Saga Partners with Northwestern University’s Public Interest Program

May 10, 2019

Saga is about the power of relationships. You see it in the connections made between Fellows. You also see it in partnerships with university, college, and community organizations that support and prepare individuals for similar missions in service.

These partnerships are incredibly important to Saga as they are driving forces behind many passionate individuals and opportunities for exposure to service and education.

One example is Saga’s partnership with the Northwestern University Public Interest Program. The university’s one-year fellowship fosters the next generation of community leaders through paid public interest work, development and mentorship opportunities. NUPIP fellows also work side-by-side with nonprofits across Chicago, including Saga.

Saga is a natural nonprofit partner option for NUPIP fellows to consider. NUPIP fellows partnering with Saga spend a year in Chicago public schools, fighting educational inequity through mentoring and tutoring students in math.

For Graham Derfner, NUPIP graduate and Saga alum, building meaningful relationships was an important part of his post-graduate goals. After graduating from Northwestern in 2017 with a major in creative writing and minors in history and political science, he wanted to find rewarding and impactful work. He began the NUPIP program and as a Saga Fellow at Bogan High School in fall of 2017.

“I felt that group mentorship with high school students was a great way to give back on a deeply personal level. I understood the value of meaningful relationship building having been a part of mentorship groups in high school, college, and summer camp settings, but had little experience working with disadvantaged students whose backgrounds greatly differed from my own,” said Derfner.

The biggest lesson he learned? “Patience.” He didn’t always witness daily breakthroughs, he said, but he learned there’s no magic lesson plan, and to work on each relationship individually.

Now, he’s finishing up his current position as a field director for Marianne Lalonde in Chicago’s 2019 city council elections. His experience with Saga was influential to his success as a field organizer: “So much of being a Saga fellow hinged on goal-setting and communication, two skills that I used every day. I believe listening to the experiences of my Bogan students partly encouraged me to pursue a career path in politics.”

Figuring out a career path was partly what drew Emily Wills to the NUPIP and Saga partnership. After graduating with a theater degree from Northwestern in 2015, she wanted to get some classroom experience under her belt to see whether she wanted to pursue a degree in education. She began her year as a Saga fellow in the summer of 2015.

“I loved working with the kids—that was always the highlight of the job. But after a year … I missed being part of the theater community. After Saga, I went back to my roots in theater administration, fundraising, and education,” said Wills.

For her, Saga was worth it, though. “It’s ok if you don’t jump into your dream job right out of school Saga didn’t wind up being a perfect fit for me, but I learned so much while I was there, and I got to work with some amazing kids.”

Her advice for students considering NUPIP and Saga? “The PIP program was well worth it for me. It still informs how I envision my future goals and career plans.”


Apply to be a Saga Fellow for the 2019-20 academic year!