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NPEP is an interdisciplinary program of study. Courses offered in NPEP are credit-bearing and are taught with content and expectations equivalent to those at Northwestern.

2019-2020 Courses

Fall Quarter: Chemistry of Nature & Culture, by Dr. Andrea d'Aquino, Dr. Steven Swick, & Dr. Shelby Hatch

This course will explore the aspects of chemistry that intersect with everyday life. The basic concepts of chemistry and science are introduced as information necessary for understanding how chemical compounds impact our world. We will explore the chemistry of compounds such as sugar, salt, fats, oils and proteins, as well as chemicals designed for food production, cosmetics, fabrics, medical therapy, energy sources, etc. Special emphasis will be placed on food, fitness/health, and drugs, and how their chemistries impact our lives. How can we make informed decisions about these chemicals?

Fall Quarter: Chemistry Lab, by Dr. Andrea d'Aquino, Dr. Steven Swick, & Dr. Shelby Hatch

Students will learn chemistry laboratory techniques and apply those techniques to identifying chemical compounds, acid-base chemistry problems, and basic chemical reactions. The laboratory section will introduce students to the chemical analysis of samples using basic laboratory techniques and instrumentation.

Fall Quarter: Writing the Dramatic Television Pilot, by Professor Brett Neveu

Students in this intensive workshop will learn to write and analyze the dramatic television pilot with emphasis on dramatic pilot structure, character creation and organization, seeking mastery the creation of the modern dramatic pilot.

Lectures, reading assignments, discussion and in-class workshop of student assignments. Above all else, the environment will be a supportive one and students will be encouraged to participate in a community marked by an atmosphere of collaboration.

Writing assignments are arranged to mirror a writer’s creative process starting with ideas and culminating in the successful completion of an original pilot idea, pilot premise/synopsis, story map for the pilot and the first 10-15 pages of an original dramatic pilot for television.

Fall Quarter: Quantitative Reasoning, by Professor Ezra Getzler

Voting is how a group of individuals chooses among several options. For example, choosing who will represent them, or deciding among several proposals.

An example of the first: choose two student representatives of the class. An example of the second: should the class snack be pizza, ice-cream or hot-dogs.

In this course, we will study the mathematics underlying some of the different voting systems that have been developed. The voting systems used around the world are often quite different from the one we are used to in the USA, and we will analyze their properties, using simple mathematical ideas that we will learn, and practice, as we go.

The Constitution of the USA lays out, in Section 2 of Article 1, the rules governing the election of the House of Representatives, the first arm of government enumerated in the Constitution. The mathematics underlying the election of the House of Representatives is astonishingly complex, and we will study some of the mathematics underlying apportionment, gerrymandering, and ranked-choice voting.

As a group project, we will design an electoral system for an elected School Board for the City of Chicago (The School Board is currently appointed by the Mayor).

No background in mathematics is assumed: we will review such topics as mean, square-root, geometric mean, and binomial distribution.

The class will meet weekly for 2 h 30 min during the normal Northwestern fall quarter schedule. Sessions will be presented in lecture and discussion format. Assessment will be by weekly homework, in-class quizzes, contribution to class discussion, and the group project.

At the end of this course, students will have had the opportunity to practice mathematical calculations in the real-life subject of voting, and have gained an appreciation of how useful mathematics can be when applied in the social sciences.

Fall Quarter: Quantitative Reasoning, by Dr. Florian Richter

This is a course in quantitative reasoning and mathematical literacy taught as part of the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP). It is designed to help students develop the mathematical skills needed to analyze topical, real-life problems from a quantitative perspective.

The course reinforces qualitative aspects of reasoning, such as the responsible treatment of assumptions, biases, errors, and ethics. On the quantitative side, we review and develop the needed mathematical skills, which (depending on time) includes algebra, functions, graphs, units, scientific notation, logic, graph theory, probability and some statistics. The real focus, however, is the coherent assembly of all of these skills. This is learned through the extensive, worked examples in the text, in class discussions, and potentially through group projects.

