2018 Bridging the Divide Undergraduate Cohort

Bridging the Divide, a new program at the Institute of Politics in partnership with Eureka College, attempts to promote a deeper understanding of and between urban and rural communities. Program participants met in Chicago in January and in Eureka in February to explore how issues of education, employment, and the drug crisis affect both areas. The program concluded in Springfield in April, where students reflected upon what they have learned and share these conversations with policy-makers and practitioners.

UChicago Students

Cinque Carson is a First Year from the Southside of Chicago planning on majoring in Public Policy or Political Science. In high school, she volunteered at her local library and was a member of the varsity debate team. She currently works with UChicago's Neighborhood Schools Program as a teaching assistant; she also is on the ChoMUN crisis team. She is interested in the Bridging the Divide Program because she wants to learn about how urban and rural communities face similar problems and how solutions can be reached collectively and with empathy. She is excited about engaging in this valuable experience so early in her college career.

Joseph Donahue is a Second Year pursuing a double major in Political Science and Economics. He grew up in Brighton, Michigan (go Bulldogs!). On campus, Joseph writes for Bite Magazine and serves as an Events Ambassador for the IOP. He is excited to learn more about how the experience of living in an environment molds perspectives -- and to learn more about other people and himself in the process.

Courtney Marsh is a Second-Year Public Policy major originally from Groves, Texas. She currently works at the IOP as a house manager intern and is involved with the Women in Public Service Program. In the past, she has worked in Washington D.C. as an intern with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national non-profit organization focused on protecting religious freedom. Her experiences in Chicago and D.C., as well as her work in the local politics of Southeast Texas, have culminated in an interest in bipartisan dialogue and open conversations about how public service and policy affect people’s daily lives. She is excited to interact with the rest of the cohort and find possible solutions to important issues as a team.

Firouz Niazi is a First Year interested in Public Policy and Global Studies. Evanston, Illinois is his hometown, but he is very excited to be living in Hyde Park for the next four years. Firouz is looking forward to participating in the Bridging the Divide Program because he would like to learn how to promote and engage in civil discourse between Americans who have different viewpoints, while discovering more about the country he calls home. Firouz is also involved in Model UN, the Rhythm and Jews acapella group, and Gather Activism, a student-created startup.

Alex Shura is a First Year studying Political Science and Economics, originally from Naperville, Illinois. He is a research cohort member and Content Deputy (Midwestern Conference) for the University of Chicago Chapter of European Horizons, a writer for the University of Chicago Democracy Initiative’s Citizen Bulletin, and a member of the Chicago Debate Society. As a lifelong Illinois resident, he has had considerable personal experience with the political divisions across the state. Bridging the Divide appeals to him as an opportunity to explore his political beliefs while working to address an important issue for Illinois and the United States.

Charlotte Soehner is a First Year who was born in Paris and raised in New York. Her fields of study will likely be human rights and international relations, with a focus on policy making. She is also interested in studying sustainable urban development and environmental justice. As a high schooler, Charlotte served on Lower Manhattan's Community Board 1. She is currently involved with the University of Chicago Democracy Initiative and the Neighborhood Schools Program. Charlotte is participating in Bridging the Divide to gain a better understanding of social and political dynamics in the United States, and she looks forward to hearing new perspectives.

Zoe Strong is a First Year from Chicago interested in pre-medical studies. Currently, Zoe is a singer in the University Chorus and Women's Ensemble and a mentor for CPS middle school students with the UChicago Supplies for Dreams project.  She is interested in the Bridging the Divide Program because she finds it increasingly harder to have conversations with family and friends who have grown up with different experiences and viewpoints. She hopes that through this program, everyone will learn how to find common goals and be able to work through these differences.

Jessica Vargas is a First Year studying Sociology. She grew up on the Far Southeast Side of Chicago. At the University of Chicago, she has been involved with the Women in Public Service program, Chicago Peace Corps, MECHA, and Chicago Bound. She is interested in Bridging the Divide because she wants to challenge herself to see beyond the Chicago Skyline and grow through dialogue. She is eager for everyone to share experiences and new depths of understanding with one another.

Sam Venkatesh is a First Year from Thousand Oaks, California, whose interests range from physics to sociology. He has taught physics in India, is an Eagle Scout, and is currently restoring a 1974 Corvette. Sam is interested in Bridging the Divide because he wants to understand how different people think and how their experiences shape how they view the world.

