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Independent Study Project

Once you start learning about Chicago’s complex past and current opportunities, you may find that you have more questions than answers.

The independent study project (ISP) gives you the space to explore an aspect of the city that fascinates you with the support of a Chicago Program faculty member. All students on the semester-long Chicago Program complete an ISP.

When designing your ISP, think outside the box and go beyond a traditional research paper. The project gives you the freedom to engage with the community and focus your research on the experiences you have right here in Chicago.

Students have produced music and visual art inspired by the city, written novels and poetry, completed service projects, investigated the effects of public policies and who benefits, and collaborated with activists throughout the city as a part of their ISPs.

You’ll spend the first few weeks of the program engaging your creativity, exploring a variety of topics, and focusing in on what you’d like to study for your ISP. The second half of the semester gives you the flexibility to self-design your ISP as you learn from experts and connect your project to themes drawn from your seminars and internship.


Projects in Recent Semesters

Fall 2017

  • Analysis of Women of Color Leadership on Decolonizing Western Feminist Theory and Practices of Solidarity in Chicago
    This project examines the importance of women of color experiences and knowledges as crucial voices and wisdom for social change. It also analyzes alternative forms of practicing solidarity in the context of Chicago. It sheds light on ordinary women of color who have chosen to break barriers of oppression and convention to make a positive difference in their communities through alternative ways of intellectualizing and producing knowledge. It aims to promote the acceptance and creation of a culture in which these epistemologies are valued as much as traditional ways of knowing and producing knowledge.
  • Graffiti in Chicago: Artistry or Vandalism
    This project is an examination of graffiti around the city of Chicago and how graffiti, the artists, and the city interacts with one another, as well as the community that it’s in. The student went around the city to different neighborhoods including Pilsen, Little Village, Logan Square, Uptown, and Humboldt Park and took pictures of the different graffiti. This ranged from tagging, to throw-ups, and to bigger murals and pieces. From there she gathered the pictures and examined where there were obvious places where the city had painted over them or power-washed them away and she researched different artists in the Chicago area, as well as how the city views graffiti.
  • Improving Chicago's River Edge
    This project focused on examine the various ways in which groups were proposing to improve the Chicago River both from an aesthetic perspective as well as environmentally. The final paper was a critique of these proposals in light of the students own perspective relative to the improvement of the three locations along the river.
  • Poems of Life in the City
    This ISP was a creative project consisting of a collection of original poems surrounding the themes of sexuality, religion and coming of age with the backdrop of Chicago as landscape.
  • Pullman’s Landscape: A Reflection of History and a Look into the Future
    This project focused on how Chicago’s industry had shaped its neighborhoods. The focus was on the Pullman community because of the fact that it was a well-known company town. The project was a photo essay examining how the neighborhood’s landscape and architecture reflected societal themes from the past, and how these elements are adapting for the future.
  • The Power of Poetry for Self Healing: Rose in Concrete
    This project consisted of a series of expert interviews that informed the development of a group of poems and final essay focusing upon uncovering the internalized oppression inflicted by mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual violence towards communities of color in a new age of colorism. Aspects of the interviews were used to developed the written pieces for the poems and essay.
  • To Kill or Not to Kill: Tuesday Truisms Campaign for Bully Breeds
    The relationship between Chicagoans and animal shelters has been changing in recent decades, in part because of the gap the presence of social media has made between open and closed intake, and kill or no kill shelters. The two main types of shelters have more in common than not and follow the same guiding principle: only euthanize when absolutely necessary. In order to bridge the gap between them, and increase the number of adopted in Chicago, the interaction of shelters on social media should be changed to avoid demonizing closed intake shelters like Chicago Animal Care and Control, marketing campaigns and events dedicated to Pit Bulls or bully breed should be created as well as an app that better matches pets to prospective adoptive families to lower the return rate and provide a streamlined adoption process.
  • Transitional States
    This project consists of a series of written essays reflecting on time and place within the context of Seattle and Chicago. It also included volunteering at the Leather Archives in Chicago assisting with the sorting and digitizing of materials for the archives.

