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 for young people.

In 2023-24, the Cities Project at Northwestern is expanding to a cohort of 30–36 undergraduate students who will serve as mentors in three local CPS middle schools. Mentors have the opportunity to develop a meaningful one-on-one mentoring relationship with a middle school mentee, and are supported by a leadership team of faculty, staff, and graduate student supervisors.

Check out this video to learn more!

How It Works

The program consists of two main components:

Fall Quarter Class on Youth Development & Mentoring

The program includes ongoing training, support, reflection, and supervision for student mentors throughout the academic 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.

The 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.

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 on the north side of Chicago.

Northwestern student mentors travel together to the school, prepare for and implement a 90-minute mentoring session with 6th–8th grade students (combining whole group activities with one-on-one mentoring activities), then debrief the experience with a graduate student or staff supervisor 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 undergraduates from any major or discipline. This opportunity 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 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 leaders. Selected participants will be notified by the end of spring quarter and provided with a permission number to register for the fall quarter class.


Applications are closed for the 2023-24. Check back in Spring 2024 to apply to The Cities Project 2024-25 !