UChicago welcomes 2021-2022 class of University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars

The University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation on Sept. 7 announced a new cohort of University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars, comprising 12 emerging leaders from the Harris School of Public Policy, Booth School of Business, and Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. The program brings together an interdisciplinary group of promising young scholars and empowers them with the education, skills, relationships, and perspectives they need to tackle the most pressing issues facing the South Side of Chicago and communities around the globe. Foundation-led programming will kick off on Wednesday, Sept. 8.

“By fostering deep engagement with communities on Chicago’s South Side and beyond, the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program is a powerful complement to the intellectual skills that students develop in these graduate programs,” said University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos. “Our students are eager to help address some of the world’s greatest challenges, and this program provides a vital pathway for them to realize that aspiration.”

The newly redesigned program at the University of Chicago will bring together Scholars from across campus who are current students in their final year of study in a master’s program at UChicago’s Booth School of Business, Harris School of Public Policy, or Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. The Scholars will supplement their rigorous UChicago studies with innovative co-curricular programming, engage with partners on the South Side of Chicago, and apply those experiences in communities in Chicago and across the globe.

“It is truly remarkable to see the steadfast commitment of these rising leaders working to meet the economic, educational, and social needs of their communities across the globe,” said Obama Foundation President Valerie Jarrett. “These individuals have displayed profound courage, dedication, and the spirit needed to create lasting change in the world, especially during challenging times. I'm thrilled to welcome this cohort of Scholars.”

Generous support for the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars program is being provided by BMO Harris Bank; Robert and Jane Clark; The Clayco Foundation; The Crown Family; The Harris Family Foundation; Rachel DeYoung Kohler and Mark S. Hoplamazian; The Judy and Peter Blum Kovler Foundation; Charles Ashby Lewis and Penny Bender Sebring; The Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation; The Neubauer Family Foundation; and Susan Rustandy and Tandean Rustandy.

The University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program is designed to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and impactful across their global communities. Members of this year’s cohort are actively working to address many challenges and issue areas, including interrupting violence on the West Side of Chicago, developing community-based entrepreneurs in India and Pakistan, bringing mental health counseling services to local public schools, supporting workforce development efforts in the Philippines, and launching a South Side theater program to amplify underrepresented voices. 

To learn more about the program, please visit harris.uchicago.edu/obamascholars. A list of the 2021-2022 cohort of University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars can be found below.

University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars

Aleena Agrawal - Chicago, Illinois
Director of Talent Solutions, P33 Chicago

Driving innovative, diverse, and inclusive growth across Chicago’s tech ecosystem.

Mara Heneghan - Chicago, Illinois
Director of Policy, Office of the Cook County Board President

Strengthening local government response to economic justice to support residents during the pandemic and beyond.

Rameshwara Nand Jha - India
Development Professional

Mobilizing women in rural neighborhoods to become first generation entrepreneurs through community organizing and training towards a vision of a poverty free and self-reliant India.

Samantha Alexandra Martinez - Chicago, Illinois
Co-Founder, Gage Park Latinx Council

Empowering young people of color from the Southwest side of Chicago to imagine new possibilities and be changemakers in their communities.

Neel McNeill - Chicago, Illinois
Executive Director, Definition Theatre

Bridging theater, activism, and education with leading artists, administrators, and designers of color to create art and culture to support human and community development in the neighborhoods we call home.

Prachi Naik - Pleasanton, California
CEO and Founder, Counselors for America

Equipping public schools with the resources needed to provide comprehensive school-based mental health services.

Grace Elizabeth Oxley - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Former Program Manager, Pitt-Assisted Community & Schools (PACS), University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work

Combatting education inequality and technology access in urban areas through research and inclusive policy advocacy and implementation.

Isabel Rodriguez Garcia - Mexico
Co-Founder & CEO, Axo

Fostering connections between farmers and direct consumers to create a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Tom Voutsos - Toledo, Ohio
Co- Founder and CEO, LadderUp Housing

Closing the wealth gap by providing an alternative pathway to homeownership in the Midwest.

Sameer Warraich - Pakistan
Trustee, Squeaks Foundation
Outreach Consultant, Innovate. Educate. Inspire (IEI)

Using technology enabled solutions to tackle issues in development impact and capacity building in Pakistan.

Demeatreas Whatley - Chicago, Illinois
Site Supervisor, Cure Violence Global

Supporting gun violence prevention across the South Side of Chicago through community outreach, using music and art to engage young people.

Ria Zapanta - Philippines
Social Protection and Jobs Consultant, World Bank Group

Using data and technology to improve access and delivery of social assistance programs in developing countries.