The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Devin is a Seattle tutor who specializes in all courses related to the social sciences and humanities, particularly Reading tutoring, Writing tutoring, and History tutoring. He graduated from DePaul University in 2012 where he studied History and African & Black Diaspora Studies. See what he had to say about his undergraduate experience:
VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?
Devin: All transportation options are possible in the heart of Chicago. The elevated rail, more commonly known as the ‘el’, is both a national symbol and a piece of living history in the field of public transportation. Its color-coded system of tracks and platforms combine with the CTA bus system to get commuters within several blocks of any city destination. Free transfer options also allow commuters to move seamlessly along the easy-to-understand Chicago grid system, where there are endless opportunities to extend travel time with a leisurely walk; nonetheless, biking is a very popular and affordable travel alternative during the warmer months (and even the colder ones for “true” Chicagoans), especially now, since the current Mayor is engaged in a project to drastically increase the number of protected bike lanes in the city.
DePaul University is the definition of an urban campus. As a result, it benefits from all Chicago transit authority infrastructures. Most students ride a CTA bus or an ‘el’ train to work and some even commute from the suburbs via the larger, more-luxury Metra trains. On campus, designated transport vehicles known as “Public Safety” will escort students to local destinations upon request. All options considered, some students still prefer to have their own vehicle in the city. This is possible, but one should expect to pay for parking, if and when they can find it.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Devin: Adepartmental advisor is usually assigned to each student, and meeting with them is only a matter of scheduling an appointment via email. Undergraduate advisors are not assigned, and one has to be slightly more proactive about finding their contact information and scheduling a visit; however, upon entry, each student is given an undergraduate form that lists the requirements necessary for graduation in both their school and department. Additional copies of this form are also available on each student’s “Campus Connect” portal, a website designated for student services. If a student takes the initial time to interpret this form, and then uses it to track their own progress, then they will never have to meet with an advisor, and they can take control of their own education. This is highly advisable. Most other professors have weekly, designated office hours where you can drop-in unannounced. In the History department, finding a good conversation was only a matter of roaming the halls.
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Devin: I did not stay in the dorms because I had already been living on my own for several years when I enrolled as a freshman. But the dining options are eclectic. There are counters on the dining floor for Asian and Latin cuisine. There are pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, pizza, fried and grilled chicken, rice, pasta, burgers, wraps, fries, potato wedges, soups of the day, and almost every salad fixing imaginable. Brownstones café downstairs has some great breakfast options, like cheap and delicious bagel sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, fruit, granola bars, baked goods, juices, and everything coffee related. Making friends in these open environments is easier the more outgoing you are, and for everyone else, have no fear; there is an endless number of clubs to help you integrate.
VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?
Devin: For my undergraduate career, I obtained a double major in History and African and Black Diaspora Studies. These are both in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences, so that is the only branch of the university that I can talk about with experience. I choose these particular disciplines because I enjoy storytelling, and I wanted to spend my academic career studying not just the stories of our collective human experience, but how the creation and recreation of those stories have been so dependent on different, often unpredictable contexts. I chose to focus on African History because there was so much mystery associated with the field, and the position of the African continent in traditional American histories has often been overlooked, and is still being determined.
The most popular major in the school for Liberal Arts is Psychology. Education, Sociology, Political Science, and English are also fairly popular majors, partly due to the perception that more explicit job opportunities stem from these disciplines (viz. teacher, case worker, lawyer, editor). Also, Philosophy is a popular major because it attracts students who falsely believe it is the only department where critical thinking is encouraged for its own sake. Lastly, some students believe that majoring in a more-general field is advantageous at the undergraduate level; however, DePaul is host to an array of emerging, social departments that are often unrepresented in other schools. Some of these include Gender Studies, Anthropology, Archaeology, LGBTQ Studies, Religious Studies, Asian-American studies, and Latino Studies. I encourage all students to explore some of these courses with their general-education opportunities.
VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?
