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The University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation introduce the 2023-2024 University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars from:
Executive Director, Awakenings
Using art and storytelling to help survivors of sexual violence heal from trauma, and build bridges between organizations in an under-resourced mission area.
Laura Kinter is the executive director of Awakenings, where she has dedicated the past nine years to providing healing opportunities for survivors of sexual violence through art. At Awakenings, Laura designs and implements a service delivery model for survivors that includes art workshops, open studio time, and a curriculum-based cohort program. Laura plans to leverage the Scholars program curriculum to work at a systems change level to address the prevalence of sexual assault and aims to foster collective impact by bringing together rape-crisis centers, law firms, therapists, shelters, prevention organizations, and policy advocates to improve the pathway to healing for survivors.
Co-Founder and Vice President of Civic Ventures, Lead For AmericaBuilding economic prosperity in rural and emerging cities through national service.
Benya Beacom is a social entrepreneur with a passion for community development and revitalization. As the co-founder and vice president of Civic Ventures at Lead For America, she helped build a national nonprofit dedicated to addressing brain drain in rural America by recruiting, training, and placing intergenerational leaders into service fellowships in emerging communities. Benya’s dedication to her home state led her to found and direct Lead For Minnesota, where she has overseen 30 fellows across 30 rural and tribal communities in Minnesota and over 300 nationwide since 2019. Through the Scholars program, Benya seeks to explore cross-sector approaches to fostering social trust, a common civic language, and a shared sense of responsibility in local communities.
Helping Brazilians learn and use Artificial Intelligence to prepare people for the jobs of tomorrow.
Amaral Medeiros is the co-founder of Gradua, an ed-tech platform that utilizes Artificial Intelligence to reskill and upskill underserved communities in Brazil. Gradua is the first personalized online university in the country and has the goal of providing education to one million people. Amaral is committed to democratizing access to quality education and seeks to leverage the Scholars program's network, systems thinking approach, and individualized support resources to advance the work of his social startup, providing upskilling opportunities to help Brazilians thrive in the digital economy.
Judge Advocate, United States Army JAG Corps
Addressing sexual harassment within military ranks through legislative advocacy and compassionate counsel.
Jordan Lewis is a veteran attorney working with the United States Army Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps, where he provides legal guidance on military justice issues. He recently transitioned from active duty to the reserves and now focuses on the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) program, where he aims to address the issue of sexual harassment within military ranks through legislative advocacy and compassionate counsel. Through the Scholars program, Jordan hopes to gain the policy and advocacy tools to navigate complex systems and enact policy change within the military.
Chief of Staff, Office of the President, Chicago State University
Pioneering a more thoughtful model for comprehensive economic development to drive holistic investments into historically underserved neighborhoods towards inclusive prosperity.
Kim H. Tran serves as operations lead and senior advisor to the President of Chicago State University, the only U.S. Department of Education-designed four-year predominantly Black institution in Illinois. Kim has played a key role in the university’s revitalization as a community anchor institution for the far south side of Chicago, resulting in significant public and private investments returning to the neighborhood. With a focus on education equity, Kim led statewide public policy proposals and forged strategic partnerships to address systemic challenges to community investment. Through the Scholars program, Kim plans to pioneer a thoughtful model for comprehensive economic development that will drive holistic investments into historically underserved neighborhoods.
Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Covery Health
Providing equitable access to evidence-based treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.
Christopher Wen is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Covery Health, an organization dedicated to addressing the pressing issue of Opioid Use Disorder and improving access to addiction medicine services for vulnerable communities. Covery aims to bridge the gap in addiction services by providing virtual-first interventions for patients—particularly those in emergency and inpatient departments—and connecting patients to hard-to-find social services and tailored medical resources. As CEO, Christopher hopes to lead a team of clinicians and technology partners to drive the expansion of a medical network of addiction medicine experts, establishing partnerships with hospitals nationwide. He intends to use the Scholars program to refine his community engagement approaches and advocacy skills to push for the expansion of addiction medicine access, increased education, and specialization opportunities for primary care providers.
Learning Center Community Engagement Manager, The Field Museum of Natural HistoryFostering long-term partnerships in communities focused on co-creation to inspire youth and families towards careers and opportunities in science and history.
