Northwestern is on the quarter system, which means that we have incredible amounts of flexibility in terms of class choices, Study Abroad, and the ability to transfer between the six undergraduate schools. It also means that we start school the last week of September, which is well after most other universities start classes. Many years ago, Northwestern students saw the opportunity to create programming that offered incoming Wildcats a chance to arrive early to school as well as jump start developing community. The result was the creation of several adventures called Pre-Wildcat Welcome Programs. These programs are still successful today and range from a wilderness trip to a leadership retreat, and I had the absolute pleasure of planning one this Summer: The Freshmen Urban Program (FUP).
Accompanied with two unbelievably talented co-chairs, the three of us welcomed over eighty freshmen to Northwestern a week before Wildcat Welcome – our orientation week. The FUPpers (the lucky students who came with us on our trip) spent six days housed in a hostel in Chicago’s Loop. The Loop is the center of downtown with access to almost every line of the El, Chicago’s public transportation system. Throughout the week, led by our fearless counselors, the FUPpers traveled to many different community organizations in over 15 different neighborhoods of Chicago. Each morning, one of the co-chairs would stand on a chair in the hostel lobby and read off the groups for the day. These groups, varying in size, would head out on the El or bus to various destinations. Each organization offers a different experience: from the largest cat rescue in Chicago, to food pantries, to homes focused on rehabilitation and life skills. Although we do cover a wide range of organizations, each provides the FUPpers with a look into the culture of different neighborhoods and the different ways community members are engaging with the city. Whether they’re preparing a meal at a homeless shelter, working at a community garden, or grooming rescue animals, they’re gaining a new, local, and unique perspective of the different Chicago neighborhoods.
As co-chairs, we spent most of our time in our van, lovingly nick-named “Little Bunny Foo-Foo”, on our phones managing a wide range of hiccups. These ranged from an unexpected building demolition to lost jean jackets to solving how to pick up Harold’s Chicken Shack for dinner. Weeks of planning and days of FUP flew by until, suddenly, it was move-in day. We shepherded off our beloved FUPpers to their families and dorms, with hopes that their short week exploring Chicago had provided them with a new perspective on the city and its influences on Northwestern. FUP week proved to be one of the most challenging and hectic weeks in recent memory, and resides in my mind as a little bit of a blur. Fortunately, FUP doesn’t disappear when our FUPpers walk through the arch; one of the most beautiful things about all of the Pre-Wildcat Welcome Programs is that a true community is created within that seemingly short time period. FUPpers often stop by the houses where counselors live to do homework, watch football games, and seek advice. These programs, along with Wildcat Welcome, are a great way to start four fantastic years at Northwestern.