Seven years ago, three social work students stepped into unknown territory. They took a bold step toward what is now Northwestern’s Denver Urban Semester.
Those three students have expanded to about 20 students per year. The program has also stretched beyond its original partner of Mile High Ministries to many different opportunities throughout Denver.
“We appreciate having Denver as an option because it gives students a chance to get off campus and experience an urban setting that they don’t get from their time in Orange City,” said Kendall Stanislav, director of experiential education.
The application deadline for fall 2020 and spring 2021 is Feb. 10.
Any student from any major can take part in this program, but there are specific tracks for education and social work. Students have the opportunity to do an internship, practicum or student teaching in the city.
“The program allows students to live together while still experiencing something different each day,” said Amber Leusink, administrative coordinator at the Compass Center for Career and Calling.
For senior Olivia Vander Ploeg, this was exactly what her experience was like. Vander Ploeg is a double major in writing and rhetoric and literature. She knew that Denver was the place for her because of her passion for nonprofit work. While there in the fall of 2019, she interned at Hope House, a nonprofit organization that provides free self-sufficiency programs for teen moms.
“I did a little bit of everything, and as far as writing goes, I did a little bit of grant writing, wrote a story about a mom and wrote descriptions for a silent auction at a gala they had in November. I just did a lot,” Vander Ploeg said.
A current student in the Denver Urban Semester program, senior Madison Wingert, has found that her internship at a nonprofit called Brent’s Place has challenged her to be a leader and speak her mind. Brent’s Place provides long-term housing for kids with cancer and their families.
Alongside the internships and practicum hours, students take two required classes: Urban Leadership and Urban Cross-Cultural Integration.
Urban Leadership is not like the typical NW course. This class is taught each week in a different place and taught by a different person. The reason for this is the wide variety of topics it covers.
“We had one class about the enneagram and one class about gangs and another about systemic racism,” Vander Ploeg said.
Each week, though structured the same, held new opportunities not just in the classes. Much of the student’s free time is spent taking in the city life and its people as well as the nearby Rocky mountains. With housing near downtown Denver, it is easy for the students to explore local coffee shops and attractions.
“There is a park right next to our house. I could walk to it in 10 minutes. It’s called Cheesman Park and it takes up multiple blocks. You can see the mountains, and it’s really quiet and peaceful,” Vander Ploeg said.
Outdoor recreation is also easy to find.
“The second weekend we were here, we all piled into the car and went hiking in Boulder, Colorado. It was a beautiful experience to be with people I love and to just be outside adventuring,” Wingert said.
But along with the urban experience and outdoor activities, the Denver Urban Semester students feel like they can succeed in their careers.
Wingert said that she has gained confidence in her social work skills.
While Vander Ploeg said she became more confident in herself and her abilities.
The semester equips all of its students with various majors for a successful life in their field.