A breakthrough program for breakthrough civic leaders.

During the one-year program, participating University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars develop a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to advancing social change in a wide range of settings. Scholars come into the program at breakthrough points in their leadership journeys, and leave the program prepared to address complex social challenges in their community and committed to continuing along their path of service.

Program Elements

As a University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholar, you participate in a robust set of supplemental programming organized by the University and the Obama Foundation designed to complement your final year of core degree requirements within your school. The program runs from early September 2021 - May 2022, and Scholars are expected to commit to participating in the following elements of the program.

Orientation and Graduation Programs

Multiple day sessions

The Obama Foundation curates multi-day orientation and graduation programs. At the beginning of the program in September, orientation welcomes Scholars to the Obama Foundation community.

Given public health realities, the orientation program will be conducted virtually over the course of multiple days in September 2021 before Autumn Quarter begins. At the conclusion of the program in May, Scholars will participate in a multi-day graduation program to both celebrate the cohort’s achievements and present their action plans.

Community Impact Seminars

90 minutes per seminar

Drawing from faculty across the University’s research and impact ecosystem, these seminars are designed to help students better understand how engaged scholarship can bridge rigorous research with the practice of uplifting communities—from Chicago’s South Side to around the globe. These 90-minute seminars take place twice a month, allowing Scholars to meet with faculty and researchers whose centers, institutes, and labs leverage diverse fields of inquiry and use research to address complex challenges.

Virtual Monthly Personal and Professional Development Workshops and Conversations

2 hours each, with option for additional engagement

Led by the Obama Foundation, these virtual sessions are designed to improve Scholars’ ability to tell the story of their work, reflect and refine their leadership approach, and build sustained, personal resilience. Through a variety of virtual session formats, Scholars also hear about the innovative solutions coming from the Obama Foundation program participant alumni community and have conversations with high-level thought leaders across sectors.

Action-Plan Development

Over the course of the year, Scholars utilize the resources of the program to develop their own action plans to guide their next career steps and note a specific commitment to reinvest new skills towards solving a particular problem in their own community.

Quarterly Civic Treks

4 hours per quarter

These half-day excursions bring Scholars off-campus to meet with and learn from civic leaders and community activists who are confronting pressing social issues that shape Chicago’s neighborhoods and are of critical concern to communities around the world. Through these treks, Scholars develop sustained relationships with civic practitioners who work on the South Side and access new opportunities to support local nonprofits.

Quarterly Lunches with the Institute of Politics Pritzker Fellows

90 minutes per quarter

Scholars have an exclusive opportunity each quarter to meet with, question, and learn from the Institute of Politics Pritzker Fellows, a diverse cohort of elected officials, diplomats, policymakers, activists, nonprofit leaders, and journalists who come to campus for deep-dive analyses of pressing social issues impacting young people in communities across the globe.

University of Chicago Alumni Mentorship

6 hours per quarter

The University pairs Scholars with accomplished professionals from their schools’ alumni communities who can help them connect their coursework with the practical day-to-day challenges and opportunities that await them in their careers. Each mentor is paired with a Scholar whose work and goals most closely align with their expertise.

Obama Foundation Scholar Connections

The Foundation facilitates direct connections between current Obama Scholars and prior cohorts, based on their issues of focus. Scholars also have the option to join a series of program participant-led communities of practice across the entire Obama Foundation network.

Individualized Support

Scholars are paired with an executive coach to help gain self-awareness, clarify goals, brainstorm ideas, achieve development objectives, and unlock potential. Scholars also have access to professionals who provide customized advice related to fundraising in support of action plans as well as strategic communications goals.

Program Requirements

The University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program is an intensive commitment on your path to service. Students must commit to participate in all programming elements described above. While we recognize that existing coursework and other academic and extracurricular commitments are substantial, we expect Scholars to fully involve themselves in all portions of this program. Before applying, please consider whether you would be able to honor this commitment.

Note: Required time commitment is approximately 3 hours weekly over the course of 9 months, with additional programming occurring during orientation and graduation. Please only apply if you can commit to the full time required for the program.

Program Faculty & Staff

Headshot of Christopher Blattman
Christopher Blattman

Christopher Blattman


Program Faculty Director

Christopher Blattman is a faculty member in the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and the Faculty Director for the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program, Blattman focuses on why some people and societies are poor, unequal and violent, and how to tackle these issues.

Headshot of Adrian Talbott
Adrian Talbott

Adrian Talbott

Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement at the Crown Family School

Adrian Talbott is the Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement at the Crown Family School, where he manages community-engaged scholarship and learning efforts that pair faculty and students with civic partners to collaboratively address pressing social issues that impact Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Additional Benefits

There is no additional cost for University of Chicago students to apply or to participate in this program. 

Each participating student will receive $10,000 of financial support in the form of a stipend to defray tuition costs and living expenses in their final year.

Participating students also complete this program with a certificate from the Obama Foundation and matriculate into the Obama Foundation’s Alumni Network, a global community of collaborative emerging leaders, driven by values and committed to tackling the most pressing challenges of our time.

Obama Scholars

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