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Life 101: The 2015 Education and Reinvention Issue

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Cover by Tyler Gasek

Cover by Tyler Gasek

Each year this time, we turn to thoughts of self-reinvention. Sometimes that means fixing our brains, through the classroom. Sometimes that means fixing our brains by changing drugs. And sometimes that means figuring out what it means to be gored by a bull.

The Million-Dollar Wound: How A Life of Fighting, Chanting, Loving and Running Paid Off When I Published a Novel and Got Gored by a Bull

Lucky Junkie, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Drugs Read the rest of this entry »

Teacher-Student: What He Thinks, What She Thinks

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TEACHER

This past autumn term, I accepted a lecturer position teaching a databases class in the Masters Program in Computer Science (MPCS) at the University of Chicago. I have been working with databases for more than a decade and graduated from the MPCS myself many years ago but had never taught before. Throughout the course of the term I learned a lot about teaching, public speaking and, yes, even a bit about databases.

Below is a list of four things I learned about public speaking from teaching a graduate course:

1. Get comfortable with silence–when you’re the one leading the room silence can feel pretty awkward. But it’s only awkward if you let it be. When used appropriately, silence can actually heighten the energy. You don’t always have to be presenting information: take some time every now and then to pause and take in the room. It can be a breath of fresh air for both you and the audience. And maybe someone will get the courage to ask a question. Read the rest of this entry »

Critical Thinking: An Insider’s View of Higher Education

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By Scott Hibbard, DePaul University

There is an important debate going on in this country about the relative utility of a college and university education, particularly in the liberal arts. What is driving this debate is the rising costs of tuition, and questions about the perceived lack of a “payoff” for degrees in the humanities and related fields (i.e. English, History, Philosophy, Religion, Modern Languages, Art and any of the Social Sciences). While it is true that the costs of higher education have risen faster than inflation, it is also true that the costs of not getting a college degree are strikingly high. Over the course of one’s working life, people with college-level education will earn significantly more than those without (and certainly more than the price of that education). More to the point, in an era where people will switch careers several times during their working life, gaining basic analytical and writing skills are crucial to professional success, which is precisely why a liberal arts degree will serve one well. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Manual 2014: Who Wants to Have Some Fun?

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092214ChicagoManualSometime after I left the College, back in 1983, the phrase “Where Fun Comes to Die” attached itself to the University of Chicago in the zeitgeist. Funny thing, that, since I used to tell people that if I’d had more fun in college, I’d be dead, what with all the fraternity parties, Lascivious Costume Balls, “study breaks” and god-knows-what-else we used to frequent, where we’d lament our inability to have a good time at the University of Chicago compared to, we assumed, other schools. There’s no question fun reshapes its contours in Hyde Park, where play, foreplay and mindplay all have their place. Where that guy boasting about all his big ideas at the kegger might, in fact, have big ideas. After all, this place is ground zero for the atomic bomb, the Heisman Trophy and improv theater. How fun is that?

Newcity was founded by UChicago graduates right out of the College, so we’ve always had a special connection to the Grey City, and lots of time to think about it. Accordingly, this second edition of Chicago Manual is not like other Orientation guides you might see around campus. For one, it’s not chock full of recommendations for the best pizza in Hyde Park, or the social dynamics of study carrels in the Reg. It’s meant to be savored, to be studied, to have fun with. And it’s not written primarily by undergrads—though we do have a fine piece written by a fourth-year herein—but rather a mix of those of us who’ve graduated, and offer our perspective with the seasoning of time. (Plus a couple of writers also consider Hyde Park from the perspective of outsiders looking in.) Some are recent grads, some of us thirty years or more.  But the message is the same. Here is the perspective of “what I know now, that I wish I’d known then.” So now you know, and it’s your then now. (Brian Hieggelke AB ’83, MBA ’84) Read the rest of this entry »

What Will Become of WHPK? The College Radio Station Unlike Any Other

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My first connection with the station was when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago,” says Marta Nicholas, “in 1957 through 1960.

“An oboist, I had put together a woodwind ensemble that got together weekly for our own pleasure. One of the pieces we played was being analyzed in the Humanities I class, so we were invited to come perform it live on the station WUCB, which was only five or ten watts and on only a few hours a day. It may have in fact gone through the phone lines rather than a regular radio transmitter—we used to joke that it went through the plumbing pipes and could be heard only by standing on your head in certain shower stalls. A couple of times I was on a listen-to-recordings-and-chat show hosted by our group’s French horn player.”

