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SMC students extend learning to St. Louis, Land of Lincoln

Seven Southwestern Michigan College students — Macy Fitzgerald, Jonathan Griffee, Nick Jelsomeno, Brittany Lewis, Rachel Perez-West, Gwendolyn Summons and Reginla Turner-Jefferson — toured St. Louis and Springfield, Ill., March 29-April 1 with faculty members Dr. Jeff Dennis and Julie Zabriskie.

<p>SMC “generously paid all lodging, touring, lunch and transportation costs for this extended learning experience,” Dennis said.</p>

<p>“The cost is easily justifiable,” said Vice President of Instruction Dr. David Fleming, “because these kinds of real-world experiences and learning outside of the traditional classroom moments are paramount to our belief that SMC students can replicate the experience of a four-year institution while at Southwestern Michigan College.”</p>

<p>Friday afternoon the group reached Petersburg, 20 miles northwest of Springfield and two miles from New Salem, where Abraham Lincoln moved at age 22 in 1831 when it was a thriving manufacturing and commerce center. They toured the 23 log buildings. During the 1840s it became a ghost town as businesses relocated to the new state capital, Springfield.</p>

<p>Lincoln took up surveying, was appointed postmaster and began studying law. He captained the local militia during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Lincoln lost his first state Legislature bid, but went on to serve four consecutive terms. By the time he moved to Springfield in 1837, his star was rising in Illinois law and politics.</p>

<p>Their next stop was Cahokia Mounds near Collinsville, Ill.</p>

<p>“One of my favorite places we went was the Cahokia Mounds,” a pre-Columbian Native American city directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Lewis said. “The Cahokia civilization was quite advanced. Woodhenge, their calendar, proves it. The top of the tallest mound housed the chief so he could be closer to the heavens to communicate with the gods and spirits. Being able to go to the top of that mound caused so many different emotions, but most of all joy because for the first time in six years I felt closer to my sister.”</p>

<p>The Cahokia Mounds represented the largest North American city pre-19<sup>th</sup>&nbsp;century with some 40,000 people. Eighty mounds remain, including one 100 feet tall with four terraces, that span 14 acres.</p>

<p>The SMC group spent two nights in St. Louis at the downtown Hilton, within walking distance of the Gateway Arch.</p>

<p>The Basilica was Saturday’s first destination. The “Old Cathedral” was left intact when the Arch was built. It’s named for the 13<sup>th</sup>-century French king, St. Louis IX. The first church was completed in 1771. The current building dates from 1831.</p>

<p>Second, they toured the opulent 4,500-seat 1929 Fox Theatre, where Byzantine and Asian themes interface. Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Lena Horne and George Burns performed there.</p>

<p>After the Fox, they visited the 1914 Romanesque Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which Pope John Paul II visited in 1997.</p>

<p>“I have always wanted to go inside the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. It was amazing!” Turner-Jefferson said. “Just as I anticipated, huge candles lit all over the place, beautiful sculptures of Mary, holy water and prayer pits to ask for forgiveness. This experience was one of the best in my life so far. I will always remember it.”</p>

<p>Braving rain and wind, Saturday afternoon was spent at the Missouri Botanical Garden, including the Linnean, the oldest operating greenhouse west of the Mississippi; the Climatron, the world’s first geodesic-domed greenhouse; and a garden featuring Biblical plants.</p>

<p>On sunny Sunday they rode five-passenger “bubble cars” 630 feet to the top of the Arch and visited the six-gallery museum beneath it. They walked to lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory within Laclede’s Landing historic district and viewed Eads Bridge, the earliest structure to span the Mississippi in 1874. Still in operation, it was the first cantilever span of such length with the deepest piers ever driven up to that time.</p>

<p>The domed 1828 Old Courthouse is where the slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom in 1846. The Supreme Court’s decision helped precipitate the Civil War.</p>

<p>After a two-hour drive from St. Louis to Springfield, they walked through Lincoln’s neighborhood, a restored four-block collection of mid-19<sup>th</sup>-century period homes, and toured Lincoln’s home, which the National Park Service acquired in 1971.</p>

<p>SMC students also saw the 405-foot Illinois Capitol — tallest of any state — the Governor’s Office and the Lincoln Tomb before finishing at Lincoln’s presidential museum, where two theatrical productions feature holographic effects.</p>

<p>“I gained more knowledge than I could have ever expected,” Fitzgerald said. “Each location was rich with its own history and extremely interesting. The places were unique from one another, making each stop more exciting than the last somehow. It was great getting to know everyone in the group. Bonding over shared experiences has made us all good friends.”</p>