MacArthur Fellow to teach UChicago course in environmental and urban studies

Visiting scholar Emmanuel Pratt is one of 26 to win prestigious $625,000 grant

This fall, University of Chicago students will have the opportunity to learn from a MacArthur Fellow who was recently honored for his creative approach to community development.

Urban designer Emmanuel Pratt is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s 2019 class, a group of 26 individuals awarded no-strings-attached, $625,000 grants. Pratt will teach a fall course on environmental sustainability as part of the Chicago Studies program, launched by UChicago to further collaboration between the campus and the city.

As co-founder and executive director of the non-profit Sweet Water Foundation, Pratt has helped shaped community development on Chicago’s South Side—engaging local residents through the integration of agriculture, education and design.

His class, “ReRooting: Cultivating the Ecology of Place,” will study the practical applications of urban ecological theory—breaking out of the traditional classroom setting to use the Sweet Water Foundation’s Perry Avenue Commons as “living laboratories.” As the inaugural Chicago Studies Teaching Scholar, Pratt will teach a course that originates in the Environmental and Urban Studies major, which focuses on the interactions between humans and their natural and built environments.

Christopher Skrable, UChicago’s Director of Chicago Studies and Experiential Learning, said that Pratt embodies the kind of “deeply rooted, interdisciplinary scholar-practitioner” that William Rainey Harper had envisioned as the University’s first president.

“We’re so excited to introduce more students to Emmanuel’s thought and to the innovative work he’s doing with Sweet Water Foundation, especially in the context of Chicago Studies’ new Teaching Scholars series,” Skrable said. “We look forward to connecting students with even more experiences like this one, engaging the city’s potential as a resource for experiential teaching and learning.”

A longtime collaborator of the Smart Museum, Pratt has espoused a multi-pronged approach to neighborhood development, one that has transformed vacant buildings and lots into an urban farm and community space. As the Interpreter-in-Residence at the Smart in 2017-18, he partnered with the museum’s education team to launch numerous initiatives that cultivated new connections between the campus and local communities. He also used reclaimed wood to build a site-specific installation in the museum’s lobby, part of which now resides outside UChicago’s Kersten Physics Teaching Center.

Another 2019 MacArthur Fellow with UChicago ties is theater artist Annie Dorsen, who has pioneered the concept of “algorithmic theater”—exploring the intersection of technology and live performance. The writer and director taught in UChicago’s Committee on Theater and Performance Studies the past three years as a visiting assistant professor of practice.

Dorsen’s most recent project, Infinite Sun, consisted of 11 continuously “singing” laptops. She is also known for directing Passing Strange, a 2008 musical which went on to earn seven Tony Award nominations.

Also part of this year’s class of MacArthur Fellows is Jenny Tung, an evolutionary biologist at Duke University who was a postdoctoral fellow in UChicago’s Department of Human Genetics from 2010-12.

More than 50 people affiliated with UChicago have won MacArthur Fellowships, including sociologist Rebecca Sandefur, AM’97, PhD’01, in 2018.