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The Obama Foundation Announces the 2023-2024 Cohort of Obama Scholars at Columbia University and the University of Chicago

September 6, 2023 at 10:18 AM CDT

CHICAGO – Today, the Obama Foundation proudly welcomes its sixth cohort of Obama Scholars, 30 rising leaders from around the world who are ready to take their work to the next level. The Scholars will participate in an immersive curriculum at either Columbia University in the City of New York or the University of Chicago, as well as intensive leadership development programming led by the Obama Foundation for the 2023-2024 academic year.

The Obama Scholars program, a cornerstone of the Foundation’s work to develop the next generation of leaders, provides Scholars with exposure to real-world skills, tools, and experiences that will expand the impact of their work when they return home. The Scholars will participate in academic, skills-based and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University and the University of Chicago, in partnership with the Obama Foundation. Their experience will be further enriched by participating in Foundation-led leadership development programming that includes training, networking opportunities, and personalized support as they extend their efforts post-graduation. The Foundation-led program will kickoff, tomorrow, September 7, with all Scholars attending an orientation in Chicago.

“The Obama Scholars program enables rising changemakers to gain insights into the work of fellow leaders, across issues and geographies, while collaborating to address complex challenges,” said Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett. “We are eager to welcome the new cohort of Scholars to the Foundation family, where they will join a network of changemakers striving for a stronger, more sustainable, and more inclusive world.”

The University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program brings together 18 UChicago Obama Scholars from the Booth School of Business, the Harris School of Public Policy, or the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice as part of an expanded program focused on engaging with communities on the South Side of Chicago. This unique co-curricular experience will enable Scholars to explore the relationship between local engagement and global impact, paving the way for innovative solutions to complex challenges. Nine of the 18 UChicago Scholars are committed to continuing their impact in Chicago, including in the communities surrounding the future Obama Presidential Center, once the program concludes.

“This opportunity provides its scholars the chance to not only benefit from the programs rich experiential-based offerings, but to also deepen and enrich their capacity to challenge widely held assumptions and ideas through exposure to the University’s distinctive learning environment,” said University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos. “It is our hope that this experience will inspire them to realize and surface novel solutions to some of the most important problems facing our communities.”

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University will welcome 12 Scholars from 12 countries for a nine-month residency at Columbia World Projects (Opens in a new tab). Scholars will engage with the institution’s multifaceted program to deepen their knowledge and skills and build new capacities and networks that will accelerate their impact on the world. The cohort will partake in weekly seminars, personal and professional development workshops, audited coursework, and other tailored programming developed in close partnership with the Foundation.

“I believe deeply in the mission of the Obama Foundation Scholars Program and am thrilled to welcome the sixth cohort of fellows to Columbia,” said President Minouche Shafik, who began her tenure as Columbia’s 20th president on July 1, 2023. “I know that these Scholars will benefit immeasurably from all that this University has to offer, and I am excited to see the impact they will have on our campuses, their communities, and the world in the months and years ahead.”

Since its inception in 2018, the Obama Foundation Scholars program has supported 132 leaders from 59 countries, all actively working to address today’s pressing issues. This year's cohort is actively working to address many challenges and issue areas and hope to use the Scholars program to expand their impact, such as: 

  • University of Chicago Obama Scholar Samantha Siers is increasing the financial and mental well-being of families of color in Chicago by expanding access to high-quality education, support services, social capital, and direct cash transfers. Samantha plans to use the Scholars program to launch a low-cost mental health support hotline for mothers experiencing mental health challenges, and bring together a network of therapists, doulas, and social workers to fill the gap in Chicago communities.

  • Columbia University Obama Scholar Oksana Matiiash is driving transformative education initiatives to support children's learning and well-being during the war to strengthen Ukraine’s human capital for post-war rebuilding. Oksana hopes to use the Scholars program to develop her leadership abilities and scale her work to shape and rebuild Ukraine’s educational system after the war.

  • University of Chicago Obama Scholar Amaral Medeiros is helping Brazilians learn and use Artificial Intelligence to prepare people for the jobs of tomorrow. Amaral seeks to leverage the Scholars program's network, systems thinking approach, and individualized support resources to advance his organization’s work to help Brazilians thrive in the digital economy. 

  • Columbia University Obama Scholar Luis V. Villaherrera is creating innovative capacity-building projects and technological tools to combat corruption and foster democracy in El Salvador. Luis hopes to use the Scholars program to deepen his approach to connecting with different stakeholders to build grassroots movements, deliver messages to a broader audience, and push for accountability.

To learn more about the program, please visit A list of the 2023-2024 cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars can be found here.


Contact: Gloria Nlewedim, [email protected]


About the Obama Foundation

The Obama Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. That mission begins on the South Side of Chicago, where the Foundation is building the Obama Presidential Center. But that approach extends to all our work, whether it’s holding leadership training sessions in communities throughout the U.S., bringing local leaders together in countries around the world, working to support the global education of girls, or ensuring young men of color have pathways to opportunity. From every corner of the globe, our program participants are working together to address some of the biggest challenges of our time—from renewing our democratic institutions, protecting LGBTQ+ rights, fighting climate change, and so much more.