The University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation introduce the 2021-2022 University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars from the Harris School of Public Policy, the Booth School of Business, and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice:

Scholars

Headshot of Aleena Agrawal
Aleena Agrawal
Booth School of Business

Aleena Agrawal

Driving innovative, diverse, and inclusive growth across Chicago’s tech ecosystem.

Aleena Agrawal is the director of talent solutions at P33, building pathways that meaningfully connect aspiring talent with thriving businesses. Through her work, Aleena is creating systems-level change to ensure the city of Chicago works for all Chicagoans. She believes addressing lack of economic opportunity is the key to dispelling inequality and unlocking hope in our communities. Prior to joining P33, Aleena directed the national expansion of Cara Collective, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing pathways out of poverty through personal and professional training. Her experience also includes strategy consulting on organizational change, modernizing healthcare systems with new technology, and driving operational efficiencies in sales and distributions.

Aleena is a Neubauer Civic Scholar, pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She also has a BA in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis.


Headshot of Mara Heneghan
Mara Heneghan
Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Mara Heneghan

Strengthening local government response to economic justice to support residents during the pandemic and beyond.

Mara Heneghan is the director of policy in the Office of the Cook County Board President, managing the implementation of the County’s strategic policy goals. Mara works to advance policies that address the root causes of inequities and advance economic justice, in close partnership with advocates, nonprofit organizations, and other community stakeholders. She also assists the County’s pandemic response and recovery efforts, overseeing the creation of a legal aid program for residents facing eviction, foreclosure, or consumer debt cases and supporting the launch of the County’s first direct cash assistance program.

Mara is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice.


Headshot of Rameshwara Nand Jha
Rameshwara Nand Jha
Harris School of Public Policy

Rameshwara Nand Jha

Mobilizing women in rural neighborhoods to become first generation entrepreneurs through community organizing and training towards a vision of a poverty free and self-reliant India.

Rameshwara Nand Jha recently worked as the assistant program manager with Kudumbashree NRO, an organization led by the Government of India that aims to eliminate poverty by helping women in rural communities set up profitable enterprises. Through his work, Rameshwara led a team of 72 people to support micro-enterprises across 18 states in India that support women and girls interested in developing diverse income streams. He established systems that support first generation women entrepreneurs through knowledge dissemination, advisory and financial support, and other hands-on assistance to ensure sustainability.

Rameshwara is pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.


Headshot of Samantha Martinez
Samantha Martinez
Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Samantha Martinez

Empowering young people of color from the Southwest side of Chicago to imagine new possibilities and be changemakers in their communities.

Samantha Martinez is a first-generation, immigrant queer artist and co-founder of the Gage Park Latinx Council (GPLXC), the first community-led Cultural Center in Gage Park. Samantha develops and facilitates youth programs at GPLXC to create culturally affirming spaces where young people of color can imagine and lead change in their communities. In 2020, Samantha also co-founded GPLXC’s Mercadito, a free community market stocked with food and hygiene items that is visited by more than 90 residents every week. Samantha’s community-based work is led through an intersectional and anti-oppressive framework that considers the multiple intersections of oppression that impact the lives and experiences of Latinx, undocumented, and low-income people in Chicago.

Samantha is pursuing her master’s degree from the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago.


Headshot of Neel McNeill
Neel McNeill
Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Neel McNeill

Bridging theater, activism, and education with leading artists, administrators, and designers of color to create art and culture to support human and community development in the neighborhoods we call home.

Neel McNeill is the executive director with Definition Theatre and the Managing Director of Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago. Definition Theatre expands perspectives, stewards resources, and bridges the immense possibility found at the intersection of art, innovation, and education through sharing stories created with, inspired by, and intended for people of our community. Currently, Neel is working to build a permanent space for the theater in Woodlawn.

As a graduate of Howard University in Theatre Arts Administration, Neel was named by American Theater Magazine as a “Theatre Worker to Know.” She also participated in the 2018 American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy. Neel is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice.


Headshot of Prachi Naik
Prachi Naik
Booth School of Business

Prachi Naik

Equipping public schools with the resources needed to provide comprehensive school-based mental health services.

Prachi Naik is the CEO and founder of Counselors for America, a social venture dedicated to providing comprehensive school-based mental health services in under-resourced communities. Prachi’s work aims to ensure schools serve the needs of the whole child, integrating mental health into school culture. As a former middle school teacher, she is passionate about pursuing educational equity and social justice at the intersection of business and policy.

Prachi is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She is also a former Fulbright Scholar, and holds a Master in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School, a Master of Studies in World Literature from Oxford University, and a Bachelor in Arts from UC Berkeley.


Headshot of Grace Elizabeth Oxley
Grace Elizabeth Oxley
Harris School of Public Policy

Grace Elizabeth Oxley

Combatting education inequality and technology access in urban areas through research and inclusive policy advocacy and implementation.

