Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers the keynote address at the CLA Welcome Ceremony. Photo by Barbara Freeman.

On January 9, the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) announced the 30 government and nonprofit leaders – representing the City of Chicago, Cook County, and citywide and community-based nonprofit organizations – selected for its 2020 class. The new fellows were introduced at a ceremony at Venue SIX10 in Chicago that featured Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot JD’89 as the keynote speaker.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered the keynote address for the CLA Welcome Ceremony for the new 2020 cohort of fellows.

Developed by the University of Chicago in 2014, CLA is an annual leadership development program for emerging and high-potential leaders in non-profit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County. Prior to this class, the sixth cohort of CLA fellows, the program counted 149 fellows as program alumni among its growing network. Alumni have gone on to serve in positions of increasing responsibility in the city and county, including in Mayor Lightfoot’s administration. 

“The Civic Leadership Academy advances Harris’ commitment to evidence-based policy innovation and leadership on important issues facing our city, joining initiatives including the Urban Labs,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, the CLA’s academic home. “Through CLA, this impressive group of leaders from local government and nonprofits will have the opportunity to develop new skills and build connections that will catalyze their vital work in Chicago.”

“Residents who are empowered and inspired to create lasting, measurable change will transform our city's trajectory,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “These Civic Leadership Academy fellows represent a new generation of civically-focused individuals who will continue our common mission to expand justice, equity and opportunity throughout Chicago.”

The 2020 cohort of Civic Leadership fellows joined by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Dean Katherine Baicker, Professor William Howell, and Center for Effective Government Executive Director Sadia Sindhu.
The 2020 cohort of Civic Leadership fellows joined by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Dean Katherine Baicker, Professor William Howell, and Center for Effective Government Executive Director Sadia Sindhu.

While there are numerous leadership development programs for the private sector, such opportunities specifically designed for nonprofit and government leaders are rare, but necessary.

“It’s a privilege to be part of this select group of professionals to spend time with some of the most progressive minds and thought leaders in Chicago,” said Betsy A. Leonard (CLA’16), vice president of engagement at Heartland Alliance, who spoke at the ceremony. “Our world can’t afford not to build bridges and relationships of trust as it magnifies the talent of the civic sector.”

Professor William Howell, director of the Center for Effective Government, which administers CLA.
Professor William Howell, director of the Center for Effective Government, which administers CLA.

“This cohort of nonprofit and government leaders will come together in an intellectual environment that fosters relationship-building, honest and open dialogue, and clear-eyed thinking about issues of leadership and what it takes to effect social change,”said William Howell, director of the Center for Effective Government, Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Harris, and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago. “Chicago is a city full of hope and civic pride, but with real challenges. CLA seeks to take a meaningful look at what real leadership looks like.” 

The CLA is administered by the Center for Effective Government (CEG), a nonpartisan academic initiative that will seek to drive change in the governance of American institutions, which was formed at Harris in 2019 under Howell’s leadership. 

Sadia Sindhu
Sadia Sindhu, executive director of the Center for Effective Government

“CLA alumni play a critical role in the success of the Center for Effective Government and its ambitious goals as it seeks to bridge the gap between research and practice by engaging a broad network of scholars, practitioners, and students,” said Sadia Sindhu, executive director of the CEG. “With the help of the Civic Leadership Academy, the CEG produces a pipeline of effective civic leaders and reformers ready to make change in our communities.”

The Fellows will begin a rigorous six-month program that will teach essential leadership skills and provide the time and space to focus on a specific leadership skill that will benefit their work. In March, the fellows will travel to Paris, for a weeklong global practicum. Upon completion of the program, they will receive a certificate in civic leadership from Harris.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle shakes hands with new CLA Fellow Timothy O’Connell, Deputy Chief Program Officer, Chicago Park District, at the CLA Welcome Ceremony. Preckwinkle delivered a toast to the new cohort.

By bringing nonprofit and government professionals together, the Civic Leadership Academy fuels an exchange of ideas within the University community and across the city that will help improve practices and civic outcomes. The 2019 class includes 15 fellows who work for nonprofit organizations, eight from city government, and seven from county government.

The 2020 fellows are:

  • John Benigno AM’99, Lieutenant, Chicago Police Department, Education and Training Division
  • Jessica Biggs, Organizer and Director, Southwest System of Care, The Southwest Organizing Project
  • Judith Camacho-Campbell, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Chicago Public Schools
  • Ricardo Cifuentes, Vice President of External Affairs, Esperanza Health Centers
  • Jahmal Cole, Founder and CEO, Role Model Movement (My Block My Hood My City)
  • Dean Constantinou, Manager of Financial Planning and Analysis, Cook County Government, Bureau of Finance
  • Dunni T. Cosey Gay, Communications Director, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
  • Barbara Engelskirchen, Chief Development Officer, National Museum of Mexican Art
  • Rebecca Estrada, Senior Director of Operations, Youth Division for the City of Chicago Department of Family Support Services
  • Stephanie Gomez, Program Manager Economic Vitality, West Side United – West University Medical Center
  • Marshall E. Hatch, Jr. AM’17, Co-Founder and Executive Director, MAAFA Redemption Project
  • Skyla S. Hearn, Chief Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, DuSable Museum of African American History
  • Tim Jeffries, Deputy Commissioner, City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development
  • Brittany Jackson Kairis, Executive Director, Strategic Initiatives – Adult Education, City Colleges of Chicago
  • Era Laudermilk, Deputy Public Defender of Policy & Strategic Planning, Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender
  • Viviana Martinez, Special Assistant for Legal Affairs, Cook County Bureau of Administration
  • Timothy O’Connell, Deputy Chief Program Officer, Chicago Park District
  • Deborah Philbrick, Program Officer, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Al Ponder, Deputy Commander, Forest Preserve of Cook County
  • Veronica Reyes, Vice President of Community Ownership, The Resurrection Project
  • Shavion L. Scott, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Austin Coming Together (ACT)
  • Nick Shields, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
  • Tiffany Sanders Sostrin, Deputy Director, Intergovernmental Affairs, City of Chicago, Office of the Mayor
  • Mary Joly Stein, Chief, Child Protection Division, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office
  • Meridel Trimble, Chief Operating Officer, One Million Degrees
  • Vanessa Uribe, Program Manager, Cook County, Bureau of Economic Development
  • J. Gibran Villalobos, Assistant Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
  • Erik Wallenius, Chief of Staff, Office of Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward)
  • Jon Weber, Director of School and Family Programs, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association
  • Audrey Wennink, Director of Transportation, Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC)

Skyla S. Hearn is the recipient of the Jessica Bryar Scholarship, which is named in honor of Jessica Bryar (CLA’17), who passed away in 2019. Judith Camacho-Campbell and Mary Joly Stein are recipients of the McCormick Government Fellowship.

With generous support from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Microsoft Corporation, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, the Field Foundation, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Office of Civic Engagement and Harris launched and have continued to support the Civic Leadership Academy in partnership with the University’s other professional schools – Chicago Booth School of Business, the Graham School of Continuing and Professional Studies, UChicago Law School, and the School of Social Service Administration – and the Institute of Politics, as well as Local Initiatives Support Corp (LISC) Chicago, Civic Consulting Alliance, the City of Chicago, and Cook County. Harris has been the academic home of CLA from its inception.