North Central News

Shimer Great Books School invites first cohort of Freedom Scholars to campus 

Hannah Brauer

Apr 14, 2023

Thanks to a new $300,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation, Shimer Great Books School will move forward with launching the Civic Humanities Project (CHP) this summer. As a Teagle Foundation Knowledge for Freedom program, the CHP will bring 18 rising high school seniors—known as Freedom Scholars—to the North Central College campus in June. Some of the students will be the first in their families to attend college, and others will come from low-income families or historically marginalized backgrounds or both—and some will fit all three descriptions.

The purpose of the CHP is to provide students with an early opportunity to experience undergraduate-level education and what life is like on a college campus. Shimer faculty hope that Freedom Scholars will also learn more about themselves and the world they live in. 

In 2021, North Central College received a $25,000 planning grant from the Teagle Foundation. The generous funding from the two grants have paved the way for the CHP, which has summer, fall and spring sessions. For the Freedom Scholars, there is no cost. They will receive two credit hours for completion of the program and a $1,000 stipend, as well as free books, learning materials and educational experiences around the Chicagoland area. During the summer session, they will also receive free residence and meals on campus. 

The Freedom Scholars will be among the first groups to visit the new campus home of Shimer Great Books School, located in a historic house at 5 S. Loomis St (see picture below). “We wanted to create a setting where people felt at home,” said Dr. Stuart Patterson, chair of Shimer Great Books School and director of the CHP. 

Inspiration for the CHP is taken from Junior/Senior Scholars, a highly successful program previously held at North Central, directed by Dr. Janis Fitzsimmons. Dr. Fitzsimmons is the president and CEO of the Center for Success in High Need Schools and co-director of CHP.

Like Junior/Senior Scholars, the CHP will help students prepare for college. Freedom Scholars will have opportunities to receive guidance from undergraduate student mentors about “invisible curriculum” topics, such as: how to establish relationships with professors, understand the parts of a course syllabus, work with offices on campus and manage time. The scholars will also have the chance for mentoring on college application essays and filling out a FAFSA form.

In the summer residential seminars, Freedom Scholars will explore texts from both classic authors and contemporary voices that challenge ideas in traditional literature. According to Patterson, the texts are “designed to have [the students and faculty] talking throughout about what … our ideas of good government and our ideas of human nature have to do with each other.” 

As part of the project, the scholars will have the chance to apply what they’ve learned to plan and carry out civic engagement projects in their home communities.

CHP faculty have planned engaging activities to keep the three-week campus stay fun for the students. For example, in “Morning Muster,” as a warm-up to discussing texts, the scholars will spend the first hour of each day engaged in theater games and replaying historical situations to understand how they appeared to those involved.  

The activities will allow the students to become familiar with one another and encourage them to try out ideas in a low-stakes environment. As Patterson said, “The deepest object of an education is to teach people how to remake their own world.” 

Through the CHP, the students will become more comfortable with themselves as scholars.    

North Central is one of 27 higher education institutions with Knowledge for Freedom programs. Freedom Scholars will join a network of students from local institutions like Loyola Chicago as well as schools across the country from Yale University to George Fox University in Portland, Ore.

For more information, visit the Civic Humanities Project website.