Grace Elizabeth Oxley recently served as the former program manager at Pitt-Assisted Community & Schools, a research-to-practice program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social. Through her work, Grace provided leadership in the planning and mobilization of projects focused on academic achievement, workforce development, and community development. As an education professional, she aims to bridge the gap between institutions that can provide resources in communities, particularly in urban areas, that need them most, with just, inclusive policies.

Grace is pursuing her master’s degree from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. She is also a former visiting English lecturer at the University of Malaysia Perlis.


Headshot of Isabel Rodriguez Gracia
Isabel Rodriguez Gracia
Booth School of Business

Isabel Rodriguez Garcia

Fostering connections between farmers and direct consumers to create a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Isabel Rodriguez Garcia is the co-founder and CEO of Axo, a regenerative marketplace that helps climate-conscious farmers connect directly with food companies and other buyers. Isabel works to promote regenerative agriculture as a solution to social justice in the sector, as well as a means to grow more nutrient-dense food and fight climate change. She also founded an educational recycling program in Mexico City, enabling households to sort and recycle their garbage.

Isabel is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She represented Chicago Booth in the 10th annual Turner MIINT competition and won second place, helping a disruptive residential heating startup earn a $25,000 investment, allowing them to further impact the sector with an affordable climate-friendly solution.


Headshot of Tom Voutsos
Tom Voutsos
Booth School of Business

Tom Voutsos

Closing the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership in the Midwest.

Tom Voutsos is the co-founder and CEO of LadderUp Housing, an organization committed to bridging the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership for working class people living in low-income communities. LadderUp purchases and renovates homes, allowing the future homeowners to rent the property while building their credit score with guidance from a non-profit financial coaching partner. Once they are able to receive traditional mortgage financing, LadderUp sells the home to the participant. By targeting mid-sized Midwest cities, LadderUp can maintain affordability for the customer while creating a sustainable business model. Tom led LadderUp to a second-place finish in the University of Chicago’s Social New Venture Challenge, completed a pre-seed round of fundraising, and is implementing LadderUp’s model in Toledo, Ohio.

Tom is pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Prior to his academic career at the University of Chicago, Tom served as a Marine Corps officer and President of TRU Colors, a start-up brewery that hires active gang members to reduce violence.


Headshot of Sameer Warraich
Sameer Warraich
Harris School of Public Policy

Sameer Warraich

Using technology enabled solutions to tackle issues in development impact and capacity building in Pakistan.

Sameer Warraich is a trustee at Squeaks Foundation, a scholarship endowment fund, and an outreach consultant for Innovate. Educate. Inspire (IEI), working directly at the intersection of development, capacity building, and technology solutions. Prior to this role, Sameer worked as a management consultant at Kingsley Associates and was the Country Head for nexquare, a tech solution platform for educational institutes. His work helped develop schools in Pakistan and increase access to education for women and marginalized groups – including refugees and non-Muslim communities.

Currently, Sameer is working with The World Bank on impact evaluation to help optimize judicial processes in Pakistan and ultimately expand access to justice through AI enabled automation for marginalized communities. He is pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.


Headshot of Demeatreas Whatley
Demeatreas Whatley
Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Demeatreas Whatley

Supporting gun violence prevention across the South Side of Chicago through community outreach, using music and art to engage young people.

Demeatreas Whatley is the site supervisor at Cure Violence Global, working to combat gun violence in the South Side of Chicago. As a part of this work, Demeatreas leads and trains a team of community outreach workers on conflict mediation and ways to detect and interrupt community violence. After serving 17 years in prison, Demeatreas dedicated his life to working on violence interruption tools and techniques in his own community of Woodlawn. Demeatreas is also the co-founder of the Woodlawn Battle On Wax for Peace, an organization that uses music and art as a foundation to conduct healthy dialogue around conflict resolution and peace agreements with young men and women throughout the community. His model of community engagement has been so successful, he currently facilitates national trainings for Cure Violence Global.

Demeatreas is pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice.


Headshot of Arianna Zapanta
Arianna Zapanta
Harris School of Public Policy

Arianna Zapanta

Using data and technology to improve access and delivery of social assistance programs in developing countries.

Ria Zapanta is the social protection and jobs consultant at the World Bank Group in the Philippines, serving as the lead data analyst to deliver various research and analytical outputs in the areas of poverty and labor. Ria’s major work includes the monitoring and evaluation of the country’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program, and the design and analysis of the COVID-19 High-Frequency Surveys that monitor the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic across households. Her work ensures that key policymakers are aided with data-backed evidence to support their policy formulation and response. She believes in the power of data and technology and wants to leverage these assets to transform access and delivery of social assistance programs in developing countries, particularly in the Philippines.

Ria is pursuing her master’s degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Obama Scholars

Become a UChicago Obama Foundation Scholar
Applications for the 2022-23 class will open in Spring 2022.