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Wanted: Alumni in the Public Interest

A new fellowship program seeks alumni mentors and sponsors to assist graduating seniors working for the public good.

As Commencement nears and graduating seniors plot their career paths, many soon-to-be alumni are trying to figure out how to pursue their passion for public service while earning a living. The Northwestern University Public Interest Program gives recent graduates that chance by providing one-year paid fellow-ships to graduating Northwestern seniors to work for organizations dedicated to systemic social change.

Fellows, who apply to NUPIP in January of their senior year, spend their first year after graduation working in professional public service jobs throughout the Chicago area. They receive additional guidance from mentors and attend weekly seminars with community leaders.

Now in its second year, the program has placed nearly 30 fellows in organizations such as the city of Evanston and the Chicago Public Schools' Service Learning Initiative.

The organizers hope to expand the program nationwide by setting up satellite operations in cities with large Northwestern alumni populations. With the help of the Northwestern Alumni Association, NUPIP is putting out the call to alumni to serve as mentors, to locate host organizations that can provide one-year paid public service jobs and to coordinate seminar sessions among fellows, community leaders and local universities.

NUPIP fellows generally bring with them extensive volunteer leadership experience and knowledge. For example, Lauren Parnell (SESP07) is a NUPIP fellow with the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that brings young people of various religious backgrounds together for community service. As part of her fellowship she organized the Conference on Interfaith Youth Work, a national meeting in Chicago last fall that attracted more than 500 people from around the world. Parnell (see "Fair Minded," Student Life, spring 2007) says the fellowship is a natural extension of her social policy undergraduate studies and service learning certification, as well as the work she did as a former co-chair of the Northwestern Community Development Corps, the largest student-run volunteer organization on campus. It also builds on her undergraduate research on the effect of participation in fair trade cooperatives on women and families in Uganda. In June she'll return to Uganda to join her fiancé and NUPIP alumnus Jonathan Marino (SESP06) (see "Just Naïve Enough to Care," Student Life, summer 2006), who will be on a Fulbright fellowship.

John Pfeiffer (WCAS87) volunteered with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as an undergraduate and chose a career in which he could direct his economics and urban studies education toward policy and direct engagement. He is now executive director and CEO of Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago-based organization that helps the homeless become self-sufficient.

Pfeiffer is currently mentoring NUPIP fellow Adele El-Khouri (WCAS07), who is working on mixed-income development and housing preservation projects for the Community Builders, a nonprofit developer. In 2006–07 he mentored Adam Arents (WCAS06), a fellow with Alumni for Public Schools, a group that recruits Chicago chapters of university alumni associations to visit public high school students and explain the benefits of attending college and planning a career.

Pfeiffer says advising young Northwestern alumni who share the same career priorities is only one advantage of the mentoring experience — both parties also benefit from the professional connections. "Relationships in the nonprofit field are critical, and it's ideal when you can find others who share a commitment to public service and understand your undergraduate experience."

Alumni who wish to participate as mentors, hosts and resources can contact their local alumni club and get additional information from the NUPIP web site.

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Emily Metz
Emily Metz (WCAS06) completed an NUPIP fellowship at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago.Photo by Jerry Lai (WCAS04)
Pfeiffer and El-Khouri
Mentor John Pfeiffer and NUPIP fellow Adele El-Khouri at Cafe Too, an Inspiration Corporation eatery in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood.Photo by Mike Muszynski (Mu06, McC06, GMu08)