The purpose of the course is to provide a wider perspective of applied mathematics, how it works, and why and how it is utilized in the real world. This is imperative to the student no matter the field of study and completes the mathematics requirement for several degree programs. The class will meet weekly for 2 h 30 min during the normal Northwestern fall quarter schedule. Sessions will be presented in lecture and discussion format.

Upon successful completion of this course the students should be able to:
(1) Solve a variety of mathematical problems using techniques presented in the course.
(2) Demonstrate the ability to use mathematical methods in making everyday decisions
(3) Demonstrate an ability to use mathematics to interpret and analyze data and use critical thinking skills appropriate to a college level mathematics class.

Fall Quarter: Violence Reduction & Transformational Change in Justice Systems, by Professor Sheila Bedi

This seminar-style course meets at the Stateville Prison. Students will include both law students and people who live at Stateville who will enroll in this course for college credit. Students will learn about the legal, statutory and regulatory framework that shapes governmental efforts to prevent and address crime and violence. This course will also require students to work in teams (comprised of two Stateville students and two law students) to work on two separate projects: 1) a rewriting of a landmark court decision relating to some aspect of the justice system—and the rewriting should be focused on ensuring an outcome that is just, fair and contributes to a reduction in violence; and 2) a policy platform package. Groups will draft legislation, regulations and/or ballot initiatives, and also produce op-eds/advocacy materials supporting their platform. The class will culminate in mock legislative hearings during which students will present their solutions to a panel of guests. 

Students will carefully examine governmental efforts to address crime and violence. Through readings, lectures and class discussion we will examine our system of crime and punishment. We’ll evaluate the outcomes of various approaches—and identify the assumptions about the perpetuators and victims of violence that animate various approaches to crime and punishment. 

Winter Quarter: Genetics and Evolution, by Dr. Anne d'Aquino

This course is designed to help students build a foundational understanding of genetics and evolution. The intent is to produce an awareness of science and biotechnology in the modern world, to critically evaluate the presentation of science in the mainstream media, and to understand the mechanisms of evolution. Topics include means of inheritance, DNA replication and repair, and the genetic basis of disease. These topics will then be used to better understand both Darwinian evolution and genetic engineering. Ultimately, this course will provide a platform to aid students in understanding, and developing informed opinions about, some of today’s most advertised controversies. Additional topics that will be introduced and discussed include: the scientific method, cell biology, genetics, inheritance, diversity of life, organism structure and function, and ecosystems. 

Winter Quarter: Introduction to Mathematics, by Dr. Julian Gold

We will start from first principles, i.e. the natural numbers, building up the vocabulary and grammar of mathematics in a logical way. At each stage in this construction, we will link up with applications of the material to other subjects, including biology, chemistry, physics and statistics. The initial focus of the course will be on developing a facility with algebra, manipulation of formulas and evaluation. We emphasize the perspective that algebra is about quantitative relationships. To better understand these relationships we will visualize them using graphs, and the idea of a function will emerge naturally from this discussion.

We will gradually build up a catalog of important examples, many of which will be rooted in other subjects. Each new example will be compared with those previously introduced in terms of mathematical behavior and meaning. As a way to organize this knowledge, and as an essential problem solving technique, we emphasize the strategy of reducing a given problem to one we have already solved. In particular, this strategy will allow us to transfer meaning from one example to another. By the end of the course, the focus will have shifted from manipulation to interpretation. Throughout the class, students will develop their critical and abstract thinking skills. Upon completion,

  • Students will feel comfortable evaluating and manipulating formulas to answer specific questions about quantitative relationships.
  • Students will be able to interpret formulas and functions as expressions of quantitative relationships. Students will boost their understanding of this relationship by visualizing it with a graph. 
  • Students will start to see math as a universal language. 

Winter Quarter: Introduction to Philosophy, by Professor Sandy Goldberg

In this course we will explore several of the themes of philosophy, with classical and contemporary sources.  What is goodness?  How should we live?  Does God exist, and how can we know?  What is racism, and how does it relate to the challenges facing the African-American community?  How does the fact that one is a man (or a woman) affect the sort of life one can hope to live? 

