Staying engaged in a remote world

36 students complete Engage Chicago course and internships

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Civic Engagement’s highly immersive program, Engage Chicago, successfully completed its second virtual summer.

The eight-week summer program revolved around five core components: an urban studies course, a part-time internship with a public sector organization, spotlight sessions featuring topical experts and guest speakers, seminars and reflection, and a vibrant community from across the world.

Each week, students learned about topics such as community organizing, electoral power, nonprofit and social services, mutual aid, and environmental justice as they manifest across Chicago. Guest speakers with direct experience spoke about their motivations, challenges, and hopes for the future of civic engagement work in the city.

Engage Chicago has longstanding ties to dozens of community groups, nonprofit agencies, and other organizations in Chicago, allowing student participants to explore career options from law to medicine to nonprofits to community organizing and more. This summer, students were hosted as interns by Healing to Action, People for Community Recovery, Chicago 400 Alliance, ONE Northside, Heartland Alliance, and many more.

Because of the program’s deep and lasting roots, students were able to hear from alumni now practicing engagement in their own careers. And numerous guest speakers and panelists who eagerly join Engage Chicago each year had particularly poignant thoughts to share in the context of the global pandemic and social uprising.

Guest speaker Rossana Rodriguez, Alderperson of Chicago’s Ward 33, shared the story of how her involvement in community theater led to grassroots organizing and activism as a local politician. Having heard from urban planners, journalists, formerly incarcerated individuals, policy advisors, and artists, students finished the program with many lenses through which to examine the City of Chicago.

In smaller and more intimate discussion sections, students shared connections between their internship experience and the course material. This space to reflect together and find common threads throughout the summer left students empowered to find ways to be engaged in their own communities at home.

Though an in-person Engage Chicago summer involves group excursions to Chicago’s many neighborhoods, EC ’21 student, Yash Raka, shared that “even though the program was remote, the interactions in class and spotlight sessions felt just as real and engaging as they would be in person” and that he “left the program much more informed, motivated, and curious.”

As many colleges and universities return to campus this fall, Engage Chicago hopes to return to being in-person next summer. The program is open to undergraduates from any college or university who have completed at least one year of college. Students will be able to learn more about and apply for the 2022 program at engagechicago.org.