Northwestern University Public Interest Program Hits the Ground Running

The inaugural year of the Northwestern University Public Interest Program has been an exciting one.

Professor Paul Arntson and Northwestern students Lauren Parnell, Kelly Kirkpatrick and Sam Schiller have invested considerable time and thought into making the program a success.

As a new program, we had hoped for between six and eight job placements within local organizations undertaking systemic change. With the strength of the Chicago’s public interest sector and some creative partnerships, NUPIP secured 14 placements.

The enthusiasm of this unexpected success has translated into a sense of ownership and vision for all involved.

The 2006-2007 fellows, beyond their full time schedules, have broken into committees with the PIP coordinators to uncover ways to expand and improve the program.

Our team has been supported with the know-how passed on during this year’s TAN conference at Princeton, giving us a new sense of confidence when recruiting sites and promoting our program.

In addition, we were aided by the kind efforts of our Alumni Association and the University Administration, helping us connect to alumni and board members active in the Chicago area.

Our fellows have also been pursuing some impressive projects within their placements.

Sheila McCorkle, working in Northwestern’s backyard of Evanston, has been at the center of an exciting youth initiative. Featured in the local newspaper, Sheila’s work in community organizing and engaging young adults and social organizations culminated in a proposal to the Evanston City Council.

Her plan, calling for year-round youth employment opportunities, youth involvement in city government, and an outreach initiative designed to engage ‘hard to reach’ youth, was unanimously approved by the City Council.

While being given considerable responsibility in their placements, fellows still recognize that they are novices with much to learn about the public interest field. Mary Bowmann, working at Evanston’s Center for Independent Futures, has coordinated various efforts to support individuals with disabilities as contributing members of their community.

In addition to engaging in direct service and volunteer activities with residents, Mary recently began learning about non-profit development and grant writing. With her first completed grant proudly in hand, she headed downtown in full professional attire to present her proposal in person. As she reached her destination, she found no one in the office and a simple cardboard box with a sign reading “Put proposals here”—a humbling note to a non-profit newbie.

As we look forward, we are eager to partner with more Northwestern alumni and provide meaningful placements nationwide. We have already been contacted by alumni throughout the country who hope to share in this vision, wishing to host fellows and act as mentors in the future.

But as we look ahead to these developments, we also want to acknowledge the help from those that have helped us get to where we are now. Specifically, thank you to John Fish and Nora Samuelson of Princeton Project 55; we could not have functioned this year without them.

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