes. It’s called a Residential College Tutorial, and as a faculty fellow at Willard Residential College I had the fortune of teaching one of those in the spring of 2014.

A Residential College Tutorial is a small class, 8 to 10 students, which is offered specifically in one of Northwestern’s 11 residential colleges and is usually designated for the students living in that college. In some ways, it is no different from other college classes: tutorials count for credit and include obligations such as homework and paper writing. But it differs from a standard class in time, in place, and most of all, in feel. Tutorials take place in the late afternoon or evening, in the residential colleges themselves, and as such they generate continuity between two aspects of the college experience that are often conceived as completely disparate from one another: learning and living. A tutorial brings those two together, and therefore generates what is the key both to good learning and to good living: a sense of community. This sense of community is maintained not just during the formal part of the class, but also in going to dinner together as a group afterwards, or in going out to see a class-related movie together, as we have done. It is these seemingly inconsequential things that melt the boundary between disparate areas of college life and make it all the more meaningful – for students and professors alike.

And so it was: once a week ten students and I would gather in the Willard Library. Notable in their absence were laptops, tablets, smart phones and any other modes of distraction. Notable in their presence were cookies, which were a staple of our meetings – not just because of the usual peckishness of 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon, but also to make the point that we are, at least symbolically, partaking in a feast of learning. More notable, however, was what every student brought with him or her to each meeting: a well-crafted and pre-meditated series of thoughts and insights on the readings we were about to discuss that day, which each student wrote down and sent to me ahead of time. The students’ written responses provided the fuel for a lively and vibrant discussion, at the center of which stood a three-way encounter: between the students themselves, between them and me as an instructor, and between us and the third “participant” in our meetings – a silent participant which we have gradually started befriending – Death.

Indeed, the topic of the class was death. More accurately, it was the manner in which human beings confront death, their own or their loved ones’. In this choice of topic, too, I was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients, who famously believed that one’s entire life was essentially a preparation for death, and more importantly, that an awareness of death and an ability to look death “in the eye” as it were, is the key to good, meaningful living. In our own society, in which death is very much ignored if not entirely denied, and is removed from the realm of everyday life into the specialized care of professionals, this wisdom seems to have been forgotten. But death, as we know, remains a reality that we all, at one point or another, encounter nonetheless, now oftentimes without any conceptual or emotional tools to deal with it. As a scholar of Religion, I find the manners in which different religious and philosophical traditions confronted and explained death to be absolutely fascinating. I see death as a particularly potent and powerful prism through which we can explore the diversity of human communities and the development and change in modes of thinking and behaving across time – two issues that I consider to be at the heart of any discipline in the Humanities. However, my interest in this topic is hardly purely intellectual. I fully subscribe to Socrates’ statement that “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and since I view death as a part of life – perhaps the most definitive part of life – I believe it must be examined rigorously, honestly, and courageously. This was the purpose that I set forth for this tutorial.

“Is it really possible to discuss death so openly and forwardly with a group of 19 and 20 year olds, who are in the prime of their (allegedly) care-free youth?” I asked myself before the tutorial started. But from very early on, I was surprised by how intensely engaged and committed the students were to this examination of death (and, naturally, of life). For some students, who have suffered losses of close family members, this topic was very personal; but even for those who did not experience death in their immediate environment, the questions we discussed were poignant and, I dare say, emotionally and cognitively urgent. This was a journey on which everyone was eager to embark, and fortunately for us, we had great guides to lead us through this journey. From the Greek poet Homer to the Roman philosopher Seneca, from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to American journalist Mary Roach, we spent each session with the works of wonderful (and very different) writers who spent a lot of time contemplating death and who gave us much to think about, with, and against. However, as fabulous as these guides were, I believe much of the success of the journey had to do with the fellow travelers: with the fact that we explored these texts and questions together, looking at and listening to each other, sharing thoughts, fears, and doubts, and no less importantly – sharing laughter. A lot of it.

Throughout this entire quarter, one sentence kept on recurring to me in respect to this tutorial: that’s how it should be. College education, at its best, is an opportunity to examine the world audaciously from within a supportive, warm, and friendly community of like-minded examiners. Residential College Tutorials prove that in can be this way, and that putting emphasis on human contact – between students and professor, between one student and another, and between students and powerful ideas of people from other times and places – has the power to make higher education truly significant for all those involved.