This past summer, fourth-year Andrew Yin worked for Teach for America (TFA), serving as an Accelerate Fellow. “It was kind of like a game show,” he said. “It’s thirty-six interns traveling around the country to three different parts of the country. In each region, we [were] matched into new teams of interns, and we [were] paired with a nonprofit run by a TFA alum who’s working in educational equity. Thankfully,” he said with a laugh, “all thirty-six of us were around at the end of this—no one was eliminated.”
As part of the program, he traveled to Los Angeles, New Orleans, and the Rio Grande Valley, learning about education-related issues throughout the country while getting first-hand experience working with local nonprofits. Over the course of the summer, he realized that he enjoys tackling a diversity of issues in his work; he noticed that the educational problems he and his cohort were encountering “were deeply driven by other factors,” such as poverty. While he was grateful for the summer, he said, “I realized I didn’t like the idea of being pigeonholed into one area.” He also said that being away from Chicago during the summer made him realize how much he missed it—and wanted to be back.
During his time at the University, Andrew has taken the initiative to learn about those “other factors” and issues, volunteering for an RSO called South Side in Focus and interning two summers ago at the Urban Junction Foundation. He also cited Campus Catalyst, a nonprofit consulting RSO and course, as one of the chief ways in which he has connected to the city. Through Campus Catalyst, he works with local nonprofits and said he’s seen the often unnoticed importance “of having research in the hands of nonprofit organizations and how that can actually benefit” them.
In fact, Campus Catalyst changed the way he thinks about service and research, and made him rethink what his B.A. paper for Public Policy could do. He’s oriented his B.A. to “be in service of others” and is researching how families can achieve self-sufficiency, working with the Department of Human and Urban Development’s Family Self Sufficiency program. In researching and writing his B.A., the Chicago Studies Certificate has served as a guiding force. Andrew said, “Like a lot of college students, when I came in, I just was taking a bunch of classes I was interested in and didn’t really know how they all [were] knitted together.” By tying his B.A. into the Chicago Studies Certificate Program and having it serve as his Capstone project, he said, “[It’s all] forced me to think about what all of this means and how it relates back to my role as a citizen here in Chicago. And so I’ve realized that, at the end of the day, the theme of self-sufficiency has always come back to me and keeps reappearing in all of my classes, even though it’s something I wasn’t explicitly. . . pursuing it in the beginning.” He went on to say that the program has helped him in “formulating and solidifying what [he] actually cares about.”
As a Public Policy and Economics major, Andrew’s been able to take his classroom knowledge into the world—and, more specifically, the city. He’s putting his B.A. in service of the city, making sure that his research will help better the lives of his fellow Chicagoans. He’s made it a point to align his RSO and club interests to serve, understand, and explore the city. And his love for Chicago goes deep into the cores of its neighborhoods: “The communities here are so close-knit,” Andrew said. “I thought that big cities were very anonymous places, where people were super high strung and didn’t have time for each other.” But in Chicago, he said, “What it means to be high-strung is to be high-strung for other people . . . [and] to put everything you have into shaping your community.”
As a senior with graduation looming large a few months away, what-comes-next has also been a big issue Andrew has been tackling. When we first talked, he was deciding between two jobs, one in Chicago and one in Boston. He described wanting to work at the intersection of the private and public sectors, no doubt inspired by his summer with TFA and those “other factors” that he said drove inequalities in communities. When I checked back in with him a few weeks later, he told me he had chosen the job in Chicago. The job in Chicago, he said, would expose him to more issues and industries in the city, enabling him to understand how decisions in the city are made and who the big players at the table are. With this knowledge, Andrew said that he will “gain a better sense of what roles I wish to take on in order to ensure that economic development benefits all Chicagoans.” These are the words, I think, of someone high-strung—but for other people, for his city.
March 28, 2018