Twenty-eight fellows selected for first cohort of Civic Leadership Academy

In a Jan. 22 ceremony at the Gleacher Center, the University of Chicago announced the 28 fellows who make up the first class of the Civic Leadership Academy, a new interdisciplinary leadership development program benefitting the community.

The Civic Leadership Academy provides training to emerging and high-potential leaders in nonprofit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County. The University launched the innovative program last September, to develop a pipeline of talented leaders to help nonprofits and government agencies thrive.

Beginning Jan. 29, the fellows will commence a rigorous six-month program that will provide them with essential skills, as well as the time and space to collaborate on a capstone project that addresses a practical challenge facing their organizations. By bringing nonprofit and government professionals together, the Leadership Academy also will fuel an exchange of ideas within the UChicago community and across the city of Chicago that will help improve practices and civic outcomes.

“The University launched the Civic Leadership Academy this fall, to invest in rising leaders, cultivate cross-sector collaboration among nonprofits and government, and encourage new approaches to solving urban challenges,” said Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement. “We are pleased to have the buy-in and support of our external partners—LISC Chicago, the Civic Consulting Alliance, City of Chicago, Cook County—who helped us shape the program and reach potential participants.”

The 28 inaugural fellows were selected from 110 applicants. They represent the City of Chicago, Cook County and nonprofit organizations from across the city. The 2015 Civic Leadership Academy fellows are:


  • Randall K. Blakey, executive pastor, LaSalle Street Church, and executive director, Near North Unity Program
  • Patrick Carey, special assistant, Governmental and Legislative Affairs, Office of the President, Cook County Government
  • Yesenia Cervantes, director of the Center for Working Families, Instituto del Progreso Latino
  • Jason Coleman, co-founder/executive director, Project SYNCERE
  • Brendan Daley, director of strategy and sustainability, Chicago Park District
  • Matt DeMateo, executive director, New Life Centers of Chicagoland
  • Jonathan Ernst, deputy commissioner of finance, Department of Family and Support Services, City of Chicago
  • Xochitl Flores, deputy bureau chief, Cook County Bureau of Economic Development
  • Angela Hurlock, executive director, Claretian Associates
  • Bilqis Jacobs-El, director of facilities management, Cook County
  • Tenisha Jones, director of education, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation
  • Lisa Lee, deputy chief attorney, Forest Preserve District of Cook County
  • Nina N. Longino, managing director, Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community
  • David McDermott, first deputy commissioner, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago
  • Darlene Oliver, executive director, Public Allies Chicago
  • Andrea C. Ortez, community organizer and program director, Southwest Organizing Project
  • Jessica Pipersburgh, counsel, Cook County Department of Public Health
  • Erendira Rendon, director of organizing, The Resurrection Project
  • Baronica Y. Roberson, deputy commissioner, Chicago Public Library
  • James Rudyk Jr., executive director, Northwest Side Housing Center
  • Monica Schwarm, special legal counsel, Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
  • Katherine Shank, supervisory attorney, LAF
  • Darnell Shields Jr., director of operations, Austin Coming Together
  • Carrie Spitler, executive director, Snow City Arts
  • Paul Thompson, dean of college to careers, Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago
  • Karen VanAusdal, executive director, Social and Emotional Learning, Chicago Public Schools
  • Robert Desmond White, vice president of program operations, The Cara Program
  • Zachary Williams, director of information systems, Office of Emergency Management and Communications, City of Chicago

Academy fellows were nominated by their organizations, which will pay the $5,000 program fee. The University and Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust provided $300,000 in seed funding to support the program. Microsoft Corporation and JPMorgan Chase have provided additional underwriting.

JPMorgan Chase provided $160,000 to support the first Civic Leadership Academy cohort, as well as a three-year research-based evaluation that will enable an ongoing assessment of the Civic Leadership Academy curriculum to identify what works, so that the most impactful components can be scaled and replicated. The firm is also providing $50,000 to support the Institute of Politics speaker series.

“Our urban communities face increasingly complex challenges that strain the resiliency and capability of our local nonprofits and government institutions and leave little means for anything except the task at hand,” said Kyle Williams, senior banker, Healthcare, Higher Education & Not-For-Profit banking for Chase’s Commercial Banking business. “By supporting the Civic Leadership Academy we’re allowing nonprofits and government institutions to look beyond the day-to-day.  We’re investing in the future leadership of our communities.”

The $40,000 grant from Microsoft will enhance the University’s curriculum around civic tech, which has people accessing, managing and using data in creative ways to improve their communities.

“Microsoft is proud to help underwrite this important curriculum,” said Shelley Stern Grach, director of civic engagement for Microsoft in Chicago. “The CLA will elevate the dialog around the civic tech movement, and teach CLA fellows the skills necessary to do tremendous good for citizens and their communities.”

Williams and Grach also are members of the Civic Leadership Academy advisory council, which advised the University on developing the program and helped interview and select candidates.

Academy fellow Baronica Y. Roberson, deputy commissioner for Chicago Public Library, has served in executive and management roles at a variety of city agencies. She is looking forward to gaining practical skills she can implement on a daily basis.

“One thing that I hope Chicago Public Library will gain from my being a part of Civic Leadership Academy is greater visibility for the library programs that are offered to all Chicago,” she said. “The skills and tools that I gain will be utilized to strengthen the Library’s capacity in program development, organizational development and fiscal management.”

Matt DeMateo leads New Life Centers of Chicagoland, a nonprofit that serves youth and families in four neighborhoods across the city. He is excited to receive support and guidance on his capstone project. “Many times in a small nonprofit, there is too much going on, and too few people to make it all happen. A lot of the big picture projects get pushed off until later, but later never comes.”

Each applicant submitted two ideas for capstone projects that will directly benefit his or her organization. They will share ideas with each other, and receive guidance from coaches from Chicago Booth’s Social Enterprise Initiative.

Xochitl Flores is deputy bureau chief for Cook County Bureau of Economic Development. One of the things that attracted her to the Civic Leadership Academy was the opportunity to collaborate with experts on a real-world project. “I most look forward to building a strong network of world-class faculty from the University of Chicago, expert practitioners, and professional colleagues. I will look to those thought leaders to advise and collaborate as we develop strategies to innovate and redesign government,” Flores said.

The Civic Leadership Academy is an initiative of the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement, in partnership with Chicago Harris, the School of Social Service Administration, Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, Chicago Booth, the University of Chicago Law School, and the Institute of Politics.

Local Initiatives Support Corp. Chicago is a nonprofit community development organization that connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier. The Civic Consulting Alliance builds pro bono teams of experts to develop ways to improve the region's education, transportation, economic development and health care.

For more information about the Civic Leadership Academy, please visit