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Spring 2017

  • Checagou
    The student set out to write a story named Checagou, named after the original rendering of this area known to the early Native Americans. Instead, this became a way in to map out the navigation of a modern Native American in a Metropolis Space. Doing this, the student instead came up with a way to introspectively express what it is like to go from a place they are rooted in, then to be confronted with a sprawling urban mass that is today's world.
  • Chicago through the Lens of a Polaroid
    The student set out to accomplish a collection of 94 polaroid pictures that represents the city of Chicago, that were arranged on a display. The pictures illustrates a variety of aspect of the city, such as: nature, street art, historic places, etc. The materials used were a polaroid camera, film, fish line, and metal.
  • Community Empowerment Via Storytelling in Back of the Yards
    This project included the development of a community asset map of the Back of the Yards community in Chicago. The final product was a brochure for a fictional company, Restorative Tours, including a tour script for engaging the Restorative Justice Initiative at Precious Blood Ministry including the art and carpentry project within the program.
  • Experience that Builds: An Artistic Reflection for A Dilemma Born of Blood and Fire
    For this project, the student set out to have an active, expanded reflection on how his personal experiences of being in Chicago helps to build preparatory work for his story in progress, A Dilemma Born of Blood and Fire. He did so primarily through reflective questioning while immersing himself in one of the most prominent locations for his character, the University of Chicago. He documented this process through comparison between himself and his character, Sebastian, and through beginning to implement new generative techniques like a reflective zine and a journal focused on his plans for the story. He also began character focused writing of his story, focusing on two significant moments for Sebastian.
  • For the People: Klee Pedway
    For her ISP, the student conducted a thorough site evaluation and asset map for the Six Corners Association in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago. After analyzing the site, meeting with countless community stakeholders, and conducting thorough research on culture building and placemaking, the student proposed a new pedestrian pedway and gathering site between Cicero Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue that began transformation during her semester.
  • Giving Birth to Borders
    The student set out to revisit stories, oral histories, and narratives from the refugee crisis around her, and compile the work in a lyrical narrative on the struggle between displacement and home. Her goal was to produce a coherent collection of these accounts in a way that would humanize the people behind the refugee crisis in Syria and in Palestine, and try to tell their oral history in a style between fiction and non-fiction. She conducted interviews with refugees in Chicago, traced down her own family’s history, and wrote what looks like a chapbook of how these narratives spoke to one another.
  • L: A Study in Alternative CTA Maps for Adobe Illustrator
    In this ISP, the student taught herself how to use Adobe Illustrator so that she could create an infographic book based on the Chicago CTA Map. She learned more about Chicago and her own artistic capabilities through the semester-long project.
  • Marketing Clinical Trials to Marginalized Groups
    This student's project included research and exploratory surveying of public spaces to assess how outreach and media is developed to reach underserved and marginalized populations for clinical trials. She also conducted a series of interviews with medical professionals to determine the effectiveness of various forms of outreach and involvement of this population. While the initial question conetered around marketing and social media strategies, the final conclusions suggested that more direct patient relationships were seen as most effective and promising for future endeavors.
  • Methods for an Effective Girls Group in Chicago
    The student's ISP project is a guide with icebreakers, activities, and youth-oriented program evaluations that can be used for future girls groups. These activities are meant for girls in grades 6th-8th and were selected based off of the student's experience interning with Erie House in Little Village this semester.
  • Nonprofits Climbing the Social Media Ladder
    The student studied the intersection of social media and nonprofits. She researched some of the biggest problems nonprofits face when using social media. Finally, she found tips and tricks for nonprofits to better utilize social media.
  • Solidarity Between Women within Women’s Marches
    The student conducted an independent study project centered around the Women's March in Chicago. The student researched and analyzed the various ways the lack of solidarity and segregation between women of color and white women have negatively affected the perception of the Women’s march in Chicago. The student also researched various women’s marches that have taken place in the United States and analyzed how these marches have reflected the lack of solidarity between women of color and white women as well.
  • What Do Black Males Need to Succeed?
    This project included a series of interviews with black male college students who had previous educational experiences with the Chicago Public School system. The focus of the interviews and final reflection was to ascertain the degree to which the experiences reflected or not unique experiences as black men. The final conclusions of both the interviews and the small survey suggest a variety of experiences that may or may not suggest differing educational otucomes. The expert interview was conducted with a charter school teacher, himself a black professional. The final product included write-ups of the interviews and a reflection summary.
  • Youth Incarderation in Chicago: Free Write
    The student conducted research on nationwide youth incarceration, how it affects marginalized groups, and interviewed community members about youth incarceration as a whole. The student analyzed current resources provided to youth within detention centers in the Chicago area and focused on Free Write Art & Literacy's impact within juvenile detention centers.

