UChicago Obama Scholars Hope to Create a Better World
Learn how the six Chicago Booth students named to the program’s 2023–24 cohort are making an impact on their communities.
- October 06, 2023
- Social Impact
This fall, the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program named 18 students—including six from Chicago Booth—as UChicago Obama Scholars for the 2023–24 academic year.
The six UChicago Obama Scholars from Booth are Benya Kraus Beacom, Laura Kinter, Jordan Lewis, Amaral Medeiros, Kim H. Tran, and Christopher Wen.
Other students in this year’s cohort come from UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Outside of UChicago, students from Columbia University were also named Obama Scholars.
The Obama Foundation Scholars program aims to help emerging leaders explore the connection between global impact and local engagement. Half of the Scholars plan to remain in Chicago, making a local impact after the scholarship ends.
As part of the program, students will participate in academic, skills-based, and experiential learning. They’ll also join a leadership development program led by the Obama Foundation, which includes training, networking, and support beyond graduation.
“It is our hope that this experience will inspire them to realize and surface novel solutions to some of the most important problems facing our communities,” said UChicago president Paul Alivisatos, AB ’81.
Since 2018, the Obama Foundation Scholars program has supported 132 leaders from 59 countries in addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Meet Booth’s 2023–24 UChicago Obama Scholars
In 2018, Beacom cofounded Lead For America, a nonprofit based in Wichita, Kansas, to empower college graduates to return to and reinvest in their hometowns through national service fellowships. During the pandemic, Lead For America deployed 50 fellows across the US to ensure rural communities received money from the federal government’s $65 billion investment in broadband.
Now, Lead For America is an $8 million organization that has supported more than 300 leaders. An Evening MBA student and a Neubauer Civic Scholar, Beacom plans to use her Booth education to begin building investment vehicles—like community real estate investment funds—in the rural Midwest in June 2024, bringing and keeping wealth in these areas.
Her most impactful courses have been Building the New Venture with Lindsey Lyman, clinical associate professor of entrepreneurship, and Real Estate and Equity with Ernst Valery, adjunct professor of strategic management. Both classes allowed her to focus on real issues, such as disinvested main streets, facing her family’s rural hometown of Waseca, Minnesota.
Beacom plans to use her scholarship to continue to honor and serve rural communities across America. “I hope to bring their voices and lived experiences to shape this extraordinary community of Scholars,” Beacom says, “and to channel the resources and connections I make through the program back to the places and people who got me here in the first place.”
In the wake of the #MeToo Movement, Kinter wanted to do more than create public awareness of sexual assault. At the Chicago-based nonprofit Awakenings, where she serves as executive director, Kinter’s top mission is helping survivors heal through art. She’s expanded that mission by offering more workshops and open studio time. “It’s exponentially increased the number of survivors we serve,” she says.
A Weekend MBA student and Neubauer Civic Scholar, Kinter hopes to use her coursework to balance her skill set and support more survivors. From her first class—Social Sector Strategy and Structure taught by Christina Hachikian, AB ’02, MBA ’07, clinical associate professor of strategic management—Kinter felt pushed to think more deeply about business cases. She found herself practically running back to work to implement what she learned in class.
After being named a Scholar, Kinter felt validated in her work. Now she’s excited to meet others who believe that helping survivors of sexual assault is worthy of investment. “I hope to learn deeply about what has worked in other mission areas, connect with my cohort members, and step forward with some exciting new ideas,” Kinter says.
Lewis has served his country in many ways: He’s been a judge advocate for the US Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, advising commanders on Army legal matters. He’s served on active duty wearing many hats while on Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to defeat ISIS. And he’s been an administrative law attorney, advising on Army investigations into ethics, equal opportunity, and sexual harassment.
A Full-Time MBA student, Lewis says he has learned the most from Valery’s Real Estate and Equity class, which examines the tensions between creating equitable housing solutions in underserved areas and managing sustainable investments.
Now, as a Scholar and a member of the Army Reserve, Lewis is excited to use this opportunity to educate his community on the dynamics of sexual harassment and figure out how to create actionable solutions within the military.
“Receiving this distinction tells me that the work we’re doing to address harassment within our ranks is meaningful and serves as inspiration to continue the mission,” Lewis says. “I’m grateful for the faith shown in my work and hope to fulfill the promise of the program.”
Before attending Booth, Medeiros used artificial intelligence to teach English to lower-income Brazilians. His A.I.-based platform helped 500,000 Brazilian teens learn English and landed Medeiros on Forbes Brazil’s Under 30 list.
But Medeiros knew that the digital jobs of the future require more than fluency in English. As cofounder of an education technology platform, Medeiros says his mission is to teach Brazilians about A.I. and other digital skills.
A Full-Time MBA student, Medeiros hopes to use his coursework to help him scale up his platform for social change. His Crony Capitalism class with Luigi Zingales, the Robert C. McCormack Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, gave him a framework to understand the underbelly of capitalism. Another favorite of his is the Marketing Strategy class with Bradley Shapiro, professor of marketing and the True North Faculty Scholar, which taught him how to build an engaging marketing strategy.
After being named a Scholar, Medeiros excitedly called his wife and mom to share the news. “It means what I’m trying to do is relevant to my community, which is a good sign of encouragement,” he says.
As chief of staff to Chicago State University’s president, Tran works to advance Chicago’s South Side. This includes securing unprecedented financial and in-kind investments for CSU and its surrounding communities through sustainable partnerships with local businesses and groups. “This strategy ensures that not just our students but also their families and neighborhoods can thrive,” Tran says.
Amid the pandemic in 2021, Tran also led the launch of the South Side’s only mass vaccination site, at CSU, which delivered 12,000 vaccines. This site primarily served Black Chicagoans and other residents of color.
A Weekend MBA student, Tran learned an invaluable framework for communicating economic value to distinct audiences through the Pricing Strategies course with Jean-Pierre Dubé, the James M. Kilts Distinguished Service Professor of Marketing and a Charles E. Merrill Faculty Scholar. In Advanced Negotiations with George Wu, the John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science, Tran learned how to negotiate through obstacles, he says.
A first-generation college student and a child of Vietnam War refugees from Moreno Valley, California—desert city that has faced many economic and political challenges—Tran plans to focus as a Scholar on pioneering a more thoughtful model for economic development, moving toward holistic investments and inclusive prosperity.
“It means a lot to me to receive this distinction,” he says. “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think about where I’m from and what impact I need to deliver for underserved neighborhoods.”
In May 2023, Wen cofounded Covery Health to reach underserved populations in Chicago. He launched the startup as part of Booth’s John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), run by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation in partnership with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Covery’s mission is to provide equitable access to evidence-based treatments for opioid use disorder. Physicians often don’t have the expertise to work with this group of patients, Wen says, and patients often suffer from issues that exacerbate their condition, such as housing and food insecurity. Covery works to fill these gaps. Already, it has a virtual health platform and a mobile app.
Wen, also CEO of Covery, is pursuing his MBA as a Full-Time student to build enterprise financial literacy, better understand venture capital and private equity, and leverage UChicago’s resources to help Covery succeed. Wen says that he learned a lot from Professor Hachikian, who served as a mentor for his team during the SNVC.
After being named a UChicago Obama Scholar, Wen felt a sense of validation, honor, and responsibility. He wants to succeed for his business, potential patients, and those who wrote him letters of recommendation. “I won’t squander the opportunity and won’t have them regret the decision,” Wen says.
The John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science is recognized for his work with the Chicago Urban League’s IMPACT Leadership Development ProgramProfessor George Wu Honored with Humanitarian Award
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