In Chicago's schools and neighborhoods, social scientists continue to use the city as their lab to improve lives.

Immersing yourself in your context is a helpful way to do things,” says Elizabeth Hassrick, AM’05, PhD’07 (Sociology), assistant professor at Drexel University’s autism institute. She first learned the value of this approach in 1988, while living in Cameroon as a high school teacher in the Peace Corps.

Hassrick chose to live in the village among the families she taught rather than in a separate expatriate neighborhood. “It didn’t seem to me like I would be as useful to my students if I wasn’t in their community.” It wasn’t an easy route, however. “People refused to sell to me in the market, yelled at me, told me to go home.” Eventually, the situation improved. “Over time I was able to become part of my community,” which, Hassrick says, made her a better teacher. 

This decision, to live and work in the same community, helped inspire Hassrick to attend the University of Chicago to study sociology. Along with Stephen Raudenbush and Lisa Rosen, she is the author of The Ambitious Elementary School: Its Conception, Design, and Implications for Educational Equality (University of Chicago Press, 2017), the latest result of the UChicago social scientists’ ongoing investment in youth in Chicago neighborhoods.

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