Emily Williams is a First Year interested in studies in the Social Sciences Division. Emily grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia and currently lives in beautiful Manchester, Vermont. Last year, she participated in a student youth exchange through Rotary International, living and going to school in Piestany, Slovakia. Being overseas brought her into contact with many startlingly different political perspectives and piqued an interest in understanding these different narratives both in foreign countries and within America. Emily also has an interest in film and documentary production and currently works with STAGE labs at UChicago to develop a web series on the lives of scientists.

Eureka Students

Elsie Croasdale is a sophomore at Eureka College, majoring in History & Political Science (Pre- Law). She is a Crisis Text Line Counselor, and is involved in student government at Eureka. Elsie is looking forward to participating in this program to learn more about how students her age view political and social issues.

Paige Dobbyn is a Second Year from Shorewood, Illinois. She is majoring in History and Political Science with a double minor in Spanish and Environmental Studies. On campus, Paige is president of the sophomore class, secretary for Alpha Phi Omega, is a leadership and admission ambassador, and is involved in CRU (Campus Crusaders for Christ). During the summers she volunteers for her church's vacation bible school as well as Triple Threat, a nonprofit organization in Aurora, Illinois that focuses on inner-city youth. Paige is interested in the Bridging the Divide program because she is passionate about issues concerning both urban and rural communities and is eager to learn about other peoples' viewpoints on such issues through open dialogue and experiences.

Alex Furniss is a freshman studying history and middle grades education at Eureka. He has lived in Peoria, Illinois, his whole life and is very interested in history especially in failed global economic systems. Alex is currently a grade school basketball coach and has volunteered in several organizations over the past few years. In high school, he was a part of the United States Air Force Junior ROTC program, and associated with the United States Air Force Association. In the 2018 election he plans on being a part of the Bruce Rauner campaign to save Illinois. He’s interested in the Bridging the Divide program because he wants to see how geographical influences shape political opinions.

Kayla Green is a Second Year student from Alhambra, IL. She is majoring in Political Science and minoring in Environmental Studies. Currently she is a member of the Campus Activities Board, Students Alliance for Greener Environments, and Campus Crusade for Christ. She writes for the college newspaper and is an Admission Ambassador. She is also serving as the Vice President for the Sophomore class in Student Senate. During the previous summer, she started working at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, MO, and has continued to volunteer for the organization in her free time. She is excited for the opportunity that the Bridging the Divide program has to offer. She hopes to learn more from this experience and to expand her outlook towards the issues we'll be discussing.

Julie Hemp is from the small town of Mapleton, Illinois. She is a history major and leadership minor at Eureka College. She keeps busy by being involved with the Delta Delta Pi sorority, dance team, Alpha Psi Omega, theater, SPRUCE and working three jobs. This past fall Julie attended the Leadership Institute’s seminar in Chicago, a conference meant to help fight political bias on college campuses. She is very excited to be a part of Bridging the Divide because she hopes to demonstrate that collaboration can make a huge impact and wants to prove that differences unite more than they divide.

Klancee Murtagh is a Transfer Freshman majoring in Secondary Education with a History focus. She grew up in several places during her early life but spent her high school years in Metamora, Illinois. She is currently a member of the America Reads program as both a mentor and tutor at the local middle school. She is excited to take part in the Bridging the Divide program and get a different take on college life and understand the unique issues that affect urban students as opposed to rural ones such as herself. She is eager to see what we can accomplish.

Gilbert Robison is a Second Year student majoring in history with a licensure in secondary education. He grew in the small town of Chandlerville, Illinois. He is very excited to be a part of Bridging the Divide Program.

Hunter Spence is a First Year at Eureka College pursuing a major in Political Science with a Pre-Law track. Hunter is from Le Roy, Illinois. Hunter has volunteered as an election judge in prior elections and is currently the president of a non-partisan political group on campus called S.M.I.L.E. He is interested in learning about different political ideas and trying to find compromise for a better Illinois.

Travis Vasseur is a Sophomore from Spring Grove, Illinois, and is studying History and Education. He is interested in the Bridging the Divide Program to see how people from rural and urban environments can come together to solve problems affecting both communities through discourse. In the past, Travis has personally encountered schools both in rural and urban environments and the differences between them. He wants to see how discussion of our differences and similarities can build a better community. Travis is also an Eagle Scout and has a love of the outdoors.

Jake Winch is a Freshman at Eureka College who is studying Political Science. Jake has experience working on his own State Representative’s campaign, as well as assisting with U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis’ and Darin LaHood’s efforts in Central Illinois. He also has done volunteer work with Relay for Life, as well as work for his local church. Jake looks forward to being a part of Bridging the Divide, for he believes that it may serve in the future as a way for young students to create a form of dialogue between those of primarily rural or urban communities.