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Monday, May 11, 2020

In an effort to make its English courses more accessible to working professionals and community members not seeking college credit, Northeastern Illinois University has created the NEIU English Institute.

“The idea was simply to open our already existing courses to community members who want college-level courses but don't need college credit and find the cost of tuition prohibitive,” College of Arts and Sciences Acting Associate Dean Tim Libretti said. “This initiative allows folks in our community who want to continue learning to take our courses on a non-credit basis and pay a greatly reduced cost.”

This summer, six courses will be made available to both Northeastern students seeking to earn college credits and non-Northeastern students through the University’s Community and Professional Education (CAPE) program. This pilot program will take place remotely through online learning. Currently enrolled Northeastern students will have priority registration and any available open seats will then be open through CAPE.

“The key at this moment is to adapt,” CAPE Director Christie Miller said. “I know we can do this and offer valuable non-credit options for the community through the Office of Community and Professional Education and the English Institute.”

Libretti and Miller were both part of Northeastern President Gloria J. Gibson’s transition team and were tasked to explore “alternative teaching opportunities.” Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences have been advocating for implementing a program like the English Institute for some time, Libretti and Miller said, because instructors have noted that having mature continuing learners can foster more productive and vibrant experiences for students and for the continuing learners. Libretti really credits English Department Acting Chair Tim Scherman for working so hard and pushing the program forward.

Though some of the classes are scheduled to meet on particular days and times, others will be asynchronous, allowing greater flexibility for those who are now working remotely and those balancing work as well as home schooling situations. Scherman says the aim of these courses is to create more accessibility to quality education.

“Many mass-marketed online classes offered by other universities have very little and often no interaction with a professor,” Scherman said. “You’re in a class with 2,000 other people and you can get put off pretty quickly. The English Institute isn't just about information delivery. This is about true interaction, more like a seminar situation, which is completely different than many other online learning courses.”

Northeastern instructors Christine Simokaitis, Larry O. Dean, Liz Rodriguez, Bradley Greenburg and Roberto Elias Cepeda are teaching the summer offerings for the program. Rodriguez, who’s teaching Shakespeare and Law, is a Shakespearean scholar who has also taught at Northwestern University. Cepeda, who’s teaching Critical Journalism, has been a professional journalist for 15 years and is currently a columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Greenburg, whose feature-length screenplay, “Our Hearts Go Out,” was a semifinalist in the 2017 Screenplay Festival Competition and a top finalist in the 2018 Academy Nicholl Fellowships Competition, is teaching Screenwriting: The Short Script. Dean, a published author, is teaching Rust Belt Literature and co-teaching the Summer Creative Writing Institute with fellow writer Simokaitis, who is also teaching Craft of the Short Story.

“The Summer Creative Writing Institute usually has eight different guest writers from the Chicago literary community who visit during the afternoons,” Simokaitis said. “This portion of the class will be held live via Zoom. In previous years, we’d meet in person for this program for six hours a day. Given the current circumstances, we don’t expect students to be online for six hours a day for this course.”

Simokaitis noted that she is hoping that, by recording sessions for students who may not be able to be online at a scheduled time and utilizing Northeastern’s D2L system for online assignments, students will have a little bit of flexibility to participate in these courses. However, the rigor of the workshop that people have come to expect won’t be scaled back.

“The very intensive nature of the course means that there is a quick turnaround for writing and workshop,” Simokaitis said. “Students will be handing in a few pages for workshop critique probably two times, depending on the number of students, over the course of the two weeks, and portfolios are typically due a week after we end.”

Libretti believes the NEIU English Institute will help fulfill the University’s mission to serve the educational needs of various communities in the Chicago area and, with these courses being offered online this term, expands that reach even further.

“The English Institute simply makes the education we provide accessible to more people,” Libretti said. “We were charged with thinking about new ways to deliver education and attract new audiences to grow enrollment and revenue. We thought the best way to do that was just to do our jobs and fulfill our mission of serving the people in our region as best we can by making education more widely available.”

Dates, times and learning formats vary from course to course, as does the registration deadline. However, registration for all NEIU English Institute and other CAPE offerings is now live.