Isabelle Hirschy
Isabelle Hirschy, MPP Class of 2022

Isabelle Hirschy, MPP Class of 2022, comes from a service background and wasted no time getting involved in the local community at Harris. In this post, she discusses various civic engagement opportunities for students while they study at Harris. 

Like many of my classmates, I decided to get my policy degree in order to be a better practitioner, and I found it bittersweet to leave my work behind for the classroom. I was determined not to lose touch with civic engagement while in school. As a first-year Harris student, I landed in Hyde Park eager to gain practical experience and get to know my new home. For me, volunteering in the community was the perfect way to achieve both of these goals! Fortunately, there are many ways students can do this during their time at Harris.

I heard about Harris Community Action (HCA) at my Admitted Students’ Day, and I immediately knew it would be the perfect complement to my coursework. HCA is a student organization that assembles teams to provide consulting services to nonprofits on the South and West sides of Chicago. My team and I spent ten weeks developing a Theory of Change for a nonprofit doing trauma-informed interventions in Bronzeville. Other groups created data analyses, project plans, or grant proposals. This work exposed me to research outside of my own policy focus as well as connecting me with some of the incredible work community organizations are doing.

The Office of Civic Engagement (OCE) bridges all divisions of the University of Chicago and its surrounding neighborhoods. They operate dozens of programs every year, covering everything from the arts to education to entrepreneurship. My own involvement is on a community-led research project called the South Side Housing Data Initiative. I work on a team of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students to better understand the state of housing and support the advocacy of neighborhoods in the South Side. OCE also hosts trainings and talks about building authentic partnerships, the history of the University and its relationship with the South Side, and more. These conversations were hugely valuable to me as a new resident who was not very familiar with the area, and they better informed all of my community activities.

If you are particularly interested in entrepreneurship, I would highly recommend the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) through the Booth Business school. Student teams create startups that center a social mission, and finalists compete for $100,000 in funding. Past winners have promoted debate education in Chicago Public Schools or created tools for voter education. 

Finally, I am looking forward to taking a Policy Lab course at Harris next year. They are offered each quarter and cover a variety of topics. Similar to HCA, each lab focuses on creating a deliverable for a real-world client. I hope to use this as either an opportunity to do practical work that is more narrowly focused on my policy interests or to get more experience with public-sector clients. 

This barely scratches the surface of all of the ways you can get involved during your time at Harris. To find more opportunities, join email lists or follow social media accounts for organizations you might be interested in. I also found it very helpful to read local news and make note of who was leading community efforts in my area. Even better, find current students on LinkedIn or in your classes who are doing something you want to support and grab a coffee with them. They’ll have the best recommendations for how to get involved, how much time you’ll need to commit to, and what the day-to-day work is like. 

Volunteering was much more to me than just a professional exercise. Being engaged in the community helped me feel like I belong in a new place, even in the midst of a pandemic.