UChicago Welcomes 2021-2022 Class of University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars

September 7, 2021

The University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation on September 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, September 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 G. Clark and Jane L. 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 the Harris School of Public Policy. A list of the 2021-2022 cohort of University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars can be found below. 

Congratulations to Crown Family School students, Mara Heneghan, Samantha Alexandra Martinez, Neel McNeill, and Demeatreas Whatley!

Photos of Mara Heneghan, Neel McNeill, Samantha Martinez, and Demeatreas Whatley, the 2021-2022 Class of University of Chicago Obama Scholars

University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars

To learn more about all of the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars, please visit the "Meet the Scholars" page on the Harris School's website.

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.