Academic Stories

Chicago Studies Certificate Connects Work Both In and Out of the Classroom

As a native of Miami’s close-knit Little Havana neighborhood, third-year Christina Cano always valued community. In exploring college options, she felt compelled to explore other parts of the country and to understand issues beyond those of her neighborhood, which led her to UChicago.

While in the College, Cano found ways to connect her classwork in sociology and creative writing to real-world community issues impacting her new home. She gained exposure to police brutality and police shooting cases through work with a local civil rights lawyer and currently works with Dr. Robert Vargas, director of the Violence, Law, and Politics Lab at UChicago. In this role, Cano contributes to a research project focused on the history of crime in Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Despite her meaningful academic and co-curricular experiences, Cano wanted a foundation upon which to organize her coursework, RSOs and career experience. For this, she turned to the Chicago Studies Certificate, a program in its pilot year that allows students to connect their coursework with direct service, reflection and pre-professional modules. The Certificate culminates in a Capstone Project, a high-impact learning practice that draws upon previous coursework and work experience to create a project addressing a social issue, public problem or community development priority.

“As a pre-law student, I wanted to take advantage of my undergraduate experience to really understand and closely study the issues I see myself potentially working with in the future, such as addressing institutionalized racial inequalities and violence in the legal system,” said Cano.

The Capstone Project component of the Chicago Studies Certificate has been especially helpful because it aligns her work as a student with a larger, potentially outward-looking project. This summer, she will continue to work with Dr. Vargas and is interested in using the research—and research skills—she gains from her work as part of her Capstone. While her project is still crystallizing, Cano is considering several possible options, including using data from Dr. Vargas’s lab to organize a community-based project in Woodlawn or Bronzeville.

Looking to the future, Cano expressed a desire to remain in the city. “Chicago has the issues and people with whom I want to work,” she said. The structure provided by the Certificate has helped define a clear vision for her career—one in which she is a lawyer focused on refugees and serving Chicago’s neighborhoods.