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NIU's 'Travel With The Professor' Shows Off Key People And Places Of Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois University

Field trips are a hallmark of grade school, often with memorable visits to a local museum, park or business. But not many students get the same opportunity once they reach college.  A group at Northern Illinois University wants to change that.

The first thought that students at NIU might have about the External Programming department might be that it’s some sort of PR office. But it actually is the starting point for a variety of “extracurriculars” in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Their most notable program is “Travel With the Professor,” which arranges trips to discover notable people or places around northern Illinois. But, as the name implies, there’s an expert on board.

Coordinator Lise Schlosser and Associate Director Mark Pietrowski organize the various "Travel With A Professor" events.

Coordinator Lise Schlosser said it's "not just going someplace blind, but going with this background information that can help travelers really enjoy the activity that much more.”

Her office has organized programs for about six years, and their latest is a celebration of America’s writers. In late September, a group will travel to Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace in Oak Park, followed by a stop at the American Writers Museum, which recently opened in Chicago.

“It’s going to be a nice day to appreciate American writers but also see where museums are right now and where they’re going as far as their displays and exhibits," she said.

But an event like this isn’t organized like a traditional field trip: In fact, it’s just the opposite. External Programming creates the trip itinerary first and then invites an on-campus expert based on who shows an interest. Schlosser says that’s worked quite well in past events, such as performances of the hip-hop musical "Hamilton." 

For this event, they called on Matt Streb, political science professor and Chief of Staff to NIU President Lisa Freeman.  In bringing students, alumni, and community members, Streb wanted to give back to the NIU community as well as tie in the show’s depiction of Hamiltion to the man’s influence today.

Credit Northern Illinois University
Matt Streb is an NIU political science professor and Chief of Staff to President Lisa Freeman. He also enjoys "Hamilton."

"People refer to George Washington as the Father of our Country and Madison as the Father of the Constitution," he said.  "Alexander Hamilton is the father of American government.  He, more than probably anybody, has had an impact on how our institutions look and how our government is shaped today."

And of course, it wasn't difficult to convince Streb to take community-members to a high-end musical. As for future events, the office recently organized a group to attend an evening lecture with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For that trip, Lise invited political science professor Artemus Ward. He’s done significant research in D.C. on the Supreme Court and hopes to bring interest to a subject he admits even some of his Constitutional Law students lack. He wants to personalize the judges, for his audience, who in his words, ,"often see these justices as dispossessed bodies." 

Artemus Ward is an NIU political science professor with a particular interest in the U.S. Supreme Court. He will lead the trip to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg lecture.

While Ginsburg certainly will prompt a lot of discussion, Ward hopes he can fill in the gaps with topics such as her voting record and leadership role on the court's liberal wing.  Schlosser said the Ginsburg trip sold out in a day.

The American Writers trip doesn’t yet have a professor lined up, but Schlosser isn’t worried. She says past successes and the topics themselves are more than enough to attract experts.  Regardless of the “professor,” however, Acting Director Mark Pietrowski said these trips usually have a diverse group of participants.

“These programs are open to alumni, students, faculty, staff, anybody from the community, anybody that wants to go," he said.  "We’ve really gotten great support in terms of people that are thirsting for this type of opportunity.”

This can also include people who have had no previous connection to NIU, or older students taking part in lifelong learning classes. The blending of groups, in Schlosser’s opinion, leads to much greater interaction.

These excursions may not be field trips in the traditional sense, but Travel with the Professor aims to spur interest in new things, provide the same kind of educational value with a committed expert, and bring like minds together.