In 2011, Cornell College purchased a three-story apartment building in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood near Wrigley Field. The building was renovated and became operational in 2012 as the McLennan Center, a dedicated learning facility available to the college year round. The center was made possible by a $1 million gift in 2009 from Bob McLennan ’65 and Becky Martin McLennan ’64 during the college’s Extraordinary Opportunities Campaign.

Because of the flexibility of Cornell's One Course At A Time curriculum, Chicago has long been a prime destination for extending course opportunities beyond campus. Cornell professors have frequently taken students to the Newberry Library, the city's financial district, fine arts venues, and other locations to bring real-world learning to their courses.

In the past, however, students stayed in hotels and used public spaces for classrooms, resulting in greater costs, as well as scheduling and logistical challenges. By combining dedicated classroom and living space under the same roof with easy access to the city's most important educational, cultural, business, and historical resources, the center creates the opportunity for a greater number and variety of educational experiences in Chicago. The center also promises to provide current students and faculty with more opportunities to engage with Cornell's many distinguished alumni in the Chicago area.

Reflection from a faculty member

Sociology professor Tori Barnes Brus taught the first class at the McLennan Center and offered the following reflection:

"Teaching in Chicago has allowed me to really integrate the theory and practice of sociology and offer students a deeply engaging learning experience. Every day students have the opportunity to apply what they are reading to real-world situations. They have seen first-hand the vast inequality they read about in sociology classes, but they have also witnessed the way that organizations and communities work to address the issues they are reading about. Having the McLennan Center as our home base has really allowed us to use the city as a text. In the words of one student, 'it is truly an incredible experience!'"