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Today is:
A Spotlight On The Philadelphia Center
By Clayton Ruley

Editor's Note: was asked to participate in a classroom discussion and I liked the atmosphere so much I asked them for an interview about the organization. Here are the telling results! (GC): Tell us about The Philadelphia Center: its purpose, a brief history, its programs and what you do?

The Philadelphia Center (PC): The Philadelphia CenterThe Philadelphia Center is an experiential education program founded in 1967 by the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) and managed by Hope
College. Since its inception, the we have provided an opportunity for some 6000 undergraduates in all liberal arts disciplines to earn academic credit for participating in seminars taught by The Center's faculty and for working in field placements chosen from a current listing of over 800 placements. Student from all majors and backgrounds are welcomed. A typical semester boasts students working for The Kimmel Center,
Banyan Productions, The Philadelphia City Paper, Janney Montgomery Scott, Blue Bell Private Wealth Management, Children's Crisis Treatment  Center, Project H.O.M.E., and Comcast-Spectacor.

We are a full-service, experience-based program, managed by Hope College and founded and recognized by the Great Lakes Colleges Association, Inc. (GLCA). Our students learn by doing. We are committed to
undergraduate education and its connections to field and disciplinary exploration and development; community involvement and responsibility; experiential
learning and critical reflection; graduate school possibilities; career and employment options; and collaborative efforts in programmatic and curricular work. We provide a structured educational environment for undergraduate students in the context of an urban setting. Our multidisciplinary approach integrates professional work, academic seminars, and independent living experiences in urban communities and offers opportunities in most fields and disciplines of study. We are dedicated to helping undergraduates find their personal and professional direction in life.

Each semester The Philadelphia Center attracts 50-100 students from the GLCA member colleges (Albion, Antioch, Denison, DePauw, Earlham, Hope, Kalamazoo, Kenyon, Oberlin, Ohio Wesleyan, Wabash and Wooster) as well as from a number of colleges not in GLCA (Alma, Bucknell, Davidson, Hartwick, Juniata, Lebanon Valley, Lehigh, Susquehanna, Whitman, and others). Each of these institutions has approved The  Philadelphia Center as an off-campus study option for their students, and allows the transfer of a full semester's credit for The Philadelphia Center experience.

Basically, it's easiest to think of our program in terms of the three primary components: the 32-hour/week academic internship, the two unique and discussion-based seminars each student attends, and of course, independent city living. At every stage we seek to put the students in charge and at the center of their learning, their semester, and their experiences. We try to prepare them for life after college, as informed citizen-participants. In the course of our program, students will find an apartment with their peers (during the first week of orientation), research potential internships, interview at least three different internship sites, work 32-hours per week, investigate the city with their City Seminar classmates and faculty, analyze a variety of learning goals and objectives, and basically learn to juggle a full, adult life outside of the protective "bubble" that their home campuses typically provide. We like to think of ourselves as a "safety net" for our students. We're
not here to direct them, their learning, or their experiences; we are, however, here to offer support, provide guidance, and encourage them in all they seek to do.

GC: How does your work and the work of your
organization look to help the community and the
students it works with?

PC: Our work has a long-lasting and powerful effect on our students. Many cite their time with us as the most valuable semester of their undergraduate careers. In fact, nearly 20% of our graduates return to live in
Philly for at least six months, if not more. To fulfill the educational needs of our students we partner with businesses and organizations (a large percentage of which are non-profit and community based) all over
the city. Since psychology, sociology, and social work are a few of our most popular areas of study we typically have dozens of students working in social services organizations throughout the city. Placement
supervisors have the opportunity to not only take advantage of nearly full-time "free labor" but also to have a rewarding mentoring experiences and have the chance to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with our students. Often our students are offered summer or full-time enrollment upon the completion of their internship and college careers.

Many of our students originally come from small, rural communities. Often their months in Philadelphia mark not only the first significant time away from home but also their first extended experience in a major East Coast City. We collaborate with organizations throughout the city to help our student look at their experiences critically and reflectively to assure they have an opportunity to process their time in Philadelphia through a variety of lenses. Additionally, our students are
encouraged to volunteer and give generously of their time.

