The Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship Launches in Chicago, IL

September 23, 2020

The inaugural Chicago cohort will cultivate fellows’ values-based leadership, leading to the design and implementation of a community impact project related to climate change and environmental sustainability. Applications accepted through October 15, 2020.

Contact: Program and Partnership Inquiries:
Ana Rossetti

 Media Requests:
Victoria Scheffel

Washington, DC, September 22, 2020 – The Aspen Institute is pleased to announce the launch for the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) in Chicago, IL. With existing cohorts in St. Louis, MO, and the Mississippi/Arkansas Delta area and alumni cohorts in Newark, NJ, AYLF Chicago will bring together young people between the ages of 18-22 for a year-long cohort-based leadership development and community impact program followed by four years of targeted support for degree completion and job placement. The priority deadline for Fellowship applications is October 15th.

AYLF is a critical community tool to ensure that a generation of talent is not collateral damage to the social, political, economic, and health crises affecting so many. The program purposefully targets low-income and working-class families to ensure those most vulnerable have a safety-net.

Kyndal Pointer, a current Chicago resident, went through the program when she lived in the Mississippi Delta: “My experience in AYLF was life changing. I was afforded opportunities that positioned me to chase my dreams and turn them into realities. AYLF makes it possible to help yourself while helping others along the way.”

AYLF’s Impact:

  • Serving 132 fellows/families with expansion to 220 families by end of 2020.
  • 4,000+ community stakeholders touched by programming since 2018.
  • Fellows increase their levels of civic engagement tenfold moving into the 95th percentile nationally.
  • Statistically significant gains in leadership capacity, efficacy, agency, perspective-taking, resilience, social change behaviors, complex cognitive skills, and abilities to navigate systems.
  • 97% 5-year college completion rate and 99% job placement rate.

“What we’re doing is setting young people on a trajectory of success and not just success in terms of wealth and material goods but success in terms of richness of experience, richness of opportunity, and the ability to transform the communities that they’re living in,” said John Dugan, Executive Director of Youth Leadership Programs at the Aspen Institute.

The Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship is deeply rooted in our Fellows’ communities to develop young emerging leaders in cities and regions across the U.S., working in locations where young people are primed with talent but need a whole-system approach to mitigates systemic barriers to their success.

The AYLF Fellowship includes:

  • Monthly leadership training seminars.
  • A paid internship designed to launch a community change initiative.
  • Sister City Civic Action Trip and National Retreat that bring all cohorts from different locations together.
  • Access to high-profile leaders locally and nationally.
  • 4 years of targeted support for fellows and their families.
  • Lifetime connection to the Aspen Institute’s network of contacts and opportunities.

The inaugural Chicago cohort will bring together youth pursuing STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – and other majors who are passionate about environmental sustainability and climate issues.

AYLF continues the commitment made to young Chicago leaders that the Aspen Challenge fostered with Chicago Public Schools in 2016 and 2017. The Aspen Challenge encourages high schoolers to take the lead in addressing the issues that affect their community so they can become effective agents of change. AYLF is excited to engage leaders aged 18-22 in Chicago through this new cohort.

The Aspen Institute’s relationship to Chicago dates to 1949 when it was founded by Chicago business leader Walter Paepcke and his wife Elizabeth Paepcke. University of Chicago philosopher Mortimer Adler also deeply influenced the Institute’s early work. “By launching this newest cohort of the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship, we are proud to renew our historic relationship with the City of Chicago,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “We look forward to working with the rich social and cultural wealth of its communities through this program and to accompanying the city’s rising generation at a time when their leadership is needed more than ever.”

The eligibility criteria for AYLF fellows are:

  • 18-22 years old (as of December 19, 2020).
  • Residents of the Chicago metropolitan area who have completed at least two years of high school in the area but preferably residents who grew up in Chicago.
  • Can be from Chicago and attending college in the Chicago metropolitan area.
  • Ideally, candidates should have a desire to contribute to the Chicago metropolitan area long-term.
  • Grades and GPA do not factor into eligibility or the selection process.

Applications are now open for the Chicago cohort. Students should apply by October 15 for priority consideration. The first session of the upcoming Fellowship cycle is December 19-20.

The Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship welcomes partnerships and outreach on this program from local schools, educators, leaders, environmental groups, and community programs.

Contact Deputy Director of AYLF Ana Rossetti at for additional information.


The Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) identifies, cultivates, and amplifies future generations of talent to engage in the values-based leadership essential for transforming their lives and society for the better. AYLF is a place-based, multi-site program at The Aspen Institute that nurtures cohorts of diverse youth to: (1) support degree completion; (2) prepare for workforce success; and (3) address the most compelling social, political, and scientific issues facing their communities. AYLF Fellows stimulate long-term community transformation through a whole-systems approach that involves families, educators, and community stakeholders. AYLF transfers human, social, and economic capital into regions so they have the necessary resources to engage in problem solving as a community.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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