Crown Family School, Chicago, and Civic Engagement

Crown Family School & Chicago

As a great American city, Chicago and its surroundings provide a superb context for learning in the field. It is one of the nation’s most diverse cities—a kaleidoscope of social and cultural traditions and populations. Chicago experiences all of the significant problems of the modern metropolis: poverty, violence, crime, dysfunctional schools, inadequate health services, drug use, family breakdown, social exclusion, and community disruption. Our students are able to witness, learn from, and contribute to this complex of activity.

Chicago has notably been at the forefront of pioneering movements in social work, community organizing, women’s rights, urban planning and architecture, labor organizing, and African American politics. Building on this tradition, recent initiatives such as the University of Chicago Urban Labs, including its Health Lab; the Network for College Success; the Employment Instability, Family Well-being, and Social Policy Network (EINet); the STI and HIV Intervention Network (SHINE); CalYouth; the Smart Decarceration Project; the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination; and the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention (one of six national Academic Centers of Excellence funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)—all led or co-led by Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice faculty—yield both knowledge for the field at-large and tangible benefit to the citizens of Chicago, as well as offer opportunities to expand the University’s partnership with the City of Chicago. Our ever-deepening partnerships with the neighbors in our community serve to enhance the quality of life and economic development of Chicago’s South Side, as well as the City of Chicago more broadly and beyond to the national and international levels. With this, the Crown Family School plays a very visible role in materially advancing the University’s larger purpose to “enrich human lives.”

To further advance our community commitment, the Crown Family School added an Assistant Dean of Civic Engagement to lead new initiatives and deepen relationships with community partners. These mutually-beneficial partnerships are designed to enrich the academic experiences of our students and expand opportunities for research, while including and responding to the voices and needs of our community neighbors. In fall of 2018, the Crown Family School partnered with other campus entities when the University hosts the annual Clinton Global Initiative University. The summit welcomed more than 1,000 undergraduates and graduate students from around the world, subject matter experts, and other public figures, who addressed urgent social, economic, and environmental issues. At the conclusion of the summit, attendees participated in a “day of action” to support a project in an adjacent neighborhood.

The Crown Family School launched Civic Treks, a new partnership with the Institute of Politics, which gives students an inside look at how Chicago works through discussions and meetings with civic leaders. Treks focus on pressing social issues, including educational inequality, police accountability, community organizing, and urban segregation, and gentrification. With the Booth School of Business, the Crown Family School has launched a partnership that expands social entrepreneurship programming for Crown Family School students. Through co-hosted extracurricular workshops on social entrepreneurship, combined with existing courses, students are working to develop innovative solutions to social, economic, and environmental challenges. Crown Family School students also have the opportunity to compete for venture capital funding to put their ideas into action.

Through another partnership, The Crown Family School and UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement now is offering a Certificate in Nonprofit Management. This two-year program is geared to early to mid-stage nonprofit professionals working in or focused on Chicago’s South Side. It equips participants with the hands-on skills and theoretical knowledge needed to manage effective organizations. Students take workshops at the Community Programs Accelerator and complete a nonprofit management course taught by a Crown Family School professor.

The Crown Family School has been a chief architect in developing other University urban efforts, including the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, which draws on the strengths of the University of Chicago, as well as the Crown Family School’s approach in applying multiple lenses to complex social problems. As a hub focused on the possibilities of urbanization, the Institute will accelerate urban scholarship through seed funding for such issues as health care, youth development, and violence reduction research – areas where the Crown Family School plays a major role. And as home to urban scholars trained in a dozen different disciplines, the Crown Family School also is vital to UChicago Urban, a newly launched University commitment that strives to understand urban issues and create positive impact on urban life. 

Civic Engagement

Partnering for Community Impact logo

At the Crown Family School, civic engagement is a fundamental part of our mission and our values. We are committed to developing and supporting thoughtful, strategic, and mutually-beneficial partnerships with community members, community organizations, and other local stakeholders. These partnerships enrich the academic experience for our students and expand opportunities for meaningful research, while including and responding to the voices and needs of our neighbors.

This practice of civic engagement, based on shared values, trust, and respect, helps create stronger communities for residents of our immediate South Side neighborhoods and beyond. It is a goal – expressed by the University’s founders more than one hundred years ago – that drives much of our work today.


Finding Solutions through Collaborative Research

Using a civic engagement approach, Crown Family School scholars explore complex social problems with nuanced and comprehensive thinking. Our best work involves civic partnerships that have informed policy makers, industry leaders, and community partners, and resulted in improved and enduring policies, practices, and outcomes.

For example, researchers at The Crown Family School’s Network for College Success collaborated with Chicago Public School principals to a capacity-building model that has yielded historic improvements in CPS high school graduation rates, demonstrating what can happen when researchers, policy makers, and practitioners work together to make systemic changes. The Crown Family School’s Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention has partnered with faith leaders and community organizations in the Bronzeville neighborhood to develop and implement a coordinated and multipronged action plan to drive down violence. Most recently, Crown Family School faculty have partnered with the City of Chicago to evaluate CityKey, a new municipal identification program that can more effectively lift barriers to critical social services for more of the city’s residents.


Civic Engagement and the Student Experience

Fieldwork, a critical element of the Crown Family School student experience, is another example of our commitment to civic engagement. During fieldwork placements, Crown Family School students integrate book learning with practical experience, providing hands-on service at public, private, and nonprofit organizations in Chicago. Through standing relationships with more than 600 social welfare entities throughout the Chicagoland area, our students work directly with professionals and vulnerable populations, putting classroom theories and techniques into action for an estimated 225,000 hours each year. Our students gain pragmatic experience and a practical understanding of real-world situations and systemic problems, while learning from the tremendous strength, resilience, and knowledge held by the individuals and communities they serve.

Crown Family School students love to volunteer and one of the ways that they find volunteering opportunities is through the University of Chicago's Office of Civic Engagment. The UChicago Pathfinder is a tool to help all students find volunteer opportunities on and off campus.

In the fall of 2018, the Crown Family School had an additional opportunity to engage with the community during the annual Clinton Global Initiative University meeting, hosted by the University in partnership with the Crown Family School (then the School of Social Service Administration) and other University entities. This summit will welcome more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world, university representatives, subject matter experts, and other public figures, who will address urgent social, economic, and environmental issues within the UChicago campus, in local communities, and around the world. At the conclusion of the working sessions and events, attendees will participate in a “day of action” with University faculty, administrators, and staff to support a priority project in an adjacent neighborhood.


Driving Global Impact

The Crown Family School’s civic engagement efforts extend far beyond Chicago’s city limits. As rapid urbanization makes our world smaller and more interconnected, we are rescaling our efforts – adding faculty, forging new partnerships, and applying research – on the global stage. Read more.