Our History

Est. 1996


THis is how it all started...

Founded in 1996 by then Chairman of Nuveen Investments, Tim Schwertfeger, and his wife Gail Waller, Chicago Scholars provided a onetime award of $1,000 to a graduating senior nominated from every public, private and parochial high school in Chicago. The intent of the program was to highlight talent regardless of the student’s high school or neighborhood. Before long, the Foundation caught the attention of Manny Sanchez and Gery Chico, whose Chicagoland Scholarship Fund helped young Hispanic students realize their dreams of college education, and in 2002 the two organizations merged to become Scholarship Chicago.

Meanwhile, on Chicago’s North Shore, an innovative program called College Bound was working in a parallel direction but focusing primarily on workshops, personal mentoring, and paid internship opportunities. Founded  by childhood friends Gary Caplan and Lee Gordon, College Bound had already merged with Sam Mendenhall’s Give Back Foundation, which chiefly served African-American youth. These leaders were now seeking to expand their organization to increase their impact and efficiency.

By the mid-2000s, and as Arne Duncan and others began to focus the community on helping great young people  get to college, the Board of Scholarship Chicago decided that it was time to explore new ways of encouraging college bound  attendance and achievement in a more systemic fashion. As a result, Scholarship Chicago merged with College Bound  in 2005, and brought on its first experienced business executive as President and CEO to lead the newly merged organization – the Chicago Scholars Foundation.

Today, Chicago Scholars is the largest college access and success program in Chicago serving more than 3,000 Scholars and Alumni each year in our seven-year college access and success mentoring and career support program. Committed to moving the dial for Chicago’s youth, the organization works to develop deep collaborations with community based organizations and has a national network of more than 175 selective enrollment and ivy league college and university partners.