Illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni

We live in uncertain times. The economy is in a tailspin, home foreclosures occur daily, and jobs—maybe even your own—are disappearing. Time for a makeover. Here are eight classes that will help you reinvent yourself. Learn about nonprofit management—still a growth industry—or interior design. Consider a new career in voice-overs or the forensic sciences, or hone your persuasive speaking skills. As a last resort, you may want to slip away to a midnight horror show that, if nothing else, will help you momentarily forget any real-life calamities.


Sound Off

Don’t be fooled by the title of Katherine Hart’s class, Heard You on the Radio: The Craft of Voice-overs. Though the word “radio” figures prominently in the title of her course—part of the Continuum curriculum at Loyola University—Hart wants her students to understand the full range of options available to people looking for vocal work. “Websites need to compete with YouTube by adding sound and video,” she explains. “And then there are all those classic novels which are not yet available in audio form.”

Spend a few minutes speaking with Hart and she will have you rethinking not only your career path but also your voice-mail prompt. An actress, vocal artist, and president of Hartfelt Communications—which has worked with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Helene Curtis, and other companies—Hart thinks too many people rely on rushed and compressed speaking to make a first impression. To correct those tendencies, Hart helps her students assess their voices, then leads them in vocal exercises so they might sound like a more polished version of themselves. Students study well-known commercial advertising copy and later move on to collaborative storytelling, which Hart believes unleashes the imagination. Finally, Hart provides tips about auditioning, as well as insights into the acting and advertising fields. Even people who have no aspirations toward studio work will find that Hart’s tutorials on vowel elongation, enunciation, and articulation will enhance their next workplace speech—or that annual toast they deliver before Thanksgiving dinner.

Offered by the Continuum, a continuing-education program at Loyola University. Meets Saturdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. or 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., from September 26th to November 14th at Loyola University, 25 East Pearson Street, Water Tower Campus. $295. 312-915-6501.


It’s a Crime

Whether you are a devotee of CSI’s Gil Grissom or the vampy NCIS scientist Abby Sciuto, Introduction to the Forensic Sciences in the School of Continuing Studies at Northwestern University will have you talking shop with the best of them—presuming you’re still up for watching their shows.

Offered by Northwestern University and spearheaded by Terry Dal Cason, a forensic chemist with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the ten-week course features a series of expert guest speakers who walk students through everything from a comprehensive history of the forensic sciences to the ins and outs of toxicology, blood splatter analysis, and DNA recovery. They also discuss how these scientific results are interpreted and viewed by the judicial system. (Students are also expected to read Richard Saferstein’s Criminalistics.)

These pros augment their lectures with lab equipment, PowerPoint presentations, and grisly real-life crime scene photos—so the faint of stomach should beware. Dal Cason also wants prospective students to know that the course includes homework and exams—and that most of the techniques used by their favorite onscreen crime-scene investigators will be thoroughly debunked.

Offered by Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies. Meets Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., from September 8th to November 10th at 210 South Clark Street, 16th floor. $1,245. 847-491-3225 or


Nonprofit Know-How

The founder and chairman of the Alford Group, an Evanston-based company that consults with not-for-profit organizations, Jimmie Alford brings more than 40 years’ experience to his seven-week class, Principles of Nonprofit Management at North Park University. Known as third-sector institutions (following after government and business), nonprofit organizations encompass everything from hospitals to food banks, schools, and artist-run spaces. Students will get a solid background in the history, scope, and role of these organizations; they will also learn how to get involved with existing organizations and how to apply for nonprofit status, a process encumbered by government regulations and restrictions.

Nonprofits are one of the economy’s fastest-growing sectors, with 1.2 million existing organizations and an additional 55,000 new nonprofits created each year. But since nonprofits rise and fall with the economy, the current financial crisis requires people to rethink how nonprofits work. The course will provide an introduction to some of the special management issues of nonprofit organizations, such as revenue management, staff development, collaborative partnerships, and strategic planning. Alford will also examine current trends and projections for the future, all while encouraging the cutting-edge thinking he believes will help the sector weather future economic bumps.

Offered by North Park University. Meets Tuesdays from 6:30 to 9:50 p.m., from August 25th to October 6th at North Park University, 3225 West Foster Avenue, in the Magnuson Center. $1,850, or $1,203 for people working full-time in the nonprofit sector. 773-244-5500.


Simon Says

Sometimes all you need to unlock the potential in a room is a fresh pair of eyes. “Most people don’t need interior designers, but they do need help,” says Helen Simon, the instructor for Do-It-Yourself Interior Design, a six-session class at Oakton Community College. “My job is to give you the tools to look at your space with a new perspective.”

To begin, Simon asks students to bring to class photos of the room or rooms they want to revamp. In addition to teaching students how to plot out floor plans on paper, Simon will provide insights about color, space, and furnishings (most people just have too much stuff, insists Simon). While discussing organization and placement, she will also stress that people don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to transform a room. Reinventing a tired or outdated space can require little more than unloading clutter, splashing on a new coat of paint, or reducing or rearranging the existing furniture (Simon loves to recycle).

Most important, Simon hopes to give her students the confidence to express themselves as they redecorate an interior space. To that end, she cautions against opting for fads, which can be both distracting and unlivable if they clash with a person’s own style. “Whatever room you enter should enhance your personality,” Simon says.

Offered by Oakton Community College. Meets Mondays from 7 to 8:30 p.m., from October 19th to November 30th (no class on November 23rd) at Maine West High School, 1755 South Wolf Road, Des Plaines. $99. 847-635-1671.


