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The University of Chicago Center for Effective Government and Harris Public Policy Announce 2021 Class of Civic Leadership Academy

Published: Jan 07 2021


On January 7, 2021, the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) based at the University of Chicago Center for Effective Government (CEG) and the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy welcomed its seventh cohort of 30 government and nonprofit leaders selected for its 2021 class.

By bringing together some of the area’s most promising nonprofit and government professionals, the prestigious Civic Leadership Academy fuels an exchange of ideas across the city and county that will improve practices and civic outcomes, and spur greater collaboration and innovation among our institutions. The 2021 class includes 15 fellows from nonprofit organizations, nine from city government, and six from county government.

The new cohort joins 179 CLA alumni as part of a growing network of civic leaders who have become integral to the civic infrastructure of the city of Chicago, working in institutions such as Malcolm X College, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Arise Chicago. CLA fellows are spearheading reform in Chicago during these critical times on a host of pressing policy challenges: leading the fight against COVID-19 and the economic recession, supporting students and educators through virtual learning, and advancing progress on issues of criminal justice, and more.

“This group of impressive, accomplished leaders comes together as our city faces unprecedented challenges, and they represent hope, civic pride, and an opportunity to affect meaningful change across Chicagoland,” said William Howell, Sydney Stein Professor of American Politics at Harris Public Policy and director of CEG. “By fostering relationships, honest dialogue, and clear-eyed thinking about the strength of our civic institutions and the pressing societal issues we face, CLA explores what real leadership looks like and how it can make a difference in the lives of the residents of Chicago.”

The new cohort of CLA fellows will be introduced at a virtual ceremony featuring remarks from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, A.B. ’69, A.M. ’77, and Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, JD ’89.

“Given 2020’s unprecedented challenges, it is important to acknowledge the strength, versatility, determination, and resilience of our city and its leaders. Many of these leaders are CLA alums,” said Lightfoot. “The 2021 cohort welcomes fellows representing our city from a number of departments that contribute to the civic infrastructure, safety and health of Chicago. And further proves how CLA shapes our city’s leaders by fostering the values of equity, inclusion, and collaboration.”

"Every year, it's a pleasure to watch some of our county employees go through the CLA program and emerge with a deepened sense of leadership and community," said Preckwinkle. “The program has a reputation for developing strong leaders in the government and nonprofit sector.”

This year’s welcome ceremony will also feature remarks from Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at Harris Public Policy and Derek R. B. Douglas, UChicago Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs. The cohort will also hear from representatives of each CLA alumni cohort, delivering a full community welcome for the newest class. Alumni speakers will include Darlene Hightower (CLA’15), Vice President of Community Health Equity, Rush University Medical Center; Maritza Bandera (CLA’16), Program Manager of Community Impact, Chicago Community Trust; Jose M. Muñoz (CLA’17), Executive Director, La Casa Norte; Allison Arwady (CLA’18), Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health; Sybil Madison (CLA’19), Deputy Mayor for Education & Human Services, City of Chicago; and J. Gibran Villalobos (CLA’20), Assistant Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art. Villalobos will conclude the alumni welcome with keynote remarks about the interconnectedness of the CLA community and its impact on Chicago.

“Civic Leadership Academy alumni play a critical role as we seek to bridge the gap between research and practice by engaging a broad network of scholars, practitioners, and students,” said Sadia Sindhu, executive director of the CEG. “Through CLA, the Center for Effective Government adds to the growing pipeline of effective civic leaders from Harris ready to lead institutional reform in Chicago.”

The 2021 Civic Leadership Academy fellows are:

  • Berto Aguayo, Executive Director, Increase The Peace

  • Sisavanh Baker, Director, Cook County Department of Human Rights and Ethics

  • Miguel A. Blancarte, Jr., Director of COVID-19 Response and Community Outreach, Esperanza Health Centers

  • Danielle N. Brown, Police Officer, Chicago Police Department

  • Nichole Carter, Chief Program Officer, Bright Star Community Outreach

  • Lucie-Ann Chen, Regional Manager - Working on Womanhood, Youth Guidance

  • Jenny Clines, Operations Director, Seminary Co-op Bookstores

  • Janett I. Cordovés, Director of Higher Education Partnerships, Interfaith Youth Core

