As a high school student living in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Esi Koomson had worked with nonprofits across the city’s South Side — addressing social issues she was passionate about and finding support herself from college readiness organization Chicago Scholars.
So, when Koomson started at the University of Chicago this year, she quickly gravitated toward the University Community Service Center, a program of the Office of Civic Engagement that provides a platform for UChicago students to engage in service and social change opportunities. Through UCSC Koomson has continued pursuing her passion for serving the South Side community and has reconnected with Chicago Scholars, this time as a volunteer.
“Just being able to give back and form those relationships with people and learning from each other is what motivates me to keep being a part of civic engagement,” Koomson said.
UCSC tailors civic engagement options to student interests on campus and off and helps students make meaningful connections with diverse communities. Opportunities range from short and long-term volunteer opportunities to non-profit employment and include a federal work study program, social justice education programs, civic-focused summer internships, and Chicago-centered experiential learning.
Supporting organizations that support the South Side through UCSC, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the area, has been a meaningful way for Koomson to stay connected to her community and join forces with like-minded peers who care about making a positive impact, even if engagement this year has been largely virtual.
Koomson first learned about UCSC when she took part in its Chicago Bound program before orientation.
“We covered a wide range of topics around social justice as well as other issues. I was already doing stuff like that in the community, but I wasn’t as aware of the different facets that go into it,” Koomson says. “I was like ‘Okay, this is really interesting. I can broaden my range outside of the things that I’ve been already doing.’ I just wanted to learn more and become more involved.”
Through her involvement with UCSC’s Seeds of Justice program, Koomson was assigned to support Chicago Scholars, getting a behind-the-scenes look at an organization that helped her with her college search two years ago, most recently researching and consolidating information for the organization to help them develop a participant portal and job board for the Chicago high school students from under-resourced communities that they serve.
“As a Chicago Scholar myself, I was really excited when I found out I was partnered with CS because it meant that I would get to see the behind the scenes work it took to get things out to students,” Koomson said.
Koomson also serves as the Civic Engagement Representative for Strongin House in the Campus North Residential Commons, sharing engagement opportunities with her housemates and facilitating connections for those who want to participate. Working with UCSC to ensure the partnerships she’s building and helping others to build with the South Side are deeper than a one-off engagement continues to drive her, Koomson says.
In the years to come, Koomson, who plans to major in global studies, says she wants to expand her reach beyond the city and put the community-building lessons she’s learned to good use internationally, in places like her native Ghana.
Civic engagement, Koomson says, reminds community members that they’re not facing challenges alone and helps meet community needs that are often overlooked:
“Seeing the joy on people’s faces when they see ‘people haven’t forgotten about me, I’m still being considered’ is really amazing.”