Illustration: Lorenzo Petrantoni


Say It Like You Mean It

If you are stressing about your next big presentation at work, take comfort in the fact that public speaking has plagued people since ancient Greece. Or so says Donna Surges-Tatum, who is teaching Persuasive Communication: Business and Professional Speaking at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies. “There is a fear and vulnerability associated with getting up in front of a group of people,” says Surges-Tatum, who looks to the teachings of Aristotle for suggestions about how to conquer this commonly shared anxiety.

The mechanics of public narration were a favorite topic for the Greek philosopher, and his theories on the subject form the basis for Surges-Tatum’s course, which helps students learn how to establish personal credibility and make a connection with an audience. In the classroom, Surges-Tatum emphasizes what she calls a co-creative, listener-focused persuasion process, as opposed to the one-sided, coercion-based talk that often dominates in the workplace.

The workshop-based course has students prepare and deliver a speech, which is videotaped and then analyzed with an eye toward improving the speaker’s organizational and delivery skills. By learning how to build on their inherent strengths—while incorporating metaphor into their talks, eliminating “ums” and “ahs,” and elevating their expressiveness—even soft-spoken students will gain an enhanced confidence in their presentation skills—talents that are just as useful in a job interview as they are in the boardroom.

Offered by the Graham School of General Studies. Meets Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m., from September 22nd to November 10th at the Gleacher Center, 450 North Cityfront Plaza Drive. $585. 773-702-6033.


The New Network

Looking for a new job? By now you realize the days of merely relying on the old-boy—or old-girl—network are long gone. Resourceful job hunters today are employing the new technologies, resorting to social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. “The intersection of these tools and our personal and professional lives makes it important to understand how [these sites] function and why they continue to grow and have an impact,” explains Abby Young, who manages the online social-networking accounts for the Alumni Relations Office at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

In Social Networking: Facebook, Twitter and More, an offering from New Trier Extension, Young shares her expertise, introducing students to both online sites and helping them set up their own profiles. “The best way to understand [these sites] is to start using them,” Young says. “Creating a profile doesn’t mean you have to publish publicly. You can join with the aim of ‘listening.’”

And there’s a lot to listen to. Everyone from President Obama to Citigroup to Hollywood celebrities is getting involved, posting everything from recipes to job openings. But listening has its limits. By encouraging a hands-on approach, Young strives to make students feel comfortable about posting their own content on these sites. While focusing on such topics as joining groups, privacy settings, and adding applications, she also addresses additional issues and questions raised in class. What’s more, because Young teaches the four-week class in a computer lab, students don’t need to lug in their laptops.

Offered by New Trier Extension. Meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m., from September 15th to September 24th at New Trier High School, 7 Happ Road, Northfield. $96; seniors, $77. 847-446-6600.


Well Endowed

Despite the media’s doomsday take on the economy, there are still organizations providing grants to worthwhile people and causes—and getting a piece of the pie can be as simple as knowing how to apply properly for government and private-sector help.

In Mastering Grant Writing—an interactive online class offered through UIC External Education—students work with an instructor to learn the basic steps of writing a grant proposal. (Students also interact through the Web with fellow students and nonprofit professionals across the country.) According to a spokesperson, grant applications require many components, and each component has its own style and purpose. Learning how to approach each component effectively and accurately can give an applicant a head start.

The detail-focused, writing-intensive class demonstrates how to shape a proposal, lay out strategies and goals, and craft a budget. Students will learn how to write an executive summary, sketch an organization’s background, and prepare a needs statement. And because the class is taught in a virtual classroom, students can log in to the seven-week seminar whenever it best suits their schedules.

Offered by UICExternal Education. Meets online; registration closes October 12th. $595. 312-355-0423 or


Creatures of the Night

The cookie-cutter movies released by Hollywood hardly offer a thoughtful take on the modern situation, but stuffy art-house cinema can sometimes go too far in the other direction. Just ask Phil Morehart, an editor at Facets Multi-Media and a self-described zombie-movie addict. “Night School is a chance for us to let our hair down,” he says.

An offshoot of Facets’ more serious-minded film school, the Night School is a weekly series that meets Saturdays at midnight to screen the best and weirdest in horror, sci-fi, and cult films (during October, there will also be Friday screenings). The five-dollar entry fee gets you a seat at a movie—which is preceded by a program of trailers from grindhouse and cult films—as well as a selection of relevant reading materials and entrée into a DVD raffle. The Facets staff—most of whom have advanced degrees in film history and theory and spend their time programming obscure international fare—select their favorite off-the-wall flick, introduce the screening with a brief lecture, and lead a discussion afterwards.

At presstime, the fall session had not been finalized, but Morehart says that it will present “a well-rounded overview of the horror genre.” That means there will be at least one classic film from Universal Studios (perhaps The Bride of Frankenstein or The Mummy), another from Britain’s Hammer studios (most likely The Curse of Frankenstein), and an independent, low-budget film (such as Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls). Two Facets staff members, Brian Elza and Bruce Neal, will not only introduce Häxan, a silent film by the Danish director Benjamin Christensen, but also compose a heavy-metal score for the movie. All in all, says Morehart, expect “good spooky times.”

Offered by Facets Multi-Media. Meets Saturdays at midnight. 1517 West Fullerton Avenue. $5 per night. 773-281-9075 or


Illustration: Lorenzo Petrantoni