Winter Quarter: West-Bound. The Fantastic Worlds of Xiyou Ji, Journey to the West, by Professor Paola Zamperini

This course will be devoted to reading the English translation of the seventeenth-century Chinese novel Xiyouji 西遊記, Journey to the West. As we read through this text, we will journey through foreign lands, heavenly realms, and actual countries along with its protagonists, and meet magical creatures, demons, Buddhas, wizards, and emperors.

Together we will address issues such as magic and religion; politics and philosophy; material culture; class and discrimination; Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism; femininity, masculinity and their discontents in early modern China. We will also try to understand the place of the novel in the context of traditional Chinese literature. We will conclude the course by exploring the legacy of this Ming dynasty novel in Chinese, East Asian, and global popular cultures, from video games and manga to Hollywood movies and British TV series.

Winter Quarter: Topics in Criminal Justice Writing, by Dr. Alex Kotlowitz

This course will explore journalistic writing about the criminal justice system, from the police to the courts to the prisons. We’re at a moment in time where there’s acknowledgement that justice in this country is imperfect, that we’ve fallen short in our thinking about crime and punishment. Yet, because of race and class and geography, there’s much disagreement on how the justice system has failed – and how it might be righted. The question I often ask myself as a writer is: How do I reach people who don’t necessarily think like me? How can I upend what people think they already know? We’ll explore three kinds of writing in this class: narrative writing, argumentative writing and personal essays. We’ll read some of the best work out there – and we’ll also read work which in one manner or another is flawed. How does one write to reach out beyond your own silo? What kind of reporting is necessary? How best to choose what to write about? How does one write in a manner that acknowledges those who might disagree with you – or those who might see things differently? We’ll ask these questions as we discuss the extensive readings for this class – and we’ll ask these questions with the various writing assignments.

Winter Quarter: Statistical Methods in Psychology, by Dr. David Smith

This course is designed to familiarize students with the basic concepts and techniques of descriptive and inferential statistics.  An emphasis is placed on understanding and interpreting data as well as on techniques of statistical analysis.  A secondary goal of this course is to provide a framework from which to think critically about statistical evidence presented in the media and research reports from journals in psychology.  After completing this class, students will be able to summarize datasets using a variety of descriptive statistics, test for relationships between variables, and make group comparisons using inferential statistics.  Students will also be able to understand scientific notation that you may encounter when about statistics in the popular press.

Winter Quarter: Legal Reasoning & Communication, by Professor Sheila Bedi

In this course, students will learn the basics of effective legal writing, reasoning and advocacy. Students will analyze complaints, motions, pleadings and reports from real cases and advocacy campaigns for compliance with the basic principles of strong legal writing and effective advocacy. Students will also receive individual coaching and feedback from their instructors with the goal of helping each student develop his own distinctive, persuasive legal writing voice and style.

2018-2019 Courses

Fall Quarter: Violence Reduction & Transformational Change in Justice Systems, by Professor Sheila Bedi

Course Details

This will be a seminar-style course where students will spend the first half of the course learning about the statutory and regulatory framework that shapes governmental efforts to prevent and address crime and violence. During the second half of the course, students will work in teams of four (comprised of two law students and two Stateville students) on their own policy platform package. They will draft legislation, regulations and/or ballot initiatives, produce white papers identifying the problem their proposal aims to address and also produce op-eds/advocacy materials supporting their platform. The class will culminate in mock legislative hearings during which students will present their solutions to a panel of local and state elected officials.

During the first half of the quarter, students will together learn the mechanics of statutory interpretation and rule-making and explore the policy implications of various statutory/regulatory initiatives. Students will also carefully examine governmental efforts to address crime and violence. Through readings, lectures and class discussion we will examine the statutes, ordinances and regulations that create our system of crime and punishment. We’ll analyze the authority state, federal and local governments have relied upon to create and fund crime prevention programs. And we’ll evaluate the outcomes of various approaches—including identifying what are the assumptions that animate the various legislative/regulatory schemes about the perpetuators and victims of crime.

