UChicago celebrates 25 years of reducing barriers to education and career success

Metcalf Internships, Odyssey Scholarship Program reach milestone anniversaries as part of commitment to access and inclusion

This year, hundreds of talented students of all backgrounds, geographies and financial circumstances joined the University of Chicago community. When they complete their first year in the College, many of these undergraduates will join thousands of their peers who are spending their summer analyzing economic data with the Federal Reserve, exploring ecology at the Field Museum, managing constituent relations for members of Congress, or enjoying one of the College’s other 4,000-plus paid professional internship opportunities.

These College students will continue two UChicago programs that have provided transformative educational and career experiences for generations of alumni: the Jeff Metcalf Internship Program and Odyssey Scholarship Program.

In 2022, UChicago celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Metcalf Program and the 15th anniversary of the Odyssey Scholarship, the University’s flagship career advancement and access and financial aid programs for College students.

Since 1997, the Metcalf Program has provided paid, substantive internships that help students apply their world-class education to a highly diverse range of careers. Students have received more than 23,600 Metcalf internships since the program’s inception where they have looked through NASA telescopes, prepared policy briefings for the White House, and curated exhibits for the Art Institute of Chicago, to name just a few experiences.

Similarly, the Odyssey Scholarship Program has reduced barriers to higher education for thousands of UChicago undergraduate students of all socioeconomic backgrounds since 2007, enabling them to achieve a UChicago education and pursue careers in their chosen fields.

Following is a look back at the history and growth of the College’s extensive access initiatives.

Celebrating 25 years of Metcalf

The Jeff Metcalf Internship Program gets its name from Harold “Jeff” Metcalf, AM’53, a former dean of students at the Chicago Booth School of Business and University athletic director. In both roles, Metcalf would frequently advise students on their career paths and introduce them to potential employers.

After Metcalf passed away in 1994, one of his former students Byron D. Trott, AB’81, MBA’82—now a University trustee—was inspired to carry on Metcalf's legacy and establish a new internship program in his honor. Trott was one of several lead donors whose vision and investment created the Jeff Metcalf Internship Program, which continues Metcalf's efforts to help UChicago students find meaningful work experiences. The Metcalf Program has scaled up to a level where thousands of undergraduates benefit from the program each year thanks to the generations of UChicago alumni, parents, and friends who have hired students, shared internship leads with Career Advancement, and supported the program philanthropically. 

“The Metcalf Program empowers our students to apply their rigorous liberal arts education to a meaningful and fulfilling career,” said Meredith Daw, associate vice president and executive director of UChicago Career Advancement. “Students get the skills and experience they need to thrive in today’s competitive job market.”

The Metcalf Program has continued growing and evolving to better serve students. In the 2015-2016 academic year, the program began offering a guaranteed internship experience to all Odyssey Scholars in the summer after their first year in the College to ensure equity of access to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

In response to the rapid growth of the gig economy, the Metcalf Program also began offering special Metcalf experiences called “Micro-Metcalfs” in 2018—short, project-based experiences that students can often complete virtually. The Micro-Metcalf Program significantly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic to help students continue building experience and stay on track for career success.

These Metcalf experiences and UChicago’s curriculum make students strong candidates for highly competitive jobs and top graduate programs. In recent years, 96% of recent graduates have secured substantive post-college plans.

These programs give UChicago students the opportunity to put their skills to use and prepare for futures as leaders across industries on some of the world’s most pressing issues, while demonstrating to their employers the value they bring through their individual talents and skills developed through UChicago’s unique style of learning.

Learn more about the Jeff Metcalf Internship Program.


Odyssey Scholarship Program enters 15th year

UChicago’s Odyssey Scholarship Program began in 2007 with a $100 million gift from an anonymous donor, dubbed “Homer.” Over the last 15 years, the program has made the UChicago experience possible for more than 5,300 Odyssey Scholars who have graduated from the College. Supported by generous ongoing gifts from College alumni, family, and friends, Odyssey scholarships provide need-blind, loan-free education to all students who come to the College with demonstrated financial need.

“As the first of my family to attend college, I faced some of the challenges that first-generation students encounter,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “It is far more complicated today. Odyssey tackles the complex social and economic obstacles to achievement through a coordinated system of support, integrating college readiness, admissions, financial aid and career development initiatives.”

Aid within the Odyssey Scholarship includes funding for tuition, room and board, health insurance, and study abroad. Odyssey Scholars also receive guidance through the College Center for Student Success, as well as tailored mentorship through Career Advancement.

“The University of Chicago takes great pride in supporting Odyssey Scholars, valuing their contributions to our community and world beyond campus,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president for enrollment and student advancement and dean of College admissions and financial aid. “UChicago has always been deeply committed to making higher education accessible for students from all walks of life. Through Odyssey, more of these bright students are able to attend UChicago and pursue their academic and personal potential without financial burden.”

Learn more about the Odyssey Scholarship Program.

A diverse and inclusive College

UChicago has long been committed to furthering access and support for individuals who are underrepresented in higher education through a variety of specialized mentorship programs. These programs ensure that as many students as possible across all communities can learn about UChicago, and receive guidance and resources that support their ability to apply.

Among these programs is Emerging Rural Leaders. Founded in 2018 thanks to a gift from the Trott Family Foundation, Emerging Rural Leaders runs both a one-week and a three-week summer program for high schoolers to experience UChicago and college life more broadly. In addition to exposure to all that a highly selective, urban institution has to offer, these students receive college application support so that no matter where they ultimately decide to apply, they have the resources to demonstrate their full capabilities.

In 2021, UChicago was named the nation’s best college for veterans by U.S. News and World Report. Since 2018, the College has expanded the UChicago Veterans Scholar Program, which provides customized admissions, pre-orientation, advising, housing and support to help veterans make the transition to civilian life while also receiving a top-tier education. The College is home to more student veterans than ever before with 55 currently enrolled.

Other Summer Session opportunities include the Latin American Phoenix Scholars, the Neubauer Family Adelante Summer Scholars for Hispanic/Latino students, the UChicago Police and Fire Summer Scholars, United World College Global Academy, and Woodson Summer Scholars for Black/African American students.

With each year, these programs increase the pathways to higher education.

Changing the game for college admissions

In 2018, UChicago continued to raise the bar for accessibility as the first top-ranked college to move to test-optional admissions, giving students options to apply to the College with the materials that best represent their academic achievements.

“Our admissions department remains impressed by all applicants who send us materials for consideration, regardless of their test scores,” said Peter Wilson, director of undergraduate admissions. “Since 2018, we have been able to devote additional resources toward evaluating applicants based on their merits, skills and passions, which affirms our commitment to an equitable admissions process.”

For the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, UChicago furthered guidance within the College admissions process for high school students who may not otherwise have the resources or knowledge to apply to top schools.

These efforts, known as UChicago Stand Together, continue this academic year and include direct counseling, a streamlined application process for Chicago Public Schools students, and a commitment of $15 million in financial aid to fund four-year scholarships.

All of these measures honor the talents of students from a wide range of backgrounds and reflect UChicago’s deep and unwavering commitment to reduce barriers to higher education.

—This story was first published on the College website.