Lydia Stazen’s Chicago Semester Story: Bringing Her Vocational Calling into Razor-sharp Focus

By the end of her sophomore year of college, Lydia Stazen ’04 felt an intense need to expand her horizons beyond her campus experience. As she explored off-campus semester opportunities, she was excited to discover that Chicago Semester met both her personal need for more diverse experiences – and her major’s internship requirements.

Before participating in Chicago Semester, Lydia harbored a vague interest in the nonprofit sector but didn’t have a clear vision about what her vocational calling could look like. She interviewed for a variety nonprofit internships through Chicago Semester, including several arts and theater organizations. But ultimately she chose an internship with Breakthrough, an organization that supports and creates opportunity for individuals affected by poverty through a variety of programs including education and youth development, workforce development, housing, health and wellness, violence prevention and spiritual formation.

For Lydia, the eye-opening Chicago Semester brought her vocational calling into sharp focus. “I truly saw for the first time experiences of homelessness, hunger, and lack of educational and employment equity. It confirmed to me that my career path would be to work for anti-poverty nonprofits,” she said.

From studying issues of public housing and transportation in the classroom to sharing powerful internship moments such as hearing a group of women living in Breakthrough’s homeless shelter singing “Lean on Me” together with staff members, Chicago Semester made a life-changing impact on Lydia.

It deepened her understanding of what special places cities are and the unique challenges they pose, and inspired her to permanently relocate to Chicago five years after graduating. She currently serves as executive director for the Institute of Global Homelessness, which is working with key global strategic partners to eradicate street homelessness in 150 cities around the world by 2030.

“I am drawn by the energy of cities and dedicated to making communities stronger and healthier, particularly for people of color who are disproportionately affected by systemic racism and oppression,” Lydia said. “I believe that everyone has a responsibility to be aware of the issues that are at play in their communities and a duty to work in some way to address them.”

Celebrating 45 years of making a meaningful difference

This year, Chicago Semester is celebrating its 45th year of providing opportunities for individuals like Lydia to broaden their perspectives, challenge themselves and find meaningful direction for their lives. When you give to Chicago Semester, you help empower current and future students to begin writing their own new stories.

We are grateful for the generous support that has enabled us to launch a fresh brand, move our offices to an innovative, collaborative workspace at 1871, and begin hosting classes in neighborhoods across Chicago this past year.

Your gift this fall will support:

  • Expanded summer program internship options in the Entrepreneurship and Architecture & Engineering tracks.
  • A new pilot micro-internship program for students unable to participate in the traditional program model.
  • Creation of a new professional development curriculum to support students as they transition from college to professional life.

Double the impact of your donation

You have a unique opportunity to double the impact of your donation this fall, since all gifts received are being matched, up to $10,000, by a group of Chicago Semester alumni and friends.

Join the story by investing in future alumni who share Lydia’s devotion to serving with joy and commitment, whatever their calling.


Make your gift today at