Expected topics to be addressed during this part of the quarter include:

Government Created and Funded Crime Prevention Efforts

  • Federal Violence Against Women Act
  • Illinois Hate Crimes Act
  • US Department of Justice Byrne Grant Program
  • Volunteers in Police Service Program (funded by the US Department of Justice)
  • Neighborhood Watch (funded by the US Department of Justice)
  • Community Development Block Grant Program (funded by US Department of Housing and Urban Development)
  • White papers on various crime suppression programs

Defining Crime and Punishment

  • Illinois Criminal Code (focus on quality of life offenses and violent offenses)
  • Federal Criminal Code (same focus)
  • Federal Sentencing Guidelines
  • Local ordinances that have decriminalized marijuana possession as well as empirical data around the consequences of decriminalization
  • Ballot initiatives around sentencing and decriminalization
  • Statutes that resulted in de-incarceration
  • Campaign plans related to de-incarceration efforts

Arrest & Pre-trial proceedings

  • Various Police oversight ordinances/models
  • Illinois Jail Regulations
  • Atlanta Cash Bond Ordinance
  • Seattle Pre-arrest Diversion Program Ordinance and Regulations, and one-pager
  • Excerpts from Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure related pretrial proceedings

Punishment and Rehabilitation 

  • Prison Litigation Reform Act
  • Illinois Statutes regarding Parole and Mandatory Supervised Release
  • Statues and Regulations related to alternatives to imprisonment
  • Statutes and regulations related to re-entry and incentives to hire the formerly incarcerated.

During the second half of the semester, students will begin working in teams to develop their proposed policy platform. The first half of every class will focus on a skill, and during the second half of each class period, students will have time to work on their projects with their team. The skills to be developed during this half of the semester include: legislative drafting, persuasive writing, drafting legislative testimony, and policy advocacy campaign planning. Student teams will present their proposed policy platform to the entire class for feedback. Each student team will be responsible for producing:

  1. Draft legislation, regulations, interpretive guidance and/or a ballot initiative
  2. A 5-10 page white paper in support of the policy platform
  3. A policy advocacy campaign plan that will include a plan to influence stakeholders to adopt the platform and at least two forms of persuasive writing (i.e. op/ed or a one-pager)

During the final class session, the teams will present their platform to various elected officials during a mock legislative hearing. Evaluation will be based equally on class participation, the legislative hearing “presentation” and the three deliverables described above.

Fall Quarter: The Sociology of Chicago, by Professor Mary Pattillo

Course Details

Chicago is not the largest city in the US by either population or land area, but it is the most studied city in American Sociology. What makes Chicago so interesting to sociologists? What do we learn by studying Chicago, and by studying it sociologically? Is Chicago really a good model for understanding other cities?  Chicago has been the laboratory for successive generations of sociologists dating to the turn of the 20th Century.  This course will introduce students to both classic and contemporary research on Chicago across a range of sociological methods – from ethnography to demography.  It will cover some of the major topics of interest, including: immigration, neighborhoods, racial and ethnic solidarity and conflict, crime, urban politics, education, and let’s not forget the music, literature, and art of Chicago. The two core principles of the sociological imagination are to “make the familiar strange” and to recognize the relationship between individual biography and the historical and social context.  With this background, it becomes clear that going beyond our everyday assumptions and routine experiences about Chicago to instead learn about its history, neighborhoods, politics, social organization, and economic structure is the key to understanding its residents and their lives. 

Winter Quarter: Border Literature, by Professor John Alba Cutler

Course Details

The US-Mexico border has been the site of intense cultural conflict since the mid-nineteenth century. It marks both the connection and the division between two nations, and many of our most fraught conversations concern whether the border should be a bridge or a wall. As an entry point into these conversations, this course will survey literature and film centering on the US-Mexico border. Students will become familiar with the history of the border, beginning with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 and extending through NAFTA and up to the current political climate. Together we will consider how the border has become such a potent site for contemporary myth-making, a flashpoint for anxieties about race, labor, gender, and sexuality. 

