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The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Chicago Quarter classes prioritize belonging, exploration for freshmen

Jeff Carrion
The entrance to the Student Center at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.

For new students unfamiliar with the rumble of the Red Line, how to get to Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park’s many hidden gems, DePaul’s Chicago Quarter makes a new life in the big city accessible. 

During immersion week, from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1, freshmen embarked on excursions around the city, made connections to specific course content, familiarized themselves with the CTA and each other.

According to Doug Long, director of DePaul’s first-year program, though many universities have onboarding classes and post-orientation programs, DePaul’s first-year Chicago Quarter emphasizes the value of interdisciplinary partnerships and urban exploration.

“I’m always on the lookout when we go to national conferences for anyone who has anything like ours,” Long said. “It’s quite unique to have such a focus on the city and make it experiential learning.”

All DePaul freshmen are required to take either Discover or Explore Chicago classes fall quarter.

This year, there are 63 Discover Chicago classes that participate in the pre-quarter immersion week and end during week seven of fall quarter and 61 Explore classes, which begin the first day of classes and take class trips around the city all 10 weeks of the quarter.

There are several things that set DePaul’s Chicago Quarter apart from other first-year programs, which Long said are fairly common in universities across the country.The Chicago Quarter combines an academic class — with 124 course options ranging from “Space for Justice in Chicago” to “Punk in Chicago” — with city excursions and a three-person support system of a faculty member, staff professional and peer mentor.

The faculty member teaches the academic portion of the class and arranges city trips. The staff professional and Chicago Quarter Mentor (CQM) teach “Common Hour,” a portion of each Discover Chicago class when first-year students are introduced to DePaul’s mission and resources.

Between the faculty member, staff person and CQM, each student has three intergenerational and interdisciplinary levels of support in their first quarter of college, which Long said is irreplaceable.

“One of the goals is that by the end of the quarter, you don’t feel like you’re all alone here at DePaul,” Long said.

DePaul sophomore Jessica Dortch said her CQM inspired her to take on that peer mentor role this fall and be a support for freshmen during their Chicago Quarter experience.

“Being able to help the students get a little ahead of the game and give them ways to get connected and stay on top of what’s happening at DePaul has been really fulfilling,” Dortch said, who is a first-time CQM in the Eastern European Communities in Chicago class.

Stephanie Howell, a College of Communication professor who has taught a Chicago Quarter course for 13 years, says the Chicago Quarter offers a first impression of college life in a big city.  

“Chicago Quarter is truly the first entry into ‘oh my gosh, I am a DePaul student. Oh my gosh, I’m living in Chicago. I’m on my own for the first time and I don’t know what I’m doing,’” Howell said.

The three-person teaching team is meant to provide assurance and assistance to students who may feel lost, nervous or excited.

“I believe that with the first-year program, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact and provide support,” Howell said.

Another goal of the Chicago Quarter is to showcase DePaul’s urban identity and Vincentian tradition. Chicago Quarter Service Day, coordinated by the Division of Mission and Ministry, allows participating classes to do Vincentian service at various locations around the city.

“One of our three learning outcomes is that the class connects to the university mission, and this is an excellent way to do it,” Long said.

35 Discover classes with over 700 participants completed service across the city at community gardens, clothing closets and organizations that minister formerly incarcerated people, according to Katie Sullivan, program manager of service and scholarships in the Division of Mission and Ministry.

“It’s one thing to learn about different social injustices from a textbook or newspaper and a whole other to encounter those most impacted by these realities,” said Joyana Dvorak, associate director for student engagement and mission integration.

Outside of service day, Dortch’s class traveled to The Polish History Museum, St. Stanislaus Church and the Art Institute of Chicago, while Howell accompanied her class north to Andersonville and Ravenswood and south to Chinatown and Pilsen during immersion week.

“We like them to get out and start using the city not just for fun but also as budding scholars,” Long said.

The idea for the Chicago Quarter was conceived in the early 1990s by Charles Suchar, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences after he attended an educational conference. 

The Chicago Quarter pilot program began in 1995 with a few Discover Chicago classes. After a few trial years, the idea caught on and, in 1998, Chicago Quarter classes were made liberal studies requirements for all DePaul freshmen.

25 years later, Long said the program is stronger than ever.

“We look to again have just under 3,000 first-year students, which requires enough classes, personnel, and resources to make the classes run,” Long said.

Even amid DePaul’s budget crisis, which has spurred massive cuts of faculty and staff in the past year, Long said that none of the First-Year program’s budget was cut and all positions were renewed.

“Never were we approached about cutting class budgets, which I really appreciate because that’s direct student experience,” Long said.

Though she has been teaching the Honors Spoken Word in Chicago for over a decade, Howell said the experience is always valuable but never the same.

“The pattern across the board for the most part is a passion for knowledge, and I’ve noticed this particularly with Gen Z,” Howell said.

As for Dortch, she looks fondly at the busy excitement of immersion week and looks forward to a positive remainder of the fall quarter.

“I’m just really excited to try and encourage the students to have a really fulfilling time here at DePaul,” Dortch said.

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