The University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation on June 16 announced plans for a newly designed University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program, a joint initiative for promising civic leaders from around the United States and the world who have demonstrated the potential to make an impact on pressing issues facing their communities. 

Launching in the 2021-2022 academic year, this one-year co-curricular program will be open to current UChicago students entering their final year of their master’s studies at either the Booth School of Business, the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, or the Harris School of Public Policy. Drawing on the University of Chicago’s distinctive interdisciplinary tradition and the Obama Foundation’s significant expertise in civic and values-based leadership, the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program brings together a diverse group of current students and strives to empower them with the education, skills, relationships, and perspectives needed to address pressing societal challenges faced by communities across the globe. Over the course of the program, Scholars will have access to a robust set of supplemental programming to complement the final year of their core degree requirements within their respective schools.

President Obama speaking to a group of Obama Foundation Scholars. Photo Credit: The Obama Foundation.

“The education that students receive at the University of Chicago provides more than essential knowledge in their fields. It empowers them with the habits of mind and intellectual skills they will need to make a lasting impact in communities, and to address evolving and complex social and policy problems in all parts of the world,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “By developing a global network of leaders and engaged organizations, the Obama Foundation Scholars Program will help our students address the most important challenges facing communities here in Chicago and around the world.”

“The University of Chicago has always meant a lot to Michelle and me, and we are excited to work with them to help lift up a new generation of leaders,” said former President Barack Obama. “As we prepare to break ground on the Obama Presidential Center, this program will also spotlight the important work being done on civic leadership here in Chicago. Our hope is to inspire our Scholars to take the lessons they learn here back to their own communities and keep making a difference.”

The new initiative builds on the Obama Foundation Scholars pilot program that was established in 2018 in partnership with the Harris School of Public Policy. The new program deepens the focus on urban challenges facing the South Side, Chicago, and communities around the world while also supporting a set of emerging leaders across several graduate schools on campus, with future careers spanning government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises.

President Obama speaking with students. Photo Credit: The Obama Foundation

“We are grateful to be able to partner with the Obama Foundation to prepare the next generation of rising leaders to make a real difference in their communities and around the world,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. “By building bridges across fields, the program’s new interdisciplinary design will both enrich the Scholars’ experience and create even greater opportunity to explore new ideas and implement collaborative approaches to addressing urgent community needs.”

Through co-curricular programming offered by the University of Chicago and leadership development programs offered by the Obama Foundation, Scholars will build a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to advancing social change in a wide range of settings. With a focus on the neighborhoods near the University’s campus, the program will provide opportunities for students to experience and examine how engaging with partners on the South Side of Chicago can lead to policies that help solve pervasive problems in communities around the world. Scholars will leave the program prepared to address complex social challenges in their community and committed to continuing along their path of service.

President Obama at the University of Chicago. Photo Credit: The Obama Foundation

“No single discipline can begin to address the complex nature of our societal challenges. We are excited to work with our colleagues across the University and the Obama Foundation to support emerging leaders who are committed to working together to solve the most pressing challenges of our time,” said Deborah Gorman-Smith, Dean, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. “This program will provide opportunities for students to deepen and further expand our community-engaged partnerships on the South Side of Chicago, and will help inform scalable solutions that can, in turn, help solve problems common to urban communities around the world.”

Obama Foundation Scholars will be part of a global network, including current and prior Obama Scholars cohorts at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, based on their areas of focus. Among other opportunities, Scholars will have the option to join an active group of community leaders across the entire Obama Foundation network.

Alumni of the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at convocation. Photo Credit: The Obama Foundation

“Solving the world’s greatest problems requires the efforts of committed leaders who are equipped with cutting-edge tools and insights,” said Booth Dean Madhav Rajan. “We are excited to bring our distinctive, data-driven and collaborative approach to learning, plus Booth’s and the Obama Foundation’s vast global networks, to the next generation of social sector leaders.”

The program begins in early September 2021, and applications for the 2021-22 academic year are due June 27, 2021 by 11:59 p.m. CT. Interested University of Chicago students may visit the program website for more information on UChicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program, eligibility criteria, and details on how to apply. More information can be found on the Obama Foundation website at