Spring Quarter: Decision Making, by Professor H. David Smith

Course Details

Much of the focus of judgment and decision-making research has been on characteristic errors that are made in various contexts; gaps between what are known as descriptive and normative models.  These errors are reliably produced by psychological processes.  Our goal will be to gain an understanding of these processes and consider what they may reveal about judgment, decision making and human cognition in general.  Armed with a solid understanding of this material, students will learn how to avoid some characteristic pitfalls and make better choices and judgments in the future.

Spring Quarter: Introduction to Philosophy, by Professor Jennifer Lackey

In this course, students explore a broad range of philosophical questions, both traditional and contemporary. Students will pay particular attention to how these issues relate to our moral, social, and political values. Questions to be discussed include: What is the connection between belief in God and reason? Are there moral absolutes, or is morality relative? What should our view be on abortion, the death penalty, torture, and the status of nonhuman animals? The abilities to think, read, and write critically and to develop and defend arguments will be emphasized.

Spring Quarter: Writing the Short Play, by Professor Rebecca Gilman

In this class, students will learn the art and craft of playwriting.  Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to develop their own unique artistic voices in a collaborative, constructive, and supportive atmosphere.  We will begin by reading and analyzing both classic and contemporary plays as a means of learning how to write for the stage.  Students will then be assigned several short writing exercises designed to help them learn about dramatic structure, how to write dialogue and stage directions, and how to construct characters.  Each student will be expected to complete a 10-minute play as their final project.  We will workshop each play so that students may hear their work read aloud and learn how best to give and receive feedback on their writing. 

Summer Quarter: American Government and Politics, by Jacob Rothschild & Andrew Thompson

This course introduces students to the study of American government and politics. In other words, in this class we will study American government and politics not as partisan pundits, interested activists, or fans of political spectacle, but as political scientists. We will engage with some of the following questions: What are the patterns that structure politics at the institutional level and among citizens? Do these patterns change over time? Can they help to explain the current political moment? We will develop a set of analytical tools that allow us to discern the underlying structure and logic in the founding and the Constitution, branches of government, the actions and interactions of citizens and political institutions, and movements of political change.

Additional Educational Programs

Reading Groups and Book Club

NPEP offers book clubs and reading groups throughout the year when classes are both in and out of session.

Previous and upcoming reading groups are listed below.

  • February 5, 2019: Taylor Rogers, Epistemic Injustice Reading Group
  • February 20, 2019: One Book Event, The Handmaid’s Tail
  • March 5, 2019: Taylor Rogers, Epistemic Injustice Reading Group
  • April 2, 2019: Taylor Rogers, Epistemic Injustice Reading Group

Previous and upcoming book clubs are listed below.

  • March 19, 2019: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates; Book Club organized and guided by Arielle Tolman
    Books were purchased using funds that were generously donated by Julissa Ortiz Muniz, Comunidad Latinx (CLX), Ruth Martin, and the Center for Civic Engagement.
  • June 11, 2019: An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz; Book Club organized and guided by Arielle Tolman
    Reading group followed by a discussion and book signing with Dr. Alex Kotlowitz.
  • August 5, 2019: Jim Crow Wisdom Memory & Identity in Black America since 1940 by Jonathan Holloway
    Reading group followed by a discussion and book signing with Dr. Jonathan Hollaway.
  • March 18, 2020: Cents and Sensibility by President Morton Schapiro and Gary Saul Morson; Book Club organized and guided by Sophia Ruark and Jennifer Lackey. Books were generously donated by Northwestern’s Office of the President. Reading group followed by a discussion and book signing.

Speaker Series

NPEP speaker series offers students the opportunity to engage in discussion with a visiting scholar. Visiting scholars come from diverse backgrounds and are experts in their field.

Previous speaker series events are listed below.

