Founded in 1996 by former First Lady Michelle Obama and part of the Office of Civic Engagement, UCSC serves the University's 5,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate and professional school students by engaging them with communities and partners to build a more just Chicago.
UCSC's goal is to support students in becoming productive, thoughtful citizens and effective, inspiring leaders by providing students with service opportunities that complement a rigorous academic experience. UCSC encourages students to explore Chicago, to make meaningful connections with diverse communities throughout the city, to develop friendships with other social-minded students, and to apply classroom learning to understand and address complex societal issues.
UCSC offers different civic engagement options tailored to student interests: volunteer referrals, student-run groups, campus-wide days of service, a freshmen pre-orientation service week, community-building and social justice programs, tie-ins with course work, and community-based research opportunities and internships at local organizations. These organizations include community nonprofits, hospitals, businesses, and government agencies.
Students report that engaging with Chicago communities, issues, and organizations through UCSC greatly impacts their UChicago experience.
“After Summer Links, I became more interested in issues related to immigration and how that intersects with the other challenges faced by immigrant populations.”
In a 2016 survey, 84 percent of students indicated their engagement with the UCSC either increased or reinforced their understanding both of the inequities that impact Chicago, and also of the kinds of multi-sector collaboration that are necessary to effect meaningful social change. Anecdotally, students frequently report that their experiences with UCSC raised new questions for them, challenged them to consider new perspectives, or encouraged them to explore new courses or fields of study.
Career Exploration through Chicago Bound
78% of students surveyed indicated that UCSC helped them understand their own talents and passions better, leading to increased clarity about their personal paths. Students also indicated that they built valuable career skills like collaboration (83%) and appreciation for diversity (86%) -- some of the very competencies most valued by employers. In addition, UCSC cohort programs connected students with hundreds of potential mentors with government, educational, not-for-profit, and for-profit organizations citywide.
“Chicago Bound redefined the trajectory of my college experience. It made me more socially-conscious and affirmed my commitment to a life in public service and public policy.”
UCSC's intensive cohort programs like Seeds of Justice, Summer Links, and Chicago Bound are a great context for students to build community with other civic-minded students. On a survey of alumni of these programs since 2013, 93% of respondents indicated that one or more of the relationships they formed during their UCSC experience(s) continued to be important to them...in some cases, throughout their entire University careers.
“Seeds of Justice has greatly increased and expanded my view of Chicago and led me to challenge my preconceptions and assumptions.”
Of course, a principal impact of UCSC's work is engaging students in service to the community. In a survey of alumni of UCSC programs, 97 percent indicated that they are still involved in regular community-serving or justice-building activities, with almost half (45%) engaging in such activity at least once a week (and 8% reporting such activity almost every day). But UCSC also encourages students to reflect on their engagement: 78 percent of students surveyed indicated that UCSC made them more reflective about their experiences, so as to learn from and act in accordance with what they'd learned.
“The Volunteer Referral service provided me with a streamlined way to become involved in active and ongoing community service, which I believe has enriched my college experience and provided me with useful perspective on my time at the university.”
Civic Leadership Model
The ability to effect meaningful social change involves the development of a number of interrelated civic competencies. Some of these, such as regular reflection on the implications of one's choices and an awareness of one's own potential for contribution, are highly individualized. Others, such as empathy, collaboration, and commitment to diversity, affect how one behaves in groups. Still others, such as an understanding of systemic issues of injustice and a commitment to socially responsible action in the face of these, affect how one understands oneself as a citizen.
UCSC programming helps students develop specific competencies in each of these domains, with the goal of supporting all our programs' participants in their holistic development as leaders in their communities and in their fields.
Social Change Model
The Social Change Wheel diagram highlights 12 different-but-complementary models of activity for making social change happen. Although UCSC's various programs do not represent all of these approaches, examples of each can be found at work across the University of Chicago and throughout the city. UCSC collaborates with our many partners, both on- and off-campus and from the private, non-profit, and government sectors, to ensure that every possible avenue towards a more just Chicago is explored by and available to UChicago students.
UCSC student and professional staff are available to meet with students for one-on-one or small group advising on a variety of topics related to social change and community engagement. Some topics include how to start a program with a community partner, RSO development or support, postgraduate service opportunities, community-engaged research opportunities, devising effective methods for program assessment and evaluation, job skills and professionalism in the nonprofit sector, and many others.
To identify interesting service and civic engagement experiences, individuals may meet with the Civic Match team, a peer-to-peer conversational resource available to all undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Chicago. The team will meet with you to learn about your interests and help you create a path into the kind of civic engagement work that is most appealing to you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To discuss partnership development and other kinds of organizational support for RSOs and other student-led organizations, individuals may connect with the Student Organizations team. Email email@example.com.
Chicago Bound is a seven-day immersion program that is designed for incoming freshman to explore and discuss many of the issues which affect Chicago’s neighborhoods and populations. Program staff and student leaders guide this cohort of 40 incoming undergraduates through nearly a dozen neighborhoods, giving students an opportunity to meet local residents and community organizers, view art exhibits and projects by local artists, and learn about some of the major social issues facing Chicagoans today…all while indulging in delicious food from the many neighborhoods and cultures across the city. Chicago Bound empowers students with opportunities to relate their introduction to Chicago back to larger questions of social activism and methods of effecting social change. Chicago Bound participants meet with experts and community actors who tackle social justice from various approaches: grassroots organization, research and education, direct service, advocacy and activism, and philanthropy. Through their interactions with these community partners, students are introduced to topics such as immigration, segregation and racism, poverty and employment, housing and community building, education, and public health. The 2019 Chicago Bound program runs September 14 – 20. Applications are open through June 14. Learn more and apply here.
