Student Stories

20 Years With the University Community Service Center

What can you actually get done in 20 seconds?

What can you actually get done in 20 months?

This year, the University Community Service Center (UCSC) at UChicago wants students to try both in celebration of its—guess how many—20 years on campus.

Since its official founding by First Lady Michelle Obama, the UCSC has served the campus and the community as a student-run, staff-supported resource for people who want to get involved in volunteering and  social justice issues.

Several of their programs are geared toward College students, such as the Summer Links internship program that matches students with nonprofits and government agencies, Seeds of Justice weekly meetings that bring students together to discuss social justice issues, and the pre-O-Week quasi-boot camp Chicago Bound for learning about Chicago’s civic activism and history. Student workers and full-time staff members from the UCSC also advise community service-based Registered Student Organizations on campus and help them travel to volunteer sites around the city.

“The UCSC is not your average community service center. The people who work there are not only focused on action, they are focused on impact and that is not necessarily the same thing,” said Exequiel Manbor, a fourth-year student, former UCSC student intern, and Seeds of Justice participant. “At the UCSC you have the ability to think through problems and expand your knowledge on what doing good is, what is social justice, and what are the needs of the community.”

The UCSC’s outreach goes across the University, engaging everyone from families at neighboring elementary and high schools to  students at UChicago’s medical and law schools. Now, renewing the commitment toward civic engagement made by founder Michelle Obama two decades ago, the UCSC hopes to broaden and deepen their reach across the 2,000 students that regularly engage with their activities.

Called the “20 for 20 Pledge,” the UCSC is inviting the UChicago community to make a commitment toward civic engagement and social change throughout the year. Pledges to action range in involvement from a few seconds (share an article about a social justice issue on social media) to several months (work on a BA thesis about a community partner organization).

Students, faculty, staff, and community members are welcome to work on those pledges through a number of events the UCSC is hosting this year, including Saturday community explorations and monthly deep dives into issues like education, politics and government, and health and environment through panel presentations and community conversations.

“One of the things that UCSC is really excited to do is to provide a series of programming to celebrate the past 20 years of civic engagement but also to look ahead to how we as a community could learn more about the social justice issues that face our city from a variety of perspectives and experiences and to take action,” UCSC director Amy Chan said at one of the kickoff events, a panel on education disparity on October 7.

Many students involved with the UCSC share Amy’s excitement about the center’s 20th birthday, and look forward to its mission in the years to come.

“The UCSC tackles a wide variety of topics, and the people who are involved with it are incredibly passionate about fixing many of the issues that our society faces,” said Jessica Lu, a first-year student who participated in Chicago Bound and now volunteers in a local public school with the Neighborhood Schools Program.

This is also the UCSC’s first year under the leadership of the Office of Civic Engagement rather than the Office of Campus and Student Life. Former UCSC intern and Service Match participant Joe Archer, AB ‘15, says this will hopefully broaden outreach both in the community and within the student body.

“I think it’s very important to engage with other organizations doing similar work and having similar conversations surrounding the University’s place within the South Side,” he said. “That’s why I look forward to seeing the UCSC form new partnerships and build a community within, and outside of, the UofC.”


Related links:

Click here for the UCSC’s full calendar of 20th anniversary events this whole year.

Learn more about ways to get involved with the UCSC on its website.