Teresa Barajas is the community engagement manager at the Field Museum, where she leads efforts to provide students and families in the Southwest and West sides of Chicago with out-of-school enrichment opportunities that inspire critical thinking and provide a safe space for learning and scientific inquiry. Teresa has created strong and dedicated partnerships with community groups, co-designing programming with communities to be relevant and responsive, centering community voices, and creating educational spaces where families can participate in meaningful programming. Teresa aims to use the Scholars program to help position her as a bridge for underrepresented students to reach a multitude of careers that may inspire the next generation of scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, collections managers, researchers, and conservationists from Chicago.
Volunteer Coordinator, The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
Enhancing support for unaccompanied and separated immigrant children in government custody, while expanding access to community-based resources.
Alli Gattari has focused her career on advocating for the rights of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. At The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, she develops trainings and areas of support for volunteers and works to expand the organization's capacity to serve young people in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In her prior role at the National Immigrant Justice Center, Alli supported unaccompanied immigrant children on their immigration cases, helping them overcome systemic barriers and connecting them to vital community resources. Alli hopes to use the Scholars program to launch an initiative that supports children recently released from ORR custody and helps them navigate U.S. social service systems.
Regional Director of Model United Nations, KIPP Chicago Public Schools
Cultivating leadership, critical thinking, and advocacy skills in middle school students on Chicago's West and South sides through Model United Nations programs with the vision of emphasizing student voice to create change.
Molly Harris is an experienced educator dedicated to addressing educational inequities and empowering students on Chicago's West and South Sides. Molly founded and currently leads the Model United Nations (Model UN) program at multiple KIPP Chicago schools. The Model UN program enables students to develop leadership skills, conduct research on global issues, and collaborate with peers from around the world. Molly intends to leverage the Scholars program to reach students of color who lack access to resources and work alongside Chicago social sector leaders to create systems that allow students to enact change in their communities and create school environments that allow for optimal student learning and growth.
Member, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
Facilitating social change by enabling and empowering traditionally marginalized communities, while advocating lasting people-led legislative and policy reforms.
Avinash Kumar is a human rights advocate committed to addressing critical sociopolitical issues in India, including government transparency and accountability. Avinash has worked with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and associated campaigns centered on advocating for rights-based legislation and social justice, including the Right to Information Act, social security pensions, and government work guarantee campaigns. Avinash has collaborated with the Safai Karamchari Andolan, an organization focused on eliminating manual scavenging and seeking compensation and rehabilitation for affected individuals. Avinash actively spreads awareness about this issue and has contributed to governmental efforts to find efficient and scalable solutions. Avinash intends to use the Scholars program as an opportunity to refine his approach and act as a coalition builder. His goal is to collaborate with various stakeholders and advocate for the modernization of sanitation work in India.
Assistant Director, The Undocumented Migration Project
Raising awareness about the global migration crisis to help families of disappeared migrants identify and honor their loved ones who died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Austin Shipman is the assistant director of the Undocumented Migration Project, where she plays a pivotal role in creating safe and humane processes for families searching for their missing loved ones while raising global awareness about the humanitarian crisis of migrants dying along the U.S.-Mexico border. She spearheaded initiatives, including a database of missing person reports, assisted families in collecting DNA samples for potential identifications, and fostered community among affected families. Austin is eager to use the Scholars program to create innovative solutions to sustainably advance her work and reimagine the nonprofit sector's approach to caring for and valuing frontline workers while making meaningful social change.
Program and Operations Coordinator LIFT Chicago; Auxiliary Board President, San Miguel School
Increasing the financial and mental well-being of families of color by expanding access to high-quality education, support services, social capital, and direct cash transfers.
Samantha Siers is a program and operations coordinator at LIFT Chicago, providing individual support and care to parents as they pursue their career, education, and financial goals. Driven by her personal experiences with teen parenthood, Samantha is dedicated to supporting underinvested communities by connecting them to the necessary resources. As the Auxiliary Board President of San Miguel School, Samantha supports the school’s mission to uplift Back of the Yards, a community that has been historically deprived of resources, through increased access to high-quality education, therapeutics, and language support. She plans to use the Scholars program to address an urgent need in the communities she serves: launching a low-cost mental health support hotline for mothers experiencing mental health challenges, and bringing together a network of therapists, doulas, and social workers to fill this gap.
