René Luís Alvarez, PhD
Lecturer in History
Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
I have researched and written about the history of American urban education, focusing mainly on Chicago’s Mexican American community. While the teaching and administrative responsibilities of my current position at Arrupe College have lessened the amount of time I can devote to new research projects, I am able to draw upon my academic training to serve Arrupe students, who mostly are first-generation college students from lower income and previously underrepresented communities across the city.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
As a two-year degree-granting program, Arrupe College offers general education courses which students then can use to transfer to a four-year degree institution or to enter the working world. As such, I teach both halves of the United States survey and both halves of the Western Civilization survey. In addition to teaching full-time, I have a cohort of advisees with whom I meet regularly, both individually and in groups, to ensure that they are on their best paths towards graduation. As an educational historian, I understand the patterns of inequality that have deprived some students access to a rigorous, liberal art education. A large part of Arrupe College’s mission is to provide students the opportunity to achieve their educational goals at the highest levels. In this way, my training as an historian and my current work nicely complement each other.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
Stephen N. Katsouros, SJ, the Dean and Executive Director of Arrupe College, published Come to Believe: How the Jesuits are Reinventing Education (Again) last year. In it, he details the first years of Arrupe’s founding and development. My signed copy has been on my office shelf since its release. While I have my own insider’s view of Arrupe College and have discussed several aspects of Arrupe with Fr. Katsouros on many occasions, I am eager to read about Arrupe from Fr. Katsouros’ perspective.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?
I would advise young scholars to take an interdisciplinary if not eclectic approach to their curricular and extra-curricular activities in order to develop their versatility. To this I would add that they be open to a variety of career opportunities. The contours of higher education have changed significantly since I completed my doctorate ten years ago, which in turn has affected the history job market. As such, I think young scholars need to consider opportunities that are not necessarily of the tenure-track nature. Having a diverse set of skills that include non-academic as well as academic skills while being open to different kinds of jobs can enable someone to find some very meaningful work.
You now teach at your undergraduate alma mater! What has changed for the better in the intervening years, and what are you relieved to find has remained the same?
I always have been proud of my affiliation with Loyola University Chicago because of its enduring commitment to quality education in the Jesuit tradition, so I am very happy to now be a part of that commitment and tradition. I am glad that Loyola’s commitment and tradition has not diminished since I graduated (at some point during the last millennium.) In many ways, it has grown even stronger, evidenced by programs like Arrupe College. In addition to this, I also have been overwhelmed by the physical changes of Loyola’s campuses. Both the Lake Shore Campus in the Rogers Park neighborhood and the Water Tower Campus in Chicago’s downtown have transformed over the years through ambitious construction projects, providing students facilities that not only are great for living, studying, and learning but also are aesthetically pleasing to the senses.