Our mission is to provide urban experiential education from a Christian perspective that equips students for integrated personal, professional and public lives.

Our Vision

Chicago Semester envisions a just, generous and hospitable world where individuals are invested deeply in place and with each other as they serve joyfully and fearlessly on their vocational journey.

Our Values

We strive to reach this vision through our mission and by living the following values:


With a posture of curiosity and wonder we actively discover God’s continual work in the city. We marvel at the gifts we receive and gifts we contribute as we engage in life in the city.

Relationships & Partnerships

We believe in the importance of relational ways of learning and growing as urban professionals. Partnerships are life-giving and crucial for our work.

Imagination & experiential learning

We imagine possibilities for all to experience vocational flourishing through best practices in urban experiential education.

Community & Place

Anchored in community, we seek to be a dwelling place for one another as we share in the histories and realities of the city with our neighbors.

Courage & Hope

We pray for courage to challenge the injustices we see and perpetuate. We recognize, advocate for and work toward redemptive hope as we anticipate the coming of Christ.

Our History


Originally called the Chicago Metropolitan Center, Chicago Semester is founded by six Christian colleges: Calvin College (MI), Central College (IA) Dordt College (IA), Hope College (MI), Northwestern College (IA), and Trinity Christian College (IL).


The Social Work program is added to serve students from accredited BSW programs.


The Student Teaching program is added allowing students to meet all student teaching requirements through placement in the Chicago Public Schools.


The National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE) names Chicago Semester the Experiential Education Program of the Year.


The Nursing program is added.


The Summer program is launched.


Chicago Semester celebrates its 45th anniversary.

Our Partner Schools

Our Staff

Averie Wright

Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives & Data

Averie is excited to join the Chicago Semester so that he can connect and talk with students about the wonderful opportunities they will in find the great city of Chicago. Averie is a Calvin graduate with a degree in Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies – though he did not take the chance to study abroad, Averie would admit that he is among the many college graduates who wish they could have taken advantage of the opportunity. Having recently moved to Chicago from Grand Rapids, Averie has loved being able to explore all the different areas of the city and has made the goal to try and visit all 77 of the official neighborhoods in Chicago.

When Averie isn’t connecting with students and sharing information about the Chicago Semester, he can be found exploring his new neighborhood in Hyde Park, taking the CTA (public transit) to find the best restaurants, coffeeshops, thrift stores, and parks in the city. Averie is looking forward to connecting further with his community here in Chicago by connecting with the local churches, community organizations and – very importantly – pick-up basketball crews. Averie is also an avid reader in a variety of topics spanning from critical literary theory or the institutionalization of psychology, all the way to surrealist fiction (and welcomes any book related conversations).

(636) 541-7911


Erik Nussbaum, MM


Erik Nussbaum has taught the Arts & the City course since joining Chicago Semester in the fall of 2008.  His favorite part of teaching the class is discussing the many amazing art events they see together. He enjoys the different perspectives students bring to understanding their experience, and finds it fulfilling to witness the growth within each student as the semester progresses. Erik feels this embodies, in part, the mission of the entire program.

Born in Eureka, IL, Erik attended Knox College for his undergraduate degree and Westminster for his graduate work. He made the leap from small town to huge city when a job with the Chicago Children’s Choir led him to Chicago in 2000. Serving in several south and west side public elementary schools greatly expanded his understanding of life in the city.

When Erik isn’t teaching at Chicago Semester, you can often find him writing music for his church music ministry. He also enjoys spending time with his wife, whether making music together, playing Frisbee, watching movies or playing with their senior cat, Charlie.



Jonathan Brooks, M.Div


Jonathan Brooks joined the Chicago Semester program in 2016 as an adjunct professor for our Metropolitan Seminar: Urban Planning, Development and the Sustainable City. Pastah J, as he is affectionately called, is the senior pastor of Canaan Community Church in the West Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. He has been teaching and working with children, youth and young adults for over fifteen years. He began his career as an architect before becoming a youth pastor and an elementary and middle school art and architecture teacher. He also worked as the Chicago City Director for Mission Year, a one-year service-learning program for young people ages 18-30 whose mission is to see people fall in love with Jesus and the city and become advocates for God’s justice in our neighborhood and world.

