Chicago, IL was a natural choice for an AYLF program site. The Aspen Institute’s history in Chicago dates back to 1949 when the Institute 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. 

AYLF continues the commitment made to young Chicago leaders that the Aspen Challenge fostered with Chicago Public Schools high school students in 2016 and 2017. AYLF is excited to engage community change-makers aged 18-22 in Chicago through this new cohort.

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.

For the Chicago cohort, we sought up to 30 Fellows with raw talent, creativity, and a passion for serving their communities. AYLF does not base candidate selection on grades, test scores, or resumes. Rather, the ideal Fellow believes they can make a difference in their community and is willing to put in the work to do so. 

AYLF accelerates leadership development as well as fellows’ understanding of how to create change individually and collectively, both in and outside of systems. AYLF commits to fellows and their families for a 5-year period, providing training, opportunities, support, and mitigating barriers to college graduation and workforce transition. During the first year, fellows meet for sessions during one weekend per month over 10 months. 

The 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.

Upon graduating from the fellowship, fellows and their families have access to continued resources and support:

  • 4 years of targeted support for fellows and their families.
  • Leadership and career coaching
  • On-demand academic tutoring
  • Crisis support and seed funding for initiatives
  • Lifetime connection to the Aspen Institute’s global network of contacts and opportunities.

Additionally, AYLF cultivates local stakeholders through community and institutional partnerships who, with support from the AYLF team, can come to locally own and execute the fellowship over time. Through this program, the Chicago community benefits from developing a critical mass of young leaders while simultaneously cultivating local adult and organizational talents to accelerate and sustain community-based change efforts.