What is Big Chicago?

Published on Oct 13, 2015

By Robert Brown (’17) 

Have you seen the new students in the Conaway Center this semester? This is part of the revised First-Year Experience, Big Chicago

What is Big Chicago?
All first-semester freshmen students are required to enroll in a First-Semester Experience Big Chicago course. These courses are designed to help first-semester freshmen students engage the city in fundamental ways and are typically offered by top professionals and scholars in their fields. 

Students can choose between courses such as ‘Fashion in Chicagoland: Vintage, Thrift, Fast and Cool,’ or ‘Podcasting Chicago: Capturing the Sounds of Chicago’s Neighborhoods.’ Students are encouraged to choose a course that explores concepts that are unfamiliar to them. 

In addition to the Big Chicago courses, students are required to meet in cohorts led by orientation leaders on Fridays at the New Student Commons (1104 S. Wabash in the Conaway Center.) 

What is the New Student Commons?
New Student Commons is a social learning “lab” built into the curriculum that compliments the Big Chicago courses to help integrate students into life as college students. 

“We want them to feel supported,” explains Janeen Scott, Manager of New Student Programs. “So one of our biggest things is connecting them with each other, with other students, and with the campus resources, and just kind of providing them with the overall things that they need to be successful.  


What is different about First-Year Experience this year?
“I think what we’ve done this year is we’ve let the buzz that you see at the New Student Convocations… continue through the semester as they get to know the campus, as they build their crews, as they explore the city, so it may be a transformative new journey for our students compared to what they had before,” explains Mark Kelly, Vice President of Student Success. 

First-year dance major Diamond Philson (‘19) explains, “the First-Year Experience helps me understand certain responsibilities I have being here...where is the Writing Center, where is the Portfolio Center, where is Financial Aid…It’s helping me learn [about] the important places I need to be if I need help with anything.”

Philson is enrolled in ‘Flagships, Boutiques, Popups and More: Chicago, A Retail Innovation Lab’ as her Big Chicago course.

“It’s very comprehensive. If I wanted to start my own boutique, I would know how,” Philson explains. 

What is the Orientation Leaders’ role?
Fashion Business major Kelsey Cox (‘17) currently mentors incoming students as an orientation leader.

“The new students bring fresh perspective about how I can change the world with my creativity,” Cox explains.

The orientation leaders are a vital part of the Big Chicago experience. Orientation leaders help with the New Student Commons by facilitating discussions, activities, etc. and are available to talk. “Everyone wants to see you succeed, everyone wants you to be happy and healthy,” says Cox. 

“They definitely don’t have to read Antigone and apply it to their discipline like I did when I was a freshman [laughing]. The revised First-Year Experience works with its name. You get to learn about your school and your community,” explains Cox.

“Homework this week is about financial literacy, which I think will be incredibly useful.”


How do I find additional information?
Send additional questions to New Student Programs.

If you want to become an orientation leader next year, keep an eye out in the early spring semester for signs up about Orientation Leader Info Sessions.