Seeds of Justice
Seeds of Justice is a community-building and leadership development program designed to provide a group of 20 selected first years with a long-term opportunities to engage on the South Side and learn about multiple social issues. The program runs weekly from Week 5 of the Fall Quarter through the end of the Spring Quarter. This allows students extended time to explore the history and current status of numerous social justice topics, while also learning about the cross-sectional methods being used to address them in the city of Chicago. During discussions in large and small groups, speaker events, and engaging activities, and in conversation with their own self-directed civic engagement work, Seeds of Justice helps students learn about various social issues and empowers them to use what they have learned to become actors for change, now and in the future, both on and off campus.
Open Exchange pairs students from UChicago (both native speakers and language learners) with community partners to work with Spanish-, Chinese-, Arabic-, and French-speaking populations across Chicago. The program lasts for the entire academic year – Fall, Winter, and Spring Quarters. In addition to their community service commitments, Open Exchange participants meet three times per quarter to debrief on their experiences and hear from speakers on issues facing immigrant and refugee populations. By combining community service work with language immersive opportunities, Open Exchange functions to meet two goals: to empower students as informed actors by introducing them to sources and experts on the challenges facing immigrant and refugee communities, and to provide language learners and native speakers with opportunities to improve or use their skills in a real-world context.
Grads on the Ground
Grads on the Ground is a 5-month neighborhood immersion program designed specifically for graduate students across all disciplines at UChicago. The program cohort of 10 graduate students work directly with organizations in the nearby Washington Park neighborhood. Participants are students who are committed to social change, community building, and public service; they receive a stipend of $650 for their work. Grads on the Ground students engage in 2-3 meetings during Winter Quarter and Spring Quarter, and they commit to working 3 hours per week for their Washington Park community service partners. In their cohort meetings, students reflect on their volunteering experiences, participate in a group discussion, and sometimes listen to and engage with community leaders doing work to address community building and social justice issues within Washington Park.
Alternative Spring Break
Alternative Spring Break is a five-day intensive immersive experience which takes place during UChicago’s Spring Break. A cohort of 15 undergraduates live, learn, and work together at an organization that is based within Chicago’s Woodlawn community. During this time, they meet with community leaders and residents, discuss social justice topics, and explore a variety of partner organizations’ methods of addressing their target issues. Although the majority of the program happens within the aforementioned 5-days, participants will also attend a series of orientation meetings between the months of February and March, so as to familiarize students with the context of the work they will be doing, jumpstart community building, and provide space for reflection.
One of the many employment opportunities within UCSC, Summer Links is a 10-week summer internship program in which students are hired by a community program or organization to work as a summer intern. This cohort of 20 undergraduates is made up of students from a range of majors and specializations who are committed to community building and social change. Summer Links participants are paid a $4,000 stipend for their work, and they receive valuable professional and community organization experience while being in the program. The first week is an Immersion Week where students meet daily to discuss various social issues, meet with community residents and organizers, and reflect upon their experiences while building community amongst themselves as a cohort. For the last 9 weeks of the program, participants work full-time at their internship (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) on Monday-Thursday and then meet as a cohort each Friday to learn further information about Chicago’s cultures, history, and social justice concerns.
Student Organization Support
The UCSC supports a growing portfolio of organizations which are student-led and which provide UChicago students with opportunities for engagement, activism, and service in Chicago communities. These groups work closely with community partners and provide some form of direct service with neighborhoods surrounding UChicago and throughout the city. Many of these organizations are Community Service RSOs (CSRSOs), but the Student Organizations team is open to supporting student organizations without CSRSO or RSO status. The Student Organizations team administers a variety of resources for student groups, including space resources, workshops and trainings, and for RSOs specifically, financial support through the Community Service Fund and transportation support through the Community Service Van. They are also available to provide advising on various topics in civic engagement and organizational development.
Short and Long-Term Civic Engagement Opportunities (Days of Service, Engage Chicago)
The UCSC organizes civic engagement opportunities throughout the year, in both short- and long-term formats. Short-term volunteer opportunities include individual days of targeted community service: Engage Chicago Through Service (Freshmen only), MLK Day of Service, Earth Day, Day of Service and Reflection. Students seeking a one-day volunteer commitment can sign up for these service days online. The UCSC also organizes a series of Dinner Dialogues which aim to connect students, staff, faculty, and alumni to local organizations to build community and explore opportunities for collaboration. 2-3 times per quarter, these dinners occur with various partners in Woodlawn, Washington Park, and Bronzeville.
Federal Work Study Jobs and Internships
UCSC provides ample opportunity for students to gain professional experience by working with Chicago area nonprofit organizations, schools, and government agencies. In partnership with these organization, UCSC connects eligible students with part-time and summer work-study positions, in the form of both internships and Federal Work Study employment positions. Curated work opportunities are based on the identified interests and skills of our College, graduate, and professional school students. Depending on their own interests and skill set, students can support community organizations, work with local residents, and gain valuable experience and skills – all while earning money to support their education.
Schedule an Appointment with a Member of Our Team
We’re happy to speak with students and other members of the University community about our offerings and how to get involved off campus as a volunteer. During the academic year, to learn more about opportunities and get connected, feel welcome to set up an appointment with a peer advisor by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To schedule an appointment about a student organization, a particular UCSC program, or any other topic, contact UCSC Assistant Director Nick Currie and he can assist you.
To schedule an appointment about an off-campus job or internship, a UCSC event, or any other topic, contact UCSC Assistant Director Cathy Woolfolk at email@example.com, and she can assist you.