One of the key goals of North Central College’s 2007-2012 Strategic Plan is to foster “a culture of inquiry” in which intellectually ambitious students can advance as far as their motivation and curiosity will take them.
More than a goal on paper, North Central College students are experiencing—and embracing—an expanding campus commitment to a culture of intellectual exploration, reflected in growing support for on-campus research, new study abroad offerings, D-Term and Verandah courses, as well as long-term programs such as Richter Independent Study Fellowships.
“I took advantage of every opportunity I could,” says June graduate Claudia Chlebek ’09 (left), who combined majors in international business, Spanish and economics with 60 weeks of study abroad programs, internships and research through Richter Independent Study Fellowships . The payoff: a Fulbright Research Award and an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship for a master’s in Economy State and Society. Over the next two years, she will conduct research on visas and the movement of people between countries and also earn a master’s degree while studying in London, Brussels, the Czech Republic and Poland. “North Central offers everything you need to succeed and faculty are always willing to talk with you about new opportunities,” she adds.
Students such as Chlebek develop close links to the Office of Academic Opportunities, which is under the direction of Perry Hamalis, assistant professor of religious studies. “The mission of our office is to help high-achieving students go as far as they want to go,” says Hamalis. “We’re not here to push students, but to present them with opportunities and support their goals.”
Chlebek and other high-achieving students are typically part of the College Scholars Honors Program, which has evolved to include several new components, with the Office of Academic Opportunities supporting several social events, a retreat for first-year students and an optional residential community.
Pursuing Unique Opportunities
North Central students may build their academic résumés by freely combining majors that reflect their curiosity and intellectual pursuits. Jeff Cisowski ’09 (right) completed majors in economics, finance and German, presided over Students In Free Enterprise and found time to conduct research for and present two posters at the Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research. He’s attending Chicago-Kent Law School in fall 2009.
While immersing himself in business studies, he also found a passion for German language and culture. His grandfather had been required to join the Hitler Youth as a teen during World War II and Cisowski decided to research his story and write an oral history. He applied for a Richter Fellowship to travel to Germany to interview other relatives. The resulting oral history could someday become a young adult book, says Cisowski.
“There’s no way that you can do these things at a larger college or university—these opportunities are unique to North Central,” says Cisowski, who also conducted research for his honors thesis in econometrics as a tool to predict the box office success of movies. “But the opportunity to develop a second language helped me become a better writer and that will translate into becoming a better lawyer.”
North Central prides itself on a structure without academic “silos,” which means that students aren’t limited to staying within schools of business, liberal arts or education, for example. The College’s small size means that faculty team up across disciplines to teach courses and plan study abroad trips.
“Different disciplines approach problems from different perspectives and our curriculum encourages faculty to come together to show students how their approach fits into a larger picture,” says Fran Navakas, Svend and Elizabeth Bramsen Professor in the Humanities. “Research shows that interdisciplinary teams play a significant part in problem-solving in scientific research, business and the medical field.”
Students can roam through the course offerings and assemble a curriculum that matches their unique interests, said Navakas, who represents North Central at national conferences on interdisciplinary studies and similar topics. “These students view their educations holistically and prepare for careers rather than jobs,” she adds.
Michelle LeDonne ’09 (left), the 2009 Outstanding Student in the Arts and Letters Division, explored her interests in opera, dance, literature and French through Richter Fellowships, D-Term travel and an independent study that ultimately launched her plans for graduate school. A literature course that required the study of Oscar Wilde poems inspired her to narrate his poetry to music and ballet. She designed the choreography, recruited other dancers and used her own ballet training for the original performance titled “Think in Bronze” in Meiley-Swallow Hall. “It was the best day of my life,” says LeDonne. “This exemplified all the work I’ve done and cared about.”
Also a College Scholar, LeDonne decided to pursue performance studies as a career field and was accepted to study at McGill University’s program with a faculty member who specializes in text interpretation through movement. “People like [professor of English] Sara Eaton helped me figure out that I wanted to go into higher education,” she says. “And coming to North Central—I wouldn’t change a thing.”
This academic freedom also serves students like Sunbir Gill ’10, who has multiple interests. A psychology major and Chinese minor, Gill is pursuing course work in languages and business. He’s a leader in Students In Free Enterprise, has traveled to Haiti on a service trip—and plans to return to conduct research on spiritual rituals—and landed an internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, to monitor patients in exercise programs. “To me, it’s an asset to be well-rounded,” says Gill, a College Scholar with his eye on medical school.
Building Global Awareness
Many students find their calling as they combine international studies, travel and research.
James Nebl ’09 (right), who majored in international business and political science, embarked on a term in China and Japan to explore East Asian culture, and he later researched the reintegration of Hong Kong into Mainland China with a Richter Fellowship. His work in Hong Kong formed the basis for his College Scholar Honors thesis. “People were very interested in meeting with me,” says Nebl, who hopes to attend graduate school and perhaps return to Hong Kong. “The opportunities to study abroad in two cultures and then expand my interests with research were invaluable.”
Jack Shindler, professor of English and director of international programs, approaches the culture of inquiry from a global perspective by encouraging students to improve their global awareness through a term of study abroad , a shorter D-Term experience and learning more about a global focus on campus. Visiting speakers, readings and films bring important topics into the spotlight. Currently, the theme “Global Environmental Change: North America” is encompassing the study of water issues, led by a visiting Fulbright Scholar and environmental water expert from Toronto. “The whole purpose is to get students thinking about global concerns here at home,” says Shindler.
Academic opportunities on campus like College Scholars, study abroad and research grants attracted Laurel White ’10 to attend North Central College. “The Richters have allowed me to explore what I’m interested in—they’re life-changing experiences,” she says. While studying abroad in London in fall 2008, White researched British impressions of the 2008 presidential campaign. She shared her findings at the Rall Symposium in May and she’ll present her work again at the prestigious 2009 National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Washington, D.C., in October. (See photos from Honors Day and the Rall Symposium.)
Her next Richter-funded project will form the basis for her honors thesis, as she investigates the culture of political satire. White hopes to land an interview with Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show.” An English major, she’ll co-edit the College’s student newspaper The Chronicle next year and hopes to pursue graduate school and a career in public policy journalism.
“It’s easy to cross disciplines and pursue your interests,” says White. “North Central truly practices what it preaches.”
North Central NOW Fall 2009