Devin: Greek organizations do not play a significant role in campus social life. Of course, there are opportunities to join all sorts of fraternities and sororities, but these groups function as service-learning organizations rather than campus party throwers. Greek life is not intended to offer the kind of social atmosphere that it probably would at a bigger state school. It was not difficult to meet friends as a freshman, partly because your first course is a freshman orientation course, and several people you meet there will be your friends for the next four years. It is also a good idea to obtain employment with the university. Making friends with similar schedules is one of the many advantages to an on-campus job.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Devin: The Career Center was not very helpful for me, partly because there were no History majors working there. Career Center employees are trained to look over your resume, so they are very excited to do this right away. They will also recommend a variety of job posting and social media sites (e.g. Monster and LinkedIn), and they will suggest that you attend the quarterly job fairs, but that seems to be about all they can do. Many of them have only had one job before, and this is it. If you are looking to use your degree after graduation, make the rounds in your department, talking to each professor that you can; they will have the more specific advice. Also, decide early if you want to attend graduate school right away, because the application process usually ends in the middle of your senior year, and you may end up waiting a while otherwise.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Devin: The library is wonderful. You can obtain many of your required text materials here if you check early. Also, the Chicago Public Library has tons of branches located only a train or bus ride away; so, if you enjoy the occasional scavenger hunt, you can make it through undergraduate school without ever paying for a textbook. I do not know much about the student union, except that they frequently install eco-friendly inventions on campus, such as toilettes that minimize water consumption, water-bottle fountains to reduce plastic waste, and tire-repair stations for your bike.
VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus?
Devin: Chicago is the third largest city in America. As such, it has everything a major, first-world metropolis should have: cultural museums, natural history museums, fine-art museums, science museums, a Broadway theatre scene, a black-box theatre scene, a guerrilla theatre scenes, world-renown ballet and modern-dance companies, a thriving jazz scene (the largest jazz club in Chicago is right around the corner from DePaul), free music festivals (e.g. Blues Fest and the Free Concert Series in Millennium Park), High-profile music festivals (Lollapalooza, Pitchfork), roof-top gardening, city-wide sports teams with an intense fan base (you have the Cubs, Bears, White Sox, Blackhawks, and Fire (kind of)), thrift shopping, improv, a history of social justice, arcades, a vibrant film scene, public parks, skate parks, bowling, laser tag, an indoor, trampoline dodge-ball stadium (this is technically in the suburbs, but whatever), sports fields, basketball courts (this is the home town of Michael Jordan and Derek Rose, after all), night clubs, bars: Irish bars, Greek bars, Italian bars, and any other kind of bar (literally, too many in a single neighborhood to count), innumerable street fests (most notably, our version of October Fest and the St. Patty’s Day Parade), and food. I cannot stress this enough: there is any kind of food you could want in Chicago, and it is all amazing.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Devin: The DePaul student body is large. Including graduate students, adult students, international students, and students that commute from the suburbs, there are 25,000 attendees; but, rest assured, it will not feel this way. There is a downtown campus (in the “Loop”), a north side campus in Lincoln Park, and several suburban campuses. These locations greatly reduce the volume of students that you will see at any given time. Also, DePaul has very few lecture-style classrooms. Most of the courses in the Liberal Arts school are capped around thirty students, and many of them are even smaller. I took several courses that had only ten people in them, although, this greatly depends on the popularity of both the class and the department.
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Devin: In the first quarter of my freshman year, I took a course on Medieval History in Europe. I was stressing about the mid-term exam because it required me to write my first college essay. I remember sitting at a local coffee shop on the weekend, the course materials spread before me, and outlining my argument on scratch paper. Every paragraph needed to be designed for a distinct purpose, and every sentence needed to be meticulously planned. I had drawn connections between the course documents, and I wanted to put them forth bluntly, without wasting any time, but I also wanted an engaging introduction, so my teacher could not turn away.
In the end, the paper was about the evolution of the papacy in Europe during and after an historical period commonly known as the Dark Ages. I decided to open with the brief but detailed story of a pope who was murdered by Vikings when the period began, and I decided to close by talking about the most powerful pope the institution had ever seen, hundreds of years later. When the essays were graded, the professor read mine aloud in class as a sample of outstanding work. It was anonymous of course—only he and I knew who had written it, but nonetheless, the recognition was enough to instill a passion for writing in me that has burned ever since.
Check out Devin’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.