The Cities Project

Earn credit for learning about youth development and mental health while mentoring middle-school youth in Chicago Public Schools.


The Cities Project is a new, city-wide collaboration designed to connect Chicago-area Universities and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in a shared effort to strengthen the learning and development of young people affected by poverty.

This collaborative team (Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and CPS) does research to understand how stressful life experiences affect young people and how they can learn and grow from stress. We use the results of that research to create programs that support healing while also fighting root causes of stress and trauma.

How it Works

In the 2022-23 academic year, the program will launch at Northwestern with a pilot cohort of 10-15 undergraduate student mentors selected to participate in this year-long, middle-school mentoring program. Students will be supported and trained by a leadership team of faculty, staff, and graduate student supervisors throughout the program year. The program will consist of two main components:

Weekly Mentoring Session in Local Middle School

The central component of the program is a mentoring session held one afternoon each week at a local CPS middle school. The Northwestern student mentors will travel to the school together, implement a 90-minute mentoring session (combining whole group activities with one-on-one mentoring activities), and return to campus together. Student mentors also meet with a participating graduate student and/or staff supervisor to debrief and process each week’s experience.

The program allows Northwestern students to develop meaningful relationships with peers, a cohort of middle school students, and in particular, a one-on-one mentoring relationship with a middle school mentee.

The mentoring component occurs weekly throughout the academic year (The specific day and times of each week’s session will be coordinated based on the school partner and student-mentor availability). Students will be earn a half (.5) course credit for each quarter in which they successfully participate in the mentoring component = Total 1.5 course credits for the mentoring component.

Fall Quarter Class on Mentoring, Youth Development, and Urban School Policy

The program includes ongoing training, support, reflection, and supervision throughout the year. The bulk of the preparation occurs in a fall quarter class, which more deeply explores important context, issues, and skills, including an introduction to youth development,  social influences and stressors that can impact healthy development, and best practices in mentoring interventions.

Students learn about social interventions designed to reduce stress exposure, promote effective coping, and increase access to protective settings, in order to improve outcomes for low-income urban youth. The course is designed to support student mentors in developing significant, effective, and lasting relationships with young people from diverse backgrounds; advocating on behalf of youth; building relationships with families, schools, and communities; and cultivating cultural humility and understanding of the strengths and needs of low-income urban communities within a critical mentoring framework.

The fall course (SESP 251: Special Topics – Youth Development & Mentoring) meets once a week for 80-minutes in fall quarter only (Mondays from 3:30-4:50pm), and is taught by the program’s faculty, staff, and graduate student leadership team. Students earn a half (.5) credit for successfully completing the fall quarter course component.

Altogether, student mentors completing the entire 2022-23 pilot mentoring program (fall quarter course + mentoring program each quarter) earn two Northwestern credits over the course of the year.

Get Involved


The program is open to Northwestern undergraduates from any undergraduate school.  The pilot cohort will be limited to 10-15 undergraduate student mentors, supported by the program’s faculty and staff leadership team, and graduate student supervisors.

No experience required, but the program would be a good match for students interested in issues like youth development, counseling or mental health, and/or urban school policy.  Past experience with youth and/or mentoring programs is a plus, but again, not required.


Participants for the pilot cohort will be recruited during pring quarter 2022.  Interested students should complete the online application below. Applicants will then have a short interview with program leaders.  Selected participants will be provided with a permission number to register for the fall quarter class.


We are not currently accepting applications for the Cities Project Mentorship Program. Check back in spring 2023 when the next round of applications will open!

Fill out my online form.


Reach out to the Cities Project Leadership Team at Program staff are happy to meet with interested students who would like to learn more about the program.