Jonathan is excited about Chicago Semester’s desire to see students connect their vocation to their calling. The experiential learning component of CS is what drew him to the program as well as the opportunity to challenge students’ perceptions about urban life and the many incomplete narratives perpetuated about urban neighborhoods. He hopes to push students to ask hard questions about how places are created, see the everyday connections between place and purpose and the importance of actively practicing presence wherever you presently reside.

Pastah J is married with two beautiful daughters and still resides in the West Englewood neighborhood where he grew up, near the church campus.

Kelsey Brooks

Assistant Director of Recruitment & College Relations

Kelsey enjoys sharing her love of cities and learning experiences with others. After getting her BA in Communication Studies and Spanish at Indiana Wesleyan University, she moved back to the Chicago suburbs where she was born and raised. Before joining the Chicago Semester team, she was an Export Logistics Coordinator for a small company. 

Kelsey is passionate about education and is excited to connect with students about the opportunities that could await them in Chicago!

She currently lives in the western suburbs of Chicago and is enjoying the commuter lifestyle. In her spare time Kelsey loves eating good food, watching movies and spending time with people she loves. She is very active at her church ‘Wellspring Alliance’ in Wheaton.



Lisa Hensey, PhD

Education Program Director

Lisa joined Chicago Semester in August 2005, the same month she moved to Chicago. She thoroughly enjoys working with student teachers at Chicago Semester because they are dedicated educators seeking to make a positive difference in their students’ lives.

Lisa was raised in a small central Illinois town but has traveled all around the world. Prior to coming to Chicago Semester, Lisa was a public school teacher, and taught at a small Christian college in eastern Iowa. She and her husband, along with their two children, spent 2000-2005 as ELCA missionaries in Tanzania, where Lisa served as the Education Department Chair at Tumaini Universtiy – Iringa (the country’s first private university).

After living abroad, Lisa is happy to have settled in a city that is a microcosm of the world. She currently resides in the south side Hyde Park neighborhood. When she’s not learning firsthand about social justice issues in education with her students, she enjoys spending time with her family.



Mackenzi Huyser, PhD

Executive Director

Mackenzi has served as Executive Director of Chicago Semester since July 2014. Passionate about the program’s mission to provide experiential learning opportunities, rooted in a Christian perspective, she is constantly inspired by student and alumni stories about how the program has shaped their ideas regarding urban life and work.

Originally from western Michigan, Mackenzi is now deeply committed to living in the city and continually explores questions about what it means for Christians to engage in urban life. She is excited to lead CS as it seeks possible answers through working with students. Prior to joining the CS staff, she served as Dean for Faculty Development and Academic Programs and Professor of Social Work at Trinity Christian College’s Palos Heights campus.

Mackenzi lives in the south side Hyde Park neighborhood with her family. She enjoys spending time outdoors, visiting museums and neighborhood restaurants throughout the city, and attending LaSalle Street Church where she and her family are members.



Michael Pineda

Coordinator of Student Life & Program Operations

Michael joined the Chicago Semester in mid-2021 after having graduated from Hope College with a BA in Business Administration and a minor in Jazz Studies. During his time there, he found a strong passion for serving students through leadership capacities across campus and connecting with others through music, justice, and community building.

As an international TCK student from Honduras and study abroad alumnus with IES Vienna, Michael recognizes the value of global citizenship and experiential learning. He is excited to empower students in their personal and professional development journeys and accompany them in understanding what it means to live and learn in the city of Chicago.

Michael is residing in the Ravenswood neighborhood which is conveniently located near the Brown Line, which takes him right to the Merchandise Mart. He spends a lot of time composing and playing music in the Midwest area, collaborating with creatives, and working on entrepreneurial and philanthropic projects both here and in Honduras.

(312) 922-3884


Michelle McClure, DNP, FNP-BC

Nursing Program Director

Michelle decided to move from patient care into education because she believes that nurses are called to a profession and that by answering that call nurses are obedient to God. A lifelong resident of Chicago, she began teaching at Chicago Semester in fall of 2005.

