For five days in late fall, more than 30 students and three professors from St. Thomas made New York City their classroom.

Dr. Brad Cross, History, has been taking students to the Big Apple for years. He said New York City provides so many rich experiential learning opportunities because of its social and cultural diversity, which makes it an incredible place for students to visit during their degrees.

“It is the cultural and economic capital of the United States, where we find a thriving arts scene, some of the great cultural and historical museums in the world, and many spontaneous opportunities for research and intellectual work,” Cross said.

Professors Dr. Robin Whittaker, English with Drama, and William Forrestall, Fine Arts, also saw New York’s value for their students. 

“The trip is an extraordinary part of our students’ opportunities at St. Thomas,” Whittaker said.

“Each year, drama students in particular go on the trip to see Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway shows and to visit the Drama Book Shop to check out the latest plays in print for their future productions!”

Forrestall was interested in seeing how a trip to New York City would present educational opportunities for Fine Arts students in particular, and was not disappointed.

“The trip was incredibly successful as a learning experience. It offered students insight on a vibrant cultural life,” he said.

“During our visit, the Guggenheim was featuring an exhibition by the Canadian born artist Anges Martin, the first retrospective of this leading abstract artist in over two decades. Being able to experience her serene paintings, based on grids, the subtleties of line, surface, tone, and proportion was a gift.”

As part of their degrees, students at St. Thomas take courses from different areas of study, which allows a broader group of students to participate in this type of experiential learning opportunity. Students who plan to major in different fields participated in the experience together.

Students from different years and areas of study share their New York City stories

Brandon LeBlanc, fourth year

In his fourth year, Brandon LeBlanc was considering a graduation trip when he learned about the opportunity to go to New York as part of a History class. The class, United States: Colonial Settlement to Civil War was taught by Cross.

LeBlanc had never been to New York and saw this as the perfect opportunity to see the city. He said he and his friends wasted no time while in the city, as he wanted to see and do as much as he could during the trip.?

“We saw the Statue of Liberty, went to Staten Island on the ferry, went up the Empire State Building, saw the United Nations Headquarters, Grand Central Station, went to Times Square twice every day. We visited the One World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum, went to Central Park and Madison Square Garden. I don’t think I could have seen much more and still functioned.”

More than sightseeing, LeBlanc said the educational aspects of the trip were significant.

“I learned a lot from visiting the New York Historical Society and having guided tours of historically important parts of the city. I didn’t want to leave. Being in New York and seeing it all for yourself. It’s an experience I can’t really put into words.”

Sarah Fanjoy, second year

The experiential learning opportunity appealed to Sarah Fanjoy’s interest in travel. She said she wanted to witness some of the things she only saw and read about.

“Seeing some of the artifacts—in real life—we study as pictures in our textbooks was an amazing experience. We were also able to see places we read about, which puts things into perspective,” she said.

“Some of the highlights of the trip for me would have to be seeing Times Square at night and being on top of the Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, and the 9/11 Memorial, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, and seeing the United Nations also stand out,” Fanjoy added.

Courtney Pittman, second year

Courtney Pittman is pursuing a major in English and minor in History. This was the second-year student’s first time in the Big Apple, and she said it was a great mixture of structured learning opportunities and personal time to explore the city.

Pittman said the guided tours led by Cross helped her better understand the history of the iconic city.

She also made it to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

“I still can't believe that I was in the audience. I even got to high five Jimmy Fallon himself!”

Hannah Blizzard, third year

Hannah Blizzard is in her third year, studying English with a Concentration in Drama.

“New York showcases some of the world's best theatre. Being a drama student, it has always been a dream of mine to go,” Blizzard said.

“Broadway was without a doubt the most exciting part of the trip. It was fascinating to see first-hand this thing that I had been building up in my head all my life being performed directly in front of me.”

Blizzard said pursuing her degree has taught her the importance of learning about and experiencing different places and cultures. The trip to New York City was another way of putting that into action.

Ben Smith, first year

Ben Smith is in his first year at St. Thomas. A self-defined “theatre nerd,” Smith saw the opportunity to go to New York City as a chance to experience something he’s been dreaming of his entire life: Broadway.

Smith made it to three shows: The Book of Mormon, Wicked, and Something Rotten.

“Just being in the theatres was remarkable,” he said.

Smith is involved with Theatre St. Thomas, and at the time of the trip was just a couple weeks away from opening The Trickster of Seville. He said his experiences in New York City helped him gain a new appreciation for theatre.

“You just get a whole new sense of theatre magic at those big productions in the amazing venues. There is so many special effects, and the music is amazing,” Smith said.

Going to New York City was a trip Smith won’t forget and one he hopes to make again someday.

“It was magical. Magnetic.”