Co-Founder and President, Gender Rights Watch (GRW)Working towards the equal rights—such as education, health care, and legal rights—of gender and sexual minorities as an activist and by working with nonprofits and the public sector.
Muaz Chaudhry is the founder of Gender Rights Watch, Pakistan’s first organization to advocate for the rights of all gender minorities in Pakistan. The organization combats misinformation and educates Pakistanis on the importance of the Transgender Persons Act, provides victims of hate crimes with legal aid, runs awareness campaigns to combat hate narratives, and conducts lobbying efforts for the legislative protection of gender minorities. Muaz is eager to leverage the interdisciplinary approach of the Scholars program to establish a coalition to help gender and sexual minorities thrive as equal citizens in Pakistan and gain the multidimensional leadership skills to lead this work on an international scale.
Founder and Director, Impact Social Consulting
Easing financial access in Latin America through technology and community-driven solutions.
Mateo Cruz leads a social impact consulting organization that services nonprofit organizations addressing pressing social issues with a focus on financial inclusion. Impact Social Consulting operates a volunteer network of marketing, finance, and technology experts, bringing their skills to local organizations to help them develop innovative solutions to expand their impact and create sustainable change for the vulnerable communities they serve. Through the Scholars program, Mateo aims to develop a structured methodology to enable the private sector to contribute knowledge to grassroots nonprofit organizations, prioritizing issues crucial for Colombia's development, such as education, nutrition, and health care.
Indigenous Business & Partnerships Coordinator, American Sustainable Business Network
Empowering Indigenous-led, community-based economic development, entrepreneurship, and environmental conservation through a community-driven approach.
Terrius Harris is the Indigenous business and partnerships coordinator at the American Sustainable Business Network, where he works to address economic and social inequality in Indigenous communities. In this role, he helped negotiate an agreement with the Department of the Interior to support tribally-led community-based economic development, entrepreneurship, and conservation initiatives. Terrius intends to use the resources of the Scholars program to develop guides for forming effective partnerships between Indigenous communities and the private sector and bring greater understanding and context to economic and social development possibilities in Indian Country to help lead Tribal Nations towards self-sustenance.
Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the People's Republic of BangladeshEmpowering the most vulnerable people to climate change around the world through a united front by forging a shared vision of a future where no one is left behind.
Sharowar Khan is a career diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh specializing in United Nations (UN)-led multilateral platforms, where he has focused his work on critical climate change initiatives under the Multilateral Economic Affairs (MEA) Wing. In this position, Sharowar drafted the government of Bangladesh’s position paper on climate change for COP26, the Dhaka-Glasgow Declaration adopted by 48 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, and was a member of the Bangladesh delegation to the 76th UN General Assembly, COP 26, and 7th UN Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. Sharowar sees the climate crisis as an existential threat and plans to harness the network and leadership skills gained through the Scholars program to drive collective action, empowering climate-vulnerable communities across the world.
Teacher, Chicago Public SchoolsEmpowering youth in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood to navigate the digital world safely, fostering social-emotional growth and academic progress through a comprehensive social media education program.
Jane Kim has spent almost a decade teaching on the South Side of Chicago, where she held roles as a teacher, case manager, and interventionist, gaining an intimate understanding of the most urgent challenges faced by students today. Jane is committed to addressing the negative impact and significant risks associated with social media use among youth by developing a curriculum to equip children and teens with the digital literacy skills necessary to navigate the digital world and avoid harmful content and habits. Building on an existing partnership with Reavis Elementary in the Bronzeville neighborhood, Jane plans to use the Scholars program to refine her pilot program to provide teachers and students with support and resources to enhance social-emotional growth, social media education, and literacy simultaneously.
Executive Director, Gambit Chicago
Mobilizing minority communities with unique programming to create economic development, social development, and neighborhood revitalization.
Joseph Olalusi is a South Side native and the founder of Gambit Chicago, a nonprofit organization that provides extracurricular learning opportunities for students in the Englewood area. Joseph developed a six-week after-school summer program, teaching students to remodel clothes and develop business service skills, thereby allowing local residents to realize new possibilities for themselves and discourage youth violence in the neighborhood. Through the Scholars program, Joseph hopes to develop a strategy for expanding Gambit Chicago’s extracurricular activities to include volunteer federal income tax filing education and urban gardening, providing alternative opportunities for youth engagement and career exploration.