Soon thereafter, Nicholas “left the campus and the country.” When she returned in the early seventies, the station had morphed into WHPK, an acronym for Woodlawn, Hyde Park and Kenwood. “It was decided at that beginning to take the potential audience into account. Not only as listeners, but also as possible on-air participants.” Nicholas eventually served as the station’s international music-format chief. Read the rest of this entry »

Normal Life: Don’t Skip the Working Classes

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By Jenzo DuQue (Class of 2015)

The look is always the same. It usually starts with a gaping mouth, and then the eyes swell out of their sockets, followed by an eyebrow reaching for a hairline. That’s assuming there is a hairline; most of the time the gawkers are pushing sixty or have stressed their locks away by grad school. But regardless of whom I’m telling, it’s the same old song and dance each time.

“You go to the University of Chicago?” they gasp, a fork poised precariously before their lips.

“Yes, I do.” I say, balancing two plates in my left hand and another on my forearm. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

It’s hard for some people to stomach that I’m a waiter and a UChicago student. Shouldn’t I be off making breakthroughs in the Pirahã language or in cancer research? Probably. But I’m not. I’m doing what I’ve been doing since before college—just working because I need the money and honestly, it’s kind of fun. And I know you’ve heard about what happens if fun and our campus cross paths. Read the rest of this entry »

That’s All Well and Good in Practice, But How Does it Work in Theory?

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By Naseem Jamnia (AB ’13)

When I first set foot onto the quad—actually, it was the Ida Noyes courtyard, stone arches and grassy front—I was a goner. The Core’s opportunities thrilled me, even though the gym requirement totally blew; Northwestern, which I had visited that morning, sucked. What sealed it for me was when my tour guide paused by the Oriental Institute and asked which famous archeologist worked at the UofC.

If only the snakes were just the literal kind.

When we arrived, we were finally faced with our own worst enemy: ourselves. We looked around and saw not mirror images, but our murky reflection cast against the lake. How does admissions choose us, with applications starring perfect GPAs, dozens of extracurriculars, strong goals? We were all the same, though at the time, this was far from being a problem. Many of us felt that we had finally found where we belonged; everyone was like us and yet interesting! We had been the outcasts or nerds, the ones that either dominated class or didn’t speak up because it was too simple. We turned into the kids and the Scavvies; the techies, non-TAPS UT players, always-in-rehearsals; locked up in the Reg or Harper; ha-you-have-it-easy-you’re-not-a-science-majors; stop-complaining-about-crossing-the-Midway-Broadway-is-so-far away—by the end, we couldn’t even pinpoint where we had started because we had forced ourselves to go our separate ways. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of the Network: Give Before You Take

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“It’s not what you know but who you know.” We all know this saying, and we all realize how important networking is to getting a job, changing careers and even being more successful in our current jobs. With few exceptions, my fellow alums from thirty years ago credit much of their success to relationships they have built and nurtured throughout their careers.

For those soon to launch careers with a degree in hand, what is the best way to build a strong network? A common practice is to target influential people in one’s industry, and try to connect with them with the thought of “what can this person do for me?” A better idea is to turn this approach on its head. In his groundbreaking book, “Give and Take,” Adam Grant presents compelling evidence that “givers,” or those who approach life attempting to help others succeed, in the end benefit far more than either “takers” or “matchers.” He points out, and backs up his claim with data, that the best networkers in fact do not think about how they will benefit from assisting others. Read the rest of this entry »

Life 101: The Education and Reinvention Issue 2014

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010914cover

Illustration by Chris Eliopoulos

What is it about the turn of a calendar, the ticking of a single stroke of a festive midnight that sets off such a wave of self-improvement, of life contemplation, of change? Perhaps it is less the passing of another year than a communal sobering up after the extended annual bacchanal that our holidays have become. Or perhaps it is simply a reaction to the bitter cold of a long winter setting in without the distractions of a beach or a beer garden. In any case, we all fall under the self-repair spell each year at this time. Sometimes we make real changes; too often we craft empty resolutions. In hope for the former and fear of the latter, we’ve asked some of Chicago’s finest writers to weigh in, sometimes with lessons from their own experiences, sometimes with the fruits of their better expertise. Some addressed educational imperatives, the foundation of most upward undertakings; others addressed more unusual corrections to life’s misdirections. Read on, and start your journey to a better place a year from now. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: Lessons from German Lessons

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By John Wilmes

“Language,” my friend tells me, “is the only thing we have.”

His claim is hyperbolic, if not downright dubious, but as he spurs me on to join my new girlfriend in a weekly German course at the Goethe Institut, I see his point. I imagine she and I creating yet another diction between us—there was the friendship, the courting, the bridge into physical happenings, all of which demanded that we mutually contort words into subjectively binding agreements of sorts—and yes, I certainly see his point. I sign up for the class.

In the classroom is a multitude of motivations for introducing oneself to this new tongue. A woman learning how to talk to her foreign husband, an heiress of idle hours, an Italian consulate who collects these schemas, and a handful of twenty-somethings looking for immersion of any kind, for an expanse of identity and ability.

Women, all women. Read the rest of this entry »