Thirty New Obama Foundation Scholars Announced At Columbia, University Of Chicago


The 2022-23 cohorts of Obama Foundation Scholars have been announced for both Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

At both institutions, the Scholars will participate in curricula emphasizing leadership development, training, networking activities, and customized support throughout the academic year. According to the Obama Foundation, it’s aim is to help the Scholars “gain the real-world skills, tools, and experiences they need to expand the impact of their work when they return home.”

“The Obama Scholars program provides students with the unique opportunity to give and gain insight into the work that fellow young leaders are driving in their communities, while speaking to the intersectionality of their efforts through collaboration,” said Obama Foundation Chief Executive Officer Valerie Jarrett in the Foundation’s news release. “We are eager to welcome the new cohort of Scholars to the Foundation family–a network of changemakers working tirelessly for a more equitable future.”

The University of Chicago

At the University of Chicago, students in their final year of study in a Master’s program in the Harris School of Public Policy; Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; and the Booth School of Business are eligible to be selected as Obama Foundation Scholars.

The program brings together an interdisciplinary group of young leaders and provides them special, year-long programming focused on social change and leadership to prepare them “to tackle the most pressing issues facing the South Side of Chicago and communities around the globe.”

This year there are 18 scholars, from a wide variety of backgrounds. The full list can be found here. Among this year’s cohort are:

  • Chris Akelthe co-founder of Pathways, an organization that serves to enhance English education, college access, and youth development for rural, refugee, and low-income communities in Palestine.
  • Olamide Babatundewho founded the Alumni Career Office at Noble Network of Charter Schools, an open enrollment, public charter school network that primarily serves low-income first-generation college students throughout Chicago.
  • Christine Gogginsa violence recovery specialist at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she helps patients and their families recover from intentional violence.
  • Omotunde Odedeyi, co-founder of JetAfrica, a platform that tackles unemployment and poverty in disadvantaged communities in Nigeria through skills development and mentorship for youth.

“The University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program provides students with a unique opportunity to engage with communities across Chicago and the world,” said University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos. “Much like a University of Chicago education, the program’s interdisciplinary approach prepares emerging leaders to address our most complex problems.”

In addition to courses in their degree programs, the scholars will engage in several program components developed by the University of Chicago, including:

  • Community Impact Seminars taught by faculty across the University;
  • Quarterly Civic Treks that take scholars off-campus to learn from civic leaders and community activists who are confronting social issues in Chicago’s neighborhoods that also are of concern to communities around the world;
  • Quarterly interactions with Pritzker Fellows from the Institute of Politics, a select group of elected officials, diplomats, policymakers, activists, nonprofit leaders, and journalists;
  • Mentorships with professionals from the University of Chicago schools’ alumni community.

Columbia University

At Columbia University, the Scholars will participate in Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes researchers and scholars from across the university to work with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to find solutions for real-world problems.

This year’s cohort consists of 12 scholars, who will serve a year-long residency at Columbia. The full list can be found here. Included in this group are:

  • Jesus Armasthe president of Ciudadanía Sin Límites, an organization that promotes freedom and democracy in Venezuela.
  • Allison Benson-Hernandezthe founder, director, and principal researcher of Re-imaginemos, an action research center that addresses inequality in Colombia.
  • Lilian Nakigozi, Founder & CEO of Women Smiles Uganda, Nakigozi is a social entrepreneur who’s designed affordable, climate-resilient vertical farms to grow sustainable crops in areas of limited space.
  • Mustika Wijaya, an engineer who founded Solar Chapter and has developed a community-owned solar pump system to ensure that Indonesians have access to clean water.

Key components of the Columbia program are:

  • a year-long weekly seminar exploring key global issues such as inequality, technological developments, diffusion of power, population movements, and climate change;
  • Personal and professional development workshops designed to strengthen the Scholars’ leadership ability;
  • Experiential learning through the Columbia World Projects.
  • Audited coursework, allowing Scholars to enroll in up to two graduate level courses each semester at Columbia:
  • A Thought Leadership Speaker Series introducing Scholars to seasoned practitioners from the NGO community, and philanthropic, governmental, and international organizations;
  • Partnership with a Columbia faculty advisor selected for their subject matter expertise.

Since its beginning in 2018, the Obama Foundation Scholars Program has served 125 Scholars from 55 different countries.

In addition to the special programming at the two universities, the Scholars receive financial support. At the University of Chicago, each participant receives $10,000 in the form of a stipend to defray tuition costs and living expenses. At Columbia, the Scholars receive a monthly stipend, a furnished studio apartment within walking distance of Columbia University, tuition and fees for up to four courses at Columbia, basic health insurance, and travel expenses.

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