The Cities Project

Earn credit, learn about youth development and mental health, and mentor middle school youth in Chicago Public Schools


The Cities Project is a citywide collaboration that connects Chicago-area universities and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in a shared effort to strengthen the learning and development of young people affected by poverty.

The collaborative team (Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and CPS) conducts research to understand how stressful life experiences affect young people and how they can learn and grow from stress. Research results are used to create interventions that support healing while fighting the root causes of stress and trauma among young people. The core intervention takes the form of an after school program for middle school students, in which they learn skills and strategies for coping with stressors and build a one-on-one relationship with a mentor, all in a safe, supportive setting.

At Northwestern, the Cities Project trains a cohort of 30–36 students each year to serve as mentors in three local CPS middle schools on the north side of Chicago. Supported by a leadership team of faculty, staff, and graduate student supervisors, mentors have the opportunity to develop a meaningful one-on-one relationship with a middle school mentee, build facilitation and leadership skills, and make a difference in the lives of young people.

Check out this video to learn more!

How It Works

The Cities Project at Northwestern consists of two main components:

Fall Quarter Class on Youth Development & Mentoring

Mentors receive ongoing training, support, reflection, and supervision throughout the academic year. The bulk of the preparation occurs in a fall quarter class, which explores important context, issues, and skills, including an introduction to youth development, influences and stressors that can impact healthy development, and best practices in mental health education and mentoring interventions.

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

In winter and spring quarters, mentors participate in monthly professional development and skill building sessions, as well as ongoing preparation for and reflection on their work in schools.

Weekly Mentoring Sessions in Local Middle Schools

The central component of the program is a mentoring session held one afternoon each week at a CPS middle school in Uptown or Rogers Park.

Northwestern student mentors travel together to the school, prepare for and implement a 90-minute mental health education session with 6th–8th grade students, combining whole group activities with one-on-one mentoring activities, then debrief the experience with their leadership team afterwards before returning together to campus.

Mentoring sessions take place weekly throughout the academic year, on either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday afternoons.

Course Credit

Students earn a half course credit for successfully completing the fall quarter course, and a half course credit for each quarter in which they successfully participate in the mentoring component, for a total of two credits over the course of the year.

Get Involved


The mentor application is open to Northwestern students from any major or discipline. This opportunity would be a good match for students interested in education, youth development, counseling, social work, health, mental health and wellness, research and policy, and more. Past experience with youth and/or mentoring programs is a plus, but not required.

Prospective mentors must be available for the fall quarter class on Monday afternoons, plus mentoring sessions on either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday afternoons throughout the academic year.

Selection Process

Interested students should complete the online application linked below. Applicants will be invited to complete a short interview with program staff. Selected participants will be notified in late spring or early summer and provided with a permission number to register for the fall quarter class.


Applications are now open for Cities Project Mentors for 2024-2025apply today!

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis as they are received. Apply by Saturday, June 1 for priority consideration. Applications will continue to be accepted and considered throughout the spring and into the summer, as space in the program permits.