GC: Why this profession and the subject matter you
discuss in your classes?

PC: Each faculty member considers themselves to be specialists in a particular area or discipline (social work, education and writing, folklore studies, and urban geography); however, given the nature of the program,
each serves as mentor and advisor to students whose interests may range from financial planning to neuropsychology to social justice to special
education to theater. As a result, our faculty works carefully to incorporate many different academic theories, disciplines, and approaches into their classes.  This multi-disciplinary approach allows them to teach
coursework related to their specific area of expertise while at the same time allowing students with diverse interests and career paths to tie their experiences to an area of study.

GC: How do the students respond to the setting and
purpose of your classes?

PC: Each of our seminars utilizes the city as a classroom. We recognize the wealth of resources available to learn experientially and seek to realize education in meaningful ways. That might mean that in addition to reading about and discussing issues in the classroom, we meet with Philadelphians who identify with, live and are otherwise invested in the issues we're exploring, as consumers and/or advocates. Often, we hold class in settings that enable the students to see firsthand how the issues LIVE in prisons, churches, shelters, museums, and on the streets.

We encourage students to examine themselves and positions as well as their relationships with society in real and significant ways.

Because our students are self-selected and seeking enriching ways to expand their horizons, they are open to and excited by these opportunities to learn in untraditional ways. Many state they find learning here
relevant as they make important connections experientially. The classes are only ONE way our students learn. It's important to view learning
in the context of our larger program -- work, classes and independent city living. Perhaps a more meaningful explanation would center on the "Learning Plan", a living, evolving map that the student develops, in consultation with their faculty and on-site field supervisor, that identifies, describes, structures and demonstrates learning. Students articulate their own objectives, decide how and what they will learn in relation to knowledge, skills, and values. They explore activities that will provide them access to learning, specify how they will demonstrate what they learn and decide who will assess that process.

GC: What are some of the most positive/negative
experiences/moments in your career?

PC: We guide and help students to clarify their positions, challenge assumptions and develop a more comprehensive view as they explore options for
change/action and find meaningful ways to apply new awareness and knowledge. Working with young people on the verge of discovering their place in this world can be joyful and fulfilling.

The negative aspects of working in a semester-long program relate to the fact that we say goodbye to our students after 16 weeks of building intense, meaningful relationships.

GC: How do people find out about your organization
usually and how can people apply/get more info for
your program?

PC: Because we were originally founded by a collection of 12 midwestern liberal arts colleges, many of our students still call these campuses their home colleges. However, we have been working to expand and welcome students from all American colleges and universities. We travel to approximately 20-30 colleges each semester to promote our program on their
campuses. Ultimately, word of mouth is our strongest marketing tool -- we've learned that a majority of our students ultimately decide to attend our program because of the overwhelmingly positive experiences a friend or group of friends may have had. Students can request an admissions packet from us, email us at, visittheir campus representative, or download our application from our website at

GC: . Do you have any restrictions for your program? And if so why?

PC: We try to impose as few restrictions to our program as possible. That said, however, our tuition ($10,400/semester) is based on that of our
managing college and many students attending state universities are unable to afford our tuition.Unfortunately, we are unable to offer scholarships.

GC: What do you think of change (think of's slogan Uploading Change)?

PC: Obviously, we think change is a great thing! We're all about helping students challenge themselves and push themselves outside of their
comfort zones. As we said, most of our students hail from fairly small communities and attend very small colleges - a semester in Philly encourages
them to experience new things, meet new people, and to take their  education out for a spin in the real world. Affecting change is something
that we hope we do well and are always happy when others advocate       kl;l;similarly!

GC: Is this a small staffed organization (how big or
small) and how do you think that affects your purpose
and the students?

PC: We are a fairly small organization. We have four full-time faculty members, four to five staff members, and an Executive Director. As a result, we're a pretty tight-knit bunch and work closely with one another to
make sure our students have the best semester they can possibly have. I think students find our informal and laid-back atmosphere comforting and "home-like".


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