I think it’s fair to say that the University of Chicago is at its best when it’s firmly stating its ideals and has some incontrovertible action to accompany that statement. This is why the event this week to announce the major gift (by Harriet Heyman, AM’72 & Sir Michael Moritz) to support the Odyssey Scholar Challenge and the Collegiate Scholars Program was so powerful.
Secretary Arne Duncan’s straightforward observation that “Talent is more evenly distributed than Opportunity [is]” when coupled with Dean Boyer’s animated (for him) assertion of the virtues of higher education as one of the few viable avenues for social mobility, clearly laid out the situation and the University’s intentions. The gift provided a mechanism to move forward those intentions to action more quickly, and the experience of the students (Chloe at the event, Allen at the reception) spoke to the significance of this in a real way.
I was heartened to see so many University students in the audience at the event, and then more pleased to see so many recognizable faces – students that have found ways to connect to the broader community on the south side through my shop – Neighborhood Schools Program, Jumpstart, Gearup, Community Programs Accelerator, etc.
It this continuous interchange between University students, the K-12 students across the southside/Chicago, and University programs that make the ideal of social mobility feasible. Without this, if it was *only* scholarships, we’d still be looking important benefits to particular students, but the potential socially transformative elements would be limited. That’s why the inclusion of the Collegiate Scholars Program was so great to see — here’s an effort that has a great track record of preparing young people to excel at highly-selective Colleges and Universities, and has sent many students to the University of Chicago, but *also* sends students to many other great Colleges and Universities. There’s a broad perspective embedded in the program design which rightfully should be celebrated, and signaled as the sort of activity that the University (and all of Higher Education) should be more involved in.