Where theory and experience meet.

Engage Chicago is an innovative program, built on the idea that the most meaningful learning takes place at the intersection of theory and practice.

The six-part model gives students a first-hand opportunity to explore the complexities of a major American city. From topics like economics and health care to challenges like inequality and structural racism, Engage Chicago builds on an extensive network of relationships to open up the city for exploration and examination. Through a wide range of experiences—including meetings with leaders in City Hall and discussions with local activists—students encounter a wide variety of perspectives and ideas.

Our staff prepares students to make the most of these interactions through informative lectures, challenging readings, and thoughtful reflection, but the crux of the learning happens as students engage with the city and its people.

This style of learning—often called experiential learning or community-based learning—has grown in popularity as universities realize that their most successful students are often the ones who merge academic interests with practical application. We are proud to serve as an experienced leader in this field.


A City Like No Other

Chicago. A metropolis of lakefront parks, heavy industry, a distinctive blues scene, machine politics, and the end of the line for heartland railroads. Big, gritty, dynamic, and diverse, Chicago is a mosaic of 77 neighborhoods that represent communities speaking over 40 languages. And while Chicago faces all the challenges of a big American city—issues like racism, housing insecurity, and education inequality—it has a long and notable history of combating social and civic challenges head on. Chicago is an intersection of urban challenges and powerful grassroots change, which makes it one of the most dynamic places in the world to learn.

Northwestern Connection

A World-Class Institution

Engage Chicago is sponsored by Northwestern University, a top university committed to excellent teaching, innovative research, and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.

It is administered through the University’s Center for Civic Engagement, which promotes a lifelong commitment to active citizenship and social responsibility through an integration of academics, service, research, and community partnerships.

The program is also supported by Chicago Field Studies, an academic internship program that connects Northwestern students with internships at organizations in the Chicago area.

Asset-Based Philosophy

Seeing the Glass Half Full

Engage Chicago is founded on the principles of asset-based community development (ABCD), and was created under the guidance of our founding faculty instructor, Jody Kretzmann. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, ABCD draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities. This stands in contrast to a needs-based approach, which often starts by focusing solely on a community’s deficits. But it’s hard to build something from nothing. That’s why ABCD challenges us to consider an approach to community development that recognizes the part of the glass that’s half full.


Engage Chicago is run by a team of experienced faculty and staff. Together they bring decades of experience facilitating civic engagement and educating young people in communities around the world.


After participating in Engage Chicago, a select group of alumni support outreach efforts through the Ambassador program. Ambassadors are here to answer applicants’ questions, from what the internship experience is like to whether or not you should bring a mini-fridge. Contact us to connect with one of this year’s Ambassadors.