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Wai-Sinn Chan, MBA ’02, MPP ’02, is the senior associate director of social sector engagement programs at the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, Booth’s destination for people committed to helping solve complex social and environmental problems. The Rustandy Center partners with the Civic Scholars Program to help equip students with business fundamentals, evidence-based research, and practical experience to bolster their work in the social sector. In this Q&A, Chan shares more with us about the resources, programming, and cohort experience available to students.

How do incoming Neubauer Civic Scholars transition into the program?

Our programming begins before their first day at Booth. We’ve taken advantage of the virtual environment to include admitted and accepted students to programs in the Spring and Summer before their Autumn start. This allows Neubauer Civic Scholars to get to know each other before the start of the school year, so they can feel like they are part of the community from the start. We also pair up incoming students with current Neubauer Civic Scholars for a buddy/mentor relationship to help them navigate the transition back into the student world while juggling full-time jobs.

In addition, our two faculty directors play a critical role: Robert Gertner is the John Edwardson Faculty Director of the Rustandy Center and Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, and George Wu is the John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science and has led other Booth leadership programs. They serve as advisors, mentors, and sounding boards to our Neubauer Civic Scholars. They cultivate wonderful personal relationships with individual students over the course of their time at Booth and beyond.

Tell us about other resources and programming the Civic Scholars Program offers students.

There are several key touchpoints for whole group engagement: orientation, a retreat for all Neubauer Civic Scholars twice a year, and two to four events every quarter that include roundtables with guest speakers and social events. We leverage the Rustandy Center’s connections and networks to social impact organizations and civic leaders to develop this programming. In addition small group and individual check-ins with faculty directors are designed to be informal and build connections between students and directors. 

Our Civic Scholars Program orientation has two parts. The first part is designed to build community and allow current and incoming students to get to know each other, share advice and career goals, and hear from alumni of the program. The second part of orientation takes place a few weeks into classes and involves discussion of a reading Professor Wu shares to help students think about how to apply their Booth MBA education to a social sector context and their own workplaces. This is only the start of creating space for students to process and translate what they are learning in the classroom with their cohort and with their faculty directors, and apply it to their work.

Our retreats aim to include a mix of lecture and hands-on work. We recently held our first virtual retreat and focused on the complex history of public housing in Chicago. Professor Wu led students through a thorny civic negotiation simulation where students represented five different parties. Acclaimed author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz also joined us and spoke about his experience engaging with Chicago Housing Authority residents and writing his book, There Are No Children Here. He and the students also reflected on how public housing continues to test leaders across sectors today. 

How do Neubauer Civic Scholars engage within the Booth community?

We encourage Neubauer Civic Scholars to think about the role they play in sparking conversations and bringing different perspectives into the classroom and to student activities at Booth. For example, last year a few Scholars and the co-chairs of the student organization, Booth Social Impact, organized a facilitated discussion to discuss the many forms of social impact and consider the role of business. Our faculty directors encourage Neubauer Civic Scholars to consider hosting activities based on their interactions with classmates, the needs of the larger community, and their own leadership strengths. 

The Rustandy Center offers programs and supports social impact courses that are available to all Booth students. We also bring in a mix of civic, nonprofit, and private sector leaders, as well as faculty, to engage in student programs. A large number of Neubauer Civic Scholars typically participate in these and enhance the experience with their perspective and sector insights. 

How do Neubauer Civic Scholars benefit from their cohort experience?

The cohort is small, so students are extremely engaged with each other, whether they take classes together or occasionally intersect professionally with each other. As a result of their shared experience working in the social sector, they often use each other as a sounding board to take what they’re learning in the classroom and think about how they can apply it to their work worlds.

The year 2020 marks the first time the Civic Scholars Program has been open to Full-Time MBA, Weekend MBA, and Evening MBA students. We now have 13 alumni who are active participants in our current student programming. It’s an exciting opportunity for students to have this larger network that they can tap into. This has helped build and strengthen the sense of community among Neubauer Civic Scholars.

On a personal note, as an alumna who has worked in both the public and nonprofit sectors, I know the value of a Booth education in the social sector. I equally appreciate how Scholars contribute to our vibrant student and alumni community. 

I welcome any questions you may have about the program; please contact me at


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