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Becoming Streetwise: Students in Elon in New York City program pound their own piece of pavement

The 18 students in Elon University's revamped Elon in New York City program are being tossed to the streets for nine weeks this summer. Their four-credit-hour course, called "The Streets of New York City," will force them to study the Big Apple from the ground level so that they may develop a deeper and richer understanding of the city in which they'll live and intern until Aug. 7.

Before landing in New York, students had to choose a street, neighborhood or region of the city that they would want to study for the duration of their summers. They’ll research the history of the area, talk to people who live or work there and generally observe the action and surroundings. At the end of the program, they’ll produce an ethnographic study that will detail their specific corner of Manhattan.

“By doing this, I’m really immersing myself in the history of New York City,” said senior Broadcast Journalism major Jacquelyn DiNick, who’s interning at CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

DiNick chose 57th Street because it calls home to several media organizations and counts the Hearst Tower as one of its more historic buildings.

“I’m getting a sense of the big picture,” DiNick said, “what the city is all about and what the energy is all about.”

DiNick and her 17 classmates will chronicle their New York experiences and their research on both the class blog and their individual blogs, which they’re required to update once or twice a week.

Ben Donnelly, a senior Broadcast & New Media major, chose the Chelsea Neighborhood, in part because he’s a studio operations intern at the Food Network, which films from its studios in the Chelsea Market.

“There are a lot of TV studios there. It also has a bunch of restaurants,” Donnelly said. “Those are the two biggest things I like to do: eat and work in TV.”

What makes this course slightly different from those offered on campus is that it’s being taught by three different faculty members from three different departments.

“The idea was, instead of having one teacher control the whole summer, why not tap into the strengths of all the different programs on campus,” said Bill Webb, an assistant professor of performing arts and the technical director for the department.

Students Ben Donnelly (foreground) and Kristen Wrenn (background) sailed under the Brooklyn Bridge while on a boat tour around Manhattan.

Lynne Bisko, a nonprint librarian, will focus on the history of the city during the first and last two weeks of the program. They’ll study the beginnings of the city and immigration during her first 14 days, which will culminate with a trip to Ellis Island. Then, students will learn about the impact of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the future of the city during the final 14 days.

“I want them to gain an understanding of the city and the history of the culture, and the effect that the city has had on the people and that the people have had on the city,” Bisko said.

Dan Haygood, an assistant professor in the School of Communications, will focus his two weeks on Madison Avenue. He said he plans to take students to advertising and public relations agencies and engage them in a branding exercise to give them a view of the “visionist culture of New York City,” he said.

“I hope they’ll feel some sort of mastery of the city, that they’re confident enough that they could go live and work there after they graduate,” Haygood added.

J. McMerty, the coordinator of video projects in the School of Communications, will lead the course for one week early in July, during which time he’ll discuss the visual opportunities for the students’ ethnographic works. Webb will follow McMerty, and he’ll center his two weeks on Broadway to provide the students, he said, with an idea of what it’s like “to live, breathe and work in New York as a theater professional.”

Webb will take students to showings of “Wicked” and “Memphis,” where they’ll meet backstage with personnel, actors and designers.

Students in the program will earn four credit hours for taking the course and two more for their internships. The class meets weekly on Mondays, and students complete their internships Tuesday through Friday. The Monday meetings allow students and instructors to complete tours, secure guest lecturers and interact with each other about their internship experiences.

As importantly, though, it also enables the students to study the city, its people, its history and its economic and cultural impact both nationally and globally. During the final class meeting in August, the students will pile onto a bus and drive to the streets, neighborhoods or regions that they studied. The students themselves will present their findings to their classmates.

“One of the main goals (of the course) is to develop a richer understanding of this amazing city through a detailed analysis and discovery of one region of the city,” Webb said. “They’re going to gain vast knowledge of city, as a whole.”

Students in the Elon in New York program take a break from their bus tour to pose for a picture in Central Park.
Colin Donohue,
6/9/2010 1:54 PM