Urban Excursions Connect the Classroom to the Wider World

Zora DeSeignora ’23, Spanish and Communications
Large group of Widener students standing in front of a colorful mural in Harlem.
Students on a spring Urban Excursion trip to Harlem and Manhattan stand in front of a colorful New York City mural.

Widener University provides students with numerous opportunities to explore new places and enriching destinations. From study abroad to local seminars and university-sponsored outings, students have many chances to experience hands-on excursions that help them build connections and bring the lessons of the classroom into focus for real life. 

One of these opportunities comes in the form of trips made possible through urban excursion grants. This grant program made available to Widener faculty allows professors to take their students on daylong trips to a metropolitan area. The trips allow for deeper engagement in a class subject and provide hands-on learning opportunities directly linked to the mission of a class. They also strengthen the bonds between students, their peers, and faculty, and they help put students on the inside track to success, because they provide a compelling connection between classroom curriculum and the world outside campus. 

This spring, I attended an urban excursion trip to Harlem and the lower eastside of Manhattan in New York City, organized by Associate Professor Robin Golberg-Glen. The trip was an incredible experience for me and my classmates to learn about Black history and the stories of immigrant and migrant experiences through tours of the tenement buildings at the Tenement Museum.  We also had lunch at Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem.

Student taking a photo of friends outside a restaurant in New York City.
The author, Zora DeSeignora '23, taking a photo outside the iconic Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem.

At the Tenement Museum, we were split into groups and taken into different areas. My group was taken to the upper level where we learned about two specific families as we discussed the Puerto Rican and Chinese immigrants who lived in those spaces in the 1960s and 70s. We could pick up or touch many of the items in the museum and they would explain what each item represented and what it was about.

For example, in the display of the sewing factory, when we pressed buttons on the sewing machines, they would explain the work and activities that were done in the sewing factory in the 1960s and 70s. Our tour guide informed us that many of these stories were told by the adults who used to live in the building as children. The museum layout was inspired by their memories, including how their homes were set up. The most interesting aspect of the museum was hearing their stories about coming to the United States and having to adjust to the culture change. It was inspiring to hear about all the obstacles they overcame.

Students walking under the Apollo Theatre marquee
Students walk under the marquee at the world-famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

After the Tenement Museum, we went on a tour of Harlem and were able to see some famous sites, like the Apollo Theater. Our tour guide quizzed us and educated us on famous African American singers and artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lauren Hill, and Luther Vandross. It was exciting getting to take a picture of the back door where many of the celebrities enter the theater. Also, one of my favorite parts was seeing all the large murals in the city of Harlem and the creativity that each of them displayed. 

This urban excursion was a great experience. I had never been to Harlem and having this opportunity to grow and learn about things that I could take home, process, and apply in the classroom was wonderful.

As a Spanish and communication studies double major, I learn a lot in class about culture, studying and understanding history, and other people’s stories. This trip allowed me to apply everything I am learning in the classroom and connect it with the outside world. I’m grateful for this one-of-a-kind learning experience that Widener made possible.

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