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The University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program has increased its cohort from 12 to 18 students for the 2022–23 academic year.
Six are from Booth, while the rest come from the Harris School of Public Policy and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. The broader Obama Foundation Scholars program also includes 12 students from Columbia University in New York.
The six Booth students—all of whom are in their final year of study—are Olamide Babatunde, Binh (Ben) Bui, Ben Harris, Amanda Lee, Omotunde Odedeyi, and Lily Wang.
Now in its fifth year, the program “provides students with a unique opportunity to engage with communities across Chicago and the world,” says Paul Alivisatos, AB ’81, president of the University of Chicago.
Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation, says that the program allows students to “gain insight into the work that fellow young leaders are driving in their communities while speaking to the intersectionality of their efforts through collaboration.”
The program focuses on students with a commitment to advancing social change and includes leadership development workshops, mentoring opportunities, and access to strategic communications and fundraising experts. Scholars have regular meetings with a diverse group of elected officials, diplomats, policymakers, community activists, nonprofit leaders, and journalists.
Since its founding, the program has served 125 young leaders from 55 countries. This year’s Booth contingent includes students from the United States, Canada, Vietnam, and Nigeria.
Meet Booth’s 2022–23 UChicago Obama Scholars
Babatunde is hoping that becoming a Scholar will be a great opportunity to expand his previous workforce development efforts on a much larger scale. Prior to starting at Booth, Babatunde, a Boston native, was the director of the alumni career office at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, a Chicago-based system of 18 open-enrollment public charter high schools and middle schools. The school’s student body is 98 percent minority and 89 percent low income.
“During my tenure, we improved the full-time employment outcomes for our college graduates from 41 percent to 80 percent,” he says. The experience, however, convinced Babatunde that more needs to be done. “Black and Latino households in the United States today earn about half as much as average white households and own only about 15 to 20 percent as much net wealth. My ultimate goal is to eliminate this racial wealth gap.”
A student in the Full-Time MBA Program, Babatunde credits Booth with “connecting me with others committed to social impact work,” adding that the Social Sector Strategy and Structure and Social Impact Lab courses with professor Christina Hachikian, AB ’02, MBA ’07, were “incredibly helpful experiences.”
Binh (Ben) Bui
Bui is working toward the joint MBA/Masters Program in Computer Science with the ultimate goal of doing ed-tech strategy and product management work. “I want to leverage my experience in tech and learning at Booth and in the UChicago Obama Scholars Program to increase educational opportunities for underserved people,” he says. He’s particularly interested in the program’s leadership development workshops and seminars. “I hope to refine my leadership and problem-solving skills to address social issues on a large scale and from a multidiscipline approach,” he adds.
Before enrolling at Booth, Bui, who is Vietnamese, helped launch the Vietnam program for Khan Academy, an international online learning resource. Bui also served as head teaching assistant at the STEAM for Vietnam Foundation, which provides free coding lessons for children. In his first year at Booth and this past summer, he also worked as a product development MBA consultant for Amazon and as a strategic planning & analytics MBA intern at Meta.
At Booth, Bui says that professor Sendhil Mullainathan’s Artificial Intelligence class “taught me how to identify ideal use cases for AI/ML and create new products, businesses, and policies.” This course had the greatest impact on him, along with professor Craig Terrill’s Lab in Developing New Products and Services, which he says provided “many valuable frameworks for empathizing with users, prioritizing product features, and testing product concepts.”
For Harris, Full-Time MBA student, becoming a UChicago Obama Scholar is an opportunity to assess his leadership skills. “I’ve rarely had the time to fully understand how my values shape my decision-making, my work product, and my relationships with peers,” he says. “I’m hoping that the program will help me to pinpoint and feel more confident about my strengths.”
Prior to Booth, Harris worked for over a decade as an analyst and advisor for various public-health initiatives in his home state of Colorado as well as in New Hampshire and Illinois. Today, he is particularly interested in health and reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated. “There are a number of community-based services for this group, but there isn’t any kind of unified approach, and consequently, the results are often horrific,” he says. “I want to tackle that challenge. Luckily there are other UChicago Obama Scholars who are also working on this topic. I am excited to start collaborating with them.”
At Booth, Harris has been particularly impressed by professor Michael Alter’s Entrepreneurial Selling class, professor Brad Shapiro’s Marketing Strategy class, and professor Amy Ward’s Managing Service Operations class, which he says is an excellent blend of management and technical skill building. “Booth provides a great education,” he says. “Every professor is focused on giving students practical skills and showing how those skills apply in interesting ways to the real world.”
Inspired by a speech of President Obama’s wherein he spoke about the importance of people expanding their “moral imaginations,” Lee, who grew up in Wisconsin, is hoping the UChicago Obama Scholars Program will help her to dream bigger. “I am looking forward to having time for introspection and reflection and also for exploring the interconnectedness of the barriers to safety, well-being, and opportunity the Obama Scholars are looking to address,” she says.
Managerial Decision Making with professor Anuj Shah is the course she references most frequently in her personal and professional life. “Booth’s Evening MBA Program has provided me with the opportunity to learn more about the mechanics of leadership across domains such behavioral science, business strategy, finance, economics, and marketing,” she says.
In addition to attending Booth, Lee is a pediatric nurse practitioner and Director of Practice Transformation at ACCESS Community Health Network, a federally qualified health system that operates 35 centers serving 185,000 patients in the Chicago area. The COVID-19 pandemic felt like a turning point for Lee. “It had a profound impact on both health and healthcare systems by exacerbating burnout among professionals and worsening long-standing health care disparities,” she says. “After graduation, I will continue to focus on holistic, transformative solutions to promote both patient and healthcare worker well-being.”
“The curriculum of the UChicago Obama Scholars Program involves interacting with a cohort of people who are working to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems,” says Odedeyi, a student in Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program. “I believe it is a unique opportunity to learn from these people and to hear stories that will inspire me for the rest of my life.”
Prior to starting at Booth, Odedeyi, who grew up in Nigeria, worked as a senior associate at KPMG Nigeria. Her passion, she says, is “helping young Nigerians access professional, entrepreneurial, and academic opportunities.” Her ultimate goal is to build a low-cost consulting and funding platform for small and medium businesses—especially those led by women—in her native country.
At Booth, Odedeyi values “the outstanding faculty and being able to learn and collaborate with other students on topics that interest me through lab classes, assignment groups, and student-led clubs.” She also values the friendship and support she has received from professor Ningzi Li’s Strategy and Structure course and professor Scott Meadow’s Commercializing Innovation class.
In addition to being a Full-Time MBA student at Booth, Wang is the cofounder and CEO of Demi, a startup that is working to make composting the new normal in Chicago. “As I grow into my role as CEO,” she says, “I’m eager to leverage the Obama Foundation’s world-class community and thought leadership to become a more capable and confident leader.” She’s also hoping the program’s interdisciplinary approach will help her expand her vision for Demi by examining how business, policy, and community-level behavioral change can work together to combat the climate crisis.
Demi is an outgrowth of professors Rob Gertner and Christina Hachikian’s course, Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation. It was there that Wang met her cofounder and received coaching on how to build a socially impactful business model. Wang, a native of Canada, was formerly a manager consultant at EY Consulting and an associate at the gender-lens investing firm Women of the World Endowment.
Demi received its first check via a third place finish in the 2022 John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge, offered by Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Her goal, she says, is to “achieve a food waste–free future by making composting mainstream for the 40 million Americans that live in multifamily housing.”
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