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Fall 2016

  • Building Community: Craftswomen and Farmers of Chicago
    This purpose of this project was to gain insight into unusual careers that have been, for the most part, successful for artisans, skilled cratspeople, and urban farmers. The student also completed a woodworking class, making a table from recycled wood.
  • Chicago to Gaza: Police Militarization and Transnational Liberation
    This project included academic research, a series of interviews and participation and observation of activities related to Black and Palestinian collaboration and organizing in Chicago. The project culminated in a research paper.
  • Drag City
    This student completed a significant writing of a novella that incorporated three stories and time periods with Chicago as the backdrop.
  • Exploring Chicago Neighborhoods through Murals
    This project seeks to explore different Chicago neighborhoods through murals. In other words, I use murals as the lens through which I learn about the history of and current issues facing different Chicago communities. The questions that guides this project include: "What different purposes do murals serve in different communities? To what extent do murals tell stories? What is the relationship between community members and murals?" The process of this project is documented in a photo blog that is accessible to the public.
  • Flipping the Canvass: Public Art on Community Demand
    This project culminated in an 11-page paper that focused on the public art sphere in Chicago. It included a series of interviews of key leaders and visits to public art venues, with an analysis of funding and marketing strategies unique to public art in Chicago.
  • A History of Reform: Public Housing in Chicago
    This project included a review of literature, interviews, and visits to public housing sites in Chicago to gain an understanding of the history and the contemporary issues around public housing in Chicago, with a specific focus on Lathrop Homes. The final product included a magazine outlining specific features of this history.
  • Human Movement on the CTA
    This project focused on racial segregation in Chicago and the ways in which the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) structures movement of racial groups. The final product was both an artistic representation of nodes and an ethnographic study of the movement of passengers on various train lines.
  • Mexicanness in Chicago
    Through interviews and self reflection, this project focused on ways to humanize and compile a range of experiences of people in Chicago with a Mexican heritiage. The final product included interviews and a compilation of journal entries.
  • Nightmare on Chicago Avenue
    The aim of the project was to utilize social justice art and language to highlight the burden and strength that comes from being a minority student in Chicago. The focus was on the daily experiences of young adults of color ranging in age from 14 to 26.
  • On the Question of Gentrification in Pilsen and the Importance of Lanugage in Community Protection
    The final project included a 100-page research paper on the complexities around the debate of gentrification in Pilsen, providing both quantitative and qualitative data related to explanations of gentrification, as well as the importance of language in community protection.
  • A Self-Care Mashup
    Through research, survey collections, and interactions with a range of individuals, the project culminated in a self-care booklet focused on self care with an emphasis on not-for-profit staff.
  • The Power and Limitations of Chicago Music
    This project included the collaboration with fellow Chicago musicians to create a song focused around a social justice issue.
  • The Process of Technology for Chicago's First Responders
    This project focused on the discovery of the process required for new technology and innovation to enter the hands of firefighter and police officers. The process was ascertained by speaking with individuals in the Technology and Innovation section of the Chicago Police and Firefighter Training Academy.
  • Three Chicago
    This project was a story about the human condition, love, and tragedy. Ultimately, it served as a meditation on much of what this student experienced in Chicago.

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Spring 2016

  • Animal Testing and Personal Care
  • Artistically Lucrative: Exploring Chicago’s Independent Film and Television Scene
  • Bring Meditation to At-Risk Communities in Chicago
  • Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE)
  • Circles: Discovering the Myanmar Community in Chicago
  • College-Going Culture at CPS Schools
  • Determinants of Sales Price of Sold Unfurnished Residence Apartments in Downtown Chicago, IL
  • Experiencing and Practicing Slam Poetry in Chicago
  • Exploring Venture Capital Deals and Contracts in Chicago
  • Graphic Design Practice in Business
  • How to Succeed in Theatre While Really Trying
  • Isaac Shelby Street: A Business Plan
  • The Kitchen Startup
  • Perspectives on Intergenerational Activism
  • ShiftGig
  • Sports Branding: Two NBA Case Studies
  • The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Identifying Chicago's Network of Impact
  • Urban Agriculture in Chicago
  • What Makes a Good Teacher? Interviews, Observation, and Talcott
  • Yes, and ... Improv in Chicago

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