  • Eric Davis, Deputy Director, Department of Capital Planning & Policy, Cook County Government

  • Jared Deane, Associate Dean, Health Science and Career Programs, Malcolm X College

  • Julia deBettencourt, Director of Arts Education, Chicago Public Schools

  • Andrew DeMuro, Regional Director, Chicago, Guitars Over Guns Organization

  • Christian Denes, Director of Strategic Planning & Impact, City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services

  • Craig Engebretson, Deputy Supervisor, Cook County State's Attorney's Office

  • Karena Fiorenza, General Manager, Steppenwolf Theatre Company

  • Melissa Flores, Senior Director of Strategy + Operations, Erie Neighborhood House

  • Andrea D. Flynn, Deputy Director Department of Risk Management, Cook County Government

  • Earl Grandberry Jr., Community Coordinator, Chicago Public Schools

  • Jerome’ Holston, Director, LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois

  • Randa Kuziez, Director of Development, Pillars Fund

  • Takenya Nixon, Assistant Public Defender, Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender

  • Ydalmi V. Noriega, Director of Programs and Community Engagement, Poetry Foundation

  • Tolu Olorode, Manager of Data and Impact, Openlands

  • Massimo Pacilli, Testing and Lab-Based Surveillance Lead, Chicago Department of Public Health

  • Rob Ross, MACRM’16, Chief Data Officer, Cook County Assessor's Office

  • Shelly Ruzicka, Communications & Finance Director, Arise Chicago

  • Barbara San-Roman, Principal, Chicago Public Schools - Washington High School

  • Amanda M. Walsh, Director, Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership

  • Chad J. Williams, MPP’10, Assistant Director, Office of Constitutional Policing & Reform, Chicago Police Department

  • Rafael Yañez, Police Officer, Chicago Police Department

Berto Aguayo is the recipient of the Jessica Bryar Scholarship, which is named in honor of Jessica Bryar (CLA’17), who passed away in 2019.

The fellows will begin a rigorous six-month program that will teach essential leadership skills and provide the time and space to focus on a specific leadership skill that will directly benefit their work. In May, the fellows will travel to Paris for a week-long global practicum. Upon completion of the program, they will receive a certificate in civic leadership from the Harris Public Policy.

CLA is administered by the Center for Effective Government (CEG), a nonpartisan academic initiative that aims to strengthen democratic institutions and improve the capacity of government to solve public problems. CEG launched in 2019 at Harris, which has been the academic home of CLA from its inception in 2014. Harris and the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement have continued to support CLA in partnership with the University’s other professional schools, including the Chicago Booth School of Business, the Graham School of Continuing and Professional Studies, UChicago Law School, and the School of Social Service Administration.


About the Civic Leadership Academy

Developed by the University of Chicago in 2014, the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) is an annual leadership development program for emerging and high-potential leaders in non-profit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County. CLA fellows engage in six months of leadership development programming and instruction with renowned UChicago faculty. The program features case studies, simulations, workshops, and conversations with civic leaders throughout Chicago, as well as a week-long global practicum abroad, all designed to challenge fellows to analyze organizational best practices, community impact, and institutional reform in the city of Chicago and beyond. CLA is designed to develop a diverse pipeline of talented leaders to help Chicago nonprofits and government agencies—institutions and organizations critical to the city’s civic infrastructure—thrive.

About the Center for Effective Government

The University of Chicago Center for Effective Government was founded in 2019 to help solve the problems of government ineffectiveness with a multi-faceted theory of action. The Center organizes its work and activities, and builds bridges between its stakeholders—scholars, students, practitioners, leaders, journalists, and advocates—around three key areas: ideas, education, and engagement.

About the Harris School of Public Policy

For more than three decades, the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy has been steadfastly committed to advancing policy based on evidence, not ideology. Guided by this exacting perspective, our exceptional community of scholars, students, and nearly 4,000 alumni take on the world’s most important problems using the latest tools of social science. As the second-largest professional school at the University of Chicago, Harris Public Policy offers a full range of degree and executive education programs to empower a new generation of data-driven leaders to create a real social impact throughout our global society. This is Harris Public Policy: Social Impact, Down to a Science.