She earned her BS in Nursing from Chicago State University, her MS in Nursing from Saint Xavier University’s Family Nurse Practitioner program, and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Loyola University New Orleans. She has extensive experience in maternal and child health, women’s primary care, primary care in the retail health setting and nursing education. Her special interests include perinatal loss, childbirth and lactation education.

Michelle currently lives on the north side of Chicago. When she is not teaching at Chicago Semester, she enjoys being actively involved in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She also loves taking in music in the city, going to movies and trying one of the many local restaurants with friends.



Rebecca Burwell, PhD

Director of Academic Programs and Student Life

Rebecca loves Chicago Semester because of its potential to impact students as they transition from college to the real world. She also loves engaging students in learning about, and working with, urban communities.

Born and raised in New York and Pennsylvania, Rebecca lived on both the East and West coasts before finding a happy medium in Chicago. Prior to joining Chicago Semester in the spring of 2007, Rebecca worked extensively in the social justice realm, writing her dissertation in Cuba on the negotiation of motherhood, wage-earning and civic engagement in the Cuban context. She also spent several years studying the impact of Latino churches on Chicago communities through the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame.

She earned her MA and PhD in sociology at Loyola University Chicago, and continues to research and write about issues related to race, inequality and social justice. Rebecca currently lives on Chicago’s northwest side and counts herself extraordinarily blessed with a close family, great group of friends and faith community she loves.



Rocio Mendez-Rozo

Director of Enrollment Management, Partnerships & Diversity Initiatives

Rocio serves as the Director of Enrollment Management, Partnerships, & Diversity Initiatives at Chicago Semester since July 2022. With a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and Policy from Northwestern University, her passions lie in fostering equity and accessibility in higher education for underserved students such as first-generation, lower income, and undocumented/DACA students. Before entering her role at Chicago Semester, she worked in the medical mission non-profit sector and spent several years in the SEO content marketing space as a lead copywriter where she had opportunities to write for Chance the Rapper’s Social Works non-profit.
Born and raised in Chicago by immigrant parents, Rocio has dedicated a significant part of her professional career to engaging with issues surrounding social justice. As such, she has served as a child advocate for The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Chicago. She also serves on the leadership team for Camp Sunshine, a summer camp for individuals with cognitive/developmental disabilities to experience a safe, caring, and inclusive environment.
Rocio lives in the Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhood with her loving partner Skyler and exuberant dogs Arequipe and Melo. She enjoys walks with her family, trying new recipes in the kitchen, and spending time with her nearby family and friends.


Tim Hoekstra, MDiv


Rev. Tim Hoekstra began teaching in Chicago Semester as an adjunct faculty member in 2016. He has been an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church of North America for over 33 years. He continues to serve as the pastor of Sub-Urban Life Community Church in the west suburbs of Chicago, a church he founded and has served for 28 years. He and the church are deeply involved in racial justice and equity challenges in the Austin Neighborhood of Chicago. He also serves as a Chicago urban leadership coach and mentor for his denomination seeking to walk with leaders who are developing creative and diverse ministries throughout various neighborhoods in Chicago.

Tim works part-time for Team World Vision, a ministry of World Vision. He has travelled extensively in many countries in Africa on behalf of World Vision. He has run 14 straight Chicago Marathons raising money for clean water in Africa through Team World Vision. He is the author of a book of devotions entitled “Miles to Run Before We Sleep” – a book of 26 meditations toward developing a lifestyle of justice – written after he had run 50 miles on the day of the 2009 Chicago Marathon in honor of his 50th birthday. Through that run he raised over $50,000 for clean water in Africa and an urban running partnership in the Austin neighborhood.

Tim has been married to Laura for 36 years and has three children and 7 grandchildren. He loves to read in order to inspire his passion to be a life-long learner. He also loves to travel, to investigate the neighborhoods of Chicago, and go camping for refreshment and restoration. While he loves running about 4-8 miles, he begins to hate running when he has to go any further.

Questions? We’d love to hear from you.

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