The new Chicago Semester program is poised to impact Ouachita Baptist University students as it offers valuable, affordable internships in the historic “Windy City.”
Erica Mayes, a senior psychology major from Frisco, Texas, is the first Ouachita student to enroll in the Chicago Semester. With a limit of two students per semester, however, Ouachita scholars should be competitive about enrolling in the program next semester.
With advice from Mayes, a recruitment officer and the professor who brought this program to Ouachita’s campus, the following list details the top five reasons students should set a course for Chicago.
One primary question is always affordability. The Chicago program will cost no more than a regular semester’s worth of tuition because it provides the same amount of credit hours. Scholarships will be applied in the same way as study abroad programs, in which 50 percent of Ouachita scholarships and all external scholarships still apply.
Although it’s an unpaid internship, students are encouraged to approach this program as an educational opportunity no different than a typical semester at Ouachita where any time spent learning is a worthwhile investment.
One day each week, students in the program will attend three courses taught by the Chicago Semester staff. One semester in Chicago equals 15 credit hours at Ouachita. One benefit of these hours is their flexibility.
“Upcoming revisions in the core will make it easier for students to participate in these programs and graduate on time,” said Dr. Doug Sonheim, chair of OBU’s Department of English and Modern Foreign Languages, who has spearheaded efforts to get Ouachita’s student involved in the Chicago Semester. According to Sonheim, students who participate in the program will be able to apply those 15 credit hours toward courses in both their major field of study and CORE classes.
Mayes, for example, is enrolled in three classes: Values and Vocation, which explores vocational callings and humanity’s responsibilities concerning social justice; Practicum Group, which tracks her internship involvement; and Urban Development and the City, a course about the history of Chicago.
When someone says the word “internship,” people often picture a mailroom clerk or coffee-maker, but in the Chicago program, when students intern four days a week for almost four months they experience “a quality internship with a quality company,” said Sonheim. With a Chicago Semester internship, “you know you won’t just be filing.”
Internships are not just for business majors either, Sonheim said. Noting that he sees this program as applicable to every major, he said sociology, history and the fine arts are a few examples of majors for which internships are available through the Chicago Semester.
While interning at the Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic, Mayes is responsible for interviewing children held in custody, pulling together their treatment service records and assembling forensic evaluations. She also observes the court cases in which her work plays a “pivotal role” and is participating in graduate-level research.
“The world as we know it is quickly becoming an urban society and our students will be prepared for that world if they have an experience with a major world class city like Chicago,” Sonheim said.
With four days of work and one day of class, students have extended weekends to explore and enjoy the city. For almost four months, students are exposed to an environment entirely different from Arkadelphia.
“Students may think of it as similar to a study abroad program because it’s such a new environment and a city like that is going to be culturally diverse in ways that Arkadelphia is not,” Sonheim said.
“I have fallen in love with the city and I don’t plan on leaving any time in the foreseeable future,” Mayes said within the first few weeks of the program. The Chicago Semester has allowed her the opportunity to attend famous cultural events, such as the Joffrey Ballet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Living downtown, students will be able to walk almost everywhere, making cars unnecessary and transportation costs minimal.
“Living in downtown Chicago, our country’s third largest city, for three and a half months taught me all about urban life and the richly complicated social fabric unique to this environment,” said Phil DeBoer, coordinator of recruitment and student services for the Chicago Semester, who experienced firsthand all the benefits of the program. “I enjoyed the hustle and bustle, the wealth of opportunities, and the vibrant art and culture here.”
Since the Chicago Semester is a Christian-based program in which Ouachita students will be rooming, studying and working with students from other Christian colleges, OBU students will be encouraged to adopt a Christian perspective on their new surroundings in Chicago.
When Sonheim’s son, Joe, participated in this internship opportunity in Chicago, he ended up on National Public Radio and Sonheim was inspired to pass along this program to students at Ouachita. “I just really saw him light up. He got to think theologically about what it is to live as a Christian in a city,” Sonheim said.
“Personally,” Mayes said, “the balance of school commitments and the demands of work is all about perspective. It is essential to remember what I’m doing in the city, what my responsibilities are, and how I hope to be affected through this experience. It makes it all a little less overwhelming.”
“By the time I completed Chicago Semester, I was brimming with confidence and felt fully prepared to enter into the real world and faithfully live out my vocational calling,” DeBoer said.
The Chicago Semester encourages students to grow vocationally as well as spiritually without hampering their finances or college career. The program is an opportunity for students to flourish into their full potential.
“Even if Chicago isn’t right for you, figure out what is, and take action,” Mayes said.
For more information about Ouachita’s involvement with the Chicago Semester Program, contact Dr. Doug Sonheim at firstname.lastname@example.org or (870) 245-5554. For more information about the Chicago Semester, contact Phil DeBoer at PhilD@ChicagoSemester.org.
By Rachel Gregory