  • January 29, 2019: Professor Daniel Immerwahr, “Black Internationalism: From W. E. B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King Jr.”
  • February 19, 2019: Professor Sanford Goldberg, “Hate Speech”
  • March 12, 2019: Professor Thomas Ogorzalek
  • March 26, 2019: Professor Teresa Woodruff, “Oncofertility: From Bench to Bedside to Babies”
  • May 7, 2019: Sarah Wake, “Discrimination, Harassment, and Title IX”
  • June 4, 2019: Professor Andrew Papachristos, “Who’s Next? The Social Contagion of Gun Violence in Chicago”
  • June 18, 2019: Professor Karen Daniel, “How to Be Your Own Best Advocate”
  • July 9, 2019: President Joianne Smith and Provost Ileo Lott, Oakton Community College
  • July 23, 2019: Meredith Martin Rountree
  • December 18, 2019: Dr. Doug Kiel, “History lecture”


Educational Workshops

NPEP aims to enhance and supplement credit-bearing courses with additional educational workshops. These workshops are held throughout the year, and hosted by experts in the field. 

Previous workshops are listed below.

  • January 8, 2019: Improv Workshop by Grace Kessler Overbeke
  • January 15, 2019: Martin Luther King Jr. Workshop by Marlon Millner
  • February 26, 2019: Yoga Workshop by Professor Lane Fenrich
  • August 13, 2019: Active Listening by Madisen Hursey
  • June 3, 2019: Mindfulness Workshop by Sophie H. Ruark
  • December 6, 2019: UPEP Study Skills Workshop
  • January 22, 2020: Poetry Workshop by Rachel Webster

Math and Science Study Groups

Math and science study groups help build student confidence in fundamental math and science skills, while also fostering an appreciation for these subjects in students’ everyday life. These workshops not only prepare them for their upcoming STEM coursework, but also help build a foundation for future quantitative and analytical careers.

Previous study groups include:

  • Pre-algebra and algebra toolkits, guided by Dr. Andrea d’Aquino and Dr. Steven Swick
  • An introduction to the biology of genetics, guided by Dr. Anne d’Aquino
  • Basic Chemistry, guided by Dr. Andrea d’Aquino and Dr. Steven Swick
  • Environmental chemistry, guided by Dr. Andrea d’Aquino and Dr. Steven Swick
  • An introduction to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) by Dr. Anne d’Aquino

Community Building Workshops

NPEP offers community building workshops throughout the year when classes are both in and out of session.

Previous and upcoming workshops are listed below:

  • December 20, 2020: Hosted by Dr. Jennifer Lackey, Dr. Anne d’Aquino, Dr. Andrea d’Aquino, Dr. Steven Swick, and Sophia Ruark from Northwestern
  • January 23, 2020: Hosted by Christia Mercer from Columbia
  • February 13, 2020: Hosted by Dr. Richard Zinbarg from Northwestern

One Book One Northwestern

One Book One Northwestern is a community‐wide reading program hosted by the Office of the President. It aims to engage Northwestern campuses in a common conversation centered on a carefully chosen, thought-provoking book. It began in 2005 for students in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and has since evolved into a community-­wide program involving students, faculty and staff from all majors and departments. NPEP has brought One Book One Northwestern to Stateville, where students read and discuss the chosen book. 

Previous One Book Events with NPEP:

  • February 20, 2019: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • January 13, 2020: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (With guest speakers Nancy Cuniff and Heather Pinkett)

Study Hall

NPEP Study Hall is an opportunity for students to get one-on-one tutoring in their course work. Tutors are undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral trainees in diverse fields within Northwestern. Study Hall is held weekly throughout the year, and provides students with an opportunity to have tutors edit their writing, assist with math problems, and answer any questions surrounding their class work. 

Performances and Readings

NPEP instructors occasionally offer opportunities for students to have their plays or written work performed or read. 

Below is a list of upcoming performances and readings:

  • March 30, 2020: Dr. Rebecca Gilman organized for Cohort 1 students’ plays to be read and performed by a cast at the Goodman Theatre. 
  • March 31, 2020: Dr. Rebecca Gilman organized for Cohort 1 students’ plays to be read and performed by a cast at Kennedy King College (KKC). Performances at KKC will be recorded.