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LDCE provides students opportunities to get involved across Chicagoland

We do our work in a way that people can know that equity is centered, and we're valuing mutually beneficial partnerships.”

Val Buchanan
Assistant Director of Leadership Development and Community Engagement

Leadership Development and Community Engagement makes social justice education accessible to students

When SESP third-year Alivia Britton first arrived at Northwestern, she found herself looking for more ways to connect with the community around campus. 

“It's really easy for Northwestern students to fall into the bubble here and just stay within Evanston,” Britton said. “I think giving back is great because we have so much privilege being at this institution.”  

Britton joined one of Leadership Development & Community Engagement’s (LDCE) programs, which provide service opportunities for students to get involved in Evanston and Chicago.  

LDCE guides students through transformative learning experiences, allowing them to learn through volunteering in the surrounding community and engage in conversations surrounding social justice and equity. The office focuses its work on long-term investment in Evanston and Chicago, according to Val Buchanan, assistant director of LDCE.  

We do our work in a way that people can know that equity is centered, and we're valuing mutually beneficial partnerships.” Buchanan said. 

Want to get started with LDCE? Here are three programs looking for students to join the team. 

Grounding for Public Service champions social justice and equity education 

Grounding for Public Service (GPS) is a gathering space for students to discuss social justice in Evanston and Chicago. The weekly meetings cover topics including the environment, local culture, and history. 

thumbnail_image4.jpg“For any student who feels like they want to start getting involved in civic work, in service learning, in experiential education, GPS is a great place to start,” Buchanan said.  

Each meeting starts with a free meal and time for socializing. Then, a guest speaker addresses the group for a half hour, followed by an engaging conversation around the key themes covered by the speaker.  

Previous speakers includer founder of the reparations non-profit First Repair and former alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons, and Evanston Township High School educator Corey Winchester. 

SESP senior Lily Ng appreciates the ease of getting involved with LDCE just by attending GPS. 

“You get to connect with students who are like-minded,” Ng said. “It’s an easy lift to get involved with something that can be really meaningful.”  

Meetings are held on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Parkes Hall 1220. No sign up is required. 

Books & Breakfast recruits students for school-age tutoring  

Books & Breakfast allows Northwestern students to volunteer at eight Evanston public schools as tutors before the school day begins.  

“The main point of Books & Breakfast is to create a before-school experience where kids feel seen, loved and welcomed,” Buchanan said. 

Tutors arrive at the schools around 7:55 a.m. and sit with students while they eat breakfast and then participate in brain work. During this time, students complete unfinished homework or read, before the morning concludes with game time as the school day begins at 9 a.m. 


There are currently more than 100 Northwestern students serving as Books & Breakfast tutors, according to Buchanan. Students can volunteer one or more mornings per week, with a chance to be considered for compensation if they commit to tutoring two to three times per week.  

Through tutoring, students gain skills in teaching and working with kids, according to Buchanan.  

“It’s invigorating to help a child succeed, and you feel rewarded, too, because you’re giving back to the community,.” she said.  

To get involved with Books & Breakfast, email Val Buchanan. 

 DeBerry Civic Scholars engage with Rogers Park community 

The DeBerry Civic Scholars program is a program for first-, second- and third-year students to engage in meaningful public service in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park.  

Named for Ebony and Caleb DeBerry, two community organizers in Rogers Park, the program accepts students after an application period during Fall Quarter and lasts the entire year. 

"Once selected, the cohort meets weekly throughout Fall Quarter for one hour of training, before Students begin their public service during Winter Quarter at the Gale Community Academy, a Pre-K through 8th-grade public school in Rogers Park. Throughout the program, students lead small groups and assist with social-emotional support. In the spring, students can stay at Gale or transition to a non-profit in the neighborhood. Students spend about four hours a week with their cohort, including meetings, service, and transportation to Rogers Park. 

“This program helps us actualize our intentions of being good neighbors, being engaged citizens, and having our University, which is only a couple of miles away, present in ways that aren't overbearing and that actually feel mutually beneficial,” Buchanan said. 

Applications open each fall, so Buchanan recommends students keep this opportunity in mind when planning their extracurriculars for the 2024-25 academic year.  

No matter the programming, Buchanan encourages students to get involved in LDCE.  

“There’s multiple pathways students can take for civic engagement,” Buchanan said. “It shows Northwestern really cares about the community and not just through money, but really showing up, knowing and being connected to other people. And that really makes a difference.”  

Ng, who grew up in Evanston, agrees. 

“I would say that it's really important to be responsible within the space that you're in,” Ng said. “Northwestern is a school that's occupying space within the community and by being a student at Northwestern, you're participating in that.”