Established the first sociology department in the United States

Inaugurated in 1892, the University of Chicago’s Sociology Department was the first in the United States, establishing a model of creative and foundational work. Its graduates and faculty have shaped sociological subfields from stratification and demography to deviance and urban studies, and originated methodologies from path analysis and log-linear modeling to urban ethnography.

Current College students conduct urban research in the neighborhoods near the University.


Early childhood education in Earl Shapiro Hall at today’s Laboratory Schools.

Introduced innovative ideas in education reform

Philosopher and educator John Dewey opened an elementary school in 1896, embarking on one of the most important educational experiments of the century. That small school became the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, one of the pre-eminent pre-collegiate academic institutions in the world and one that still bases its educational experience on Dewey’s ideas. The Lab Schools now offer a quality education to more than 1,700 students from nursery through high school.


Pioneered social service scholarship in the United States

From its earliest incarnation in 1908, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration was among the first schools of social work in the United States and a pioneer in using scientific research to identify and address the root causes of social inequity. Today, SSA alumni lead public and private welfare agencies around the world, where they tackle the major social problems of our time.

Edith Abbott, PhD 1905, Inaugural Dean of the School of Social Service Administration and first female dean of any graduate school in the US


Ernest Burgess, Professor in Sociology

Inspired the field of urban sociology

With The Ghetto (1928) and Urbanism as a Way of Life (1939), sociologist Louis Wirth proposed a new academic paradigm for city life as a sociological construct, which was central to the establishment of urban sociology as a field of study. Wirth’s contributions, along with groundbreaking research by sociologists Ernest Burgess and Robert Park, provided the foundation for the Chicago School of Sociology, which emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. University researchers explored the urban environment by combining theory and ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago; this approach is now applied to many other urban areas.


Revolutionized legal education, services

Founded in 1956, the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic was one of the first of its kind. It revolutionized both how law students gained practical skills and how high-quality legal services were provided to clients. Through the clinic, students gain hands-on experience and provide pro bono legal aid to low-income residents.

The University of Chicago Legal Aid Group, the precursor to the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, was housed at the University’s Settlement House.


Students learning through games, an integral part of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum.

Instituted breakthrough math curricula

With the goal of improving mathematics education in elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States, the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) was founded in 1983. It is now the nation’s largest university-based curriculum project for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics. An estimated 3.5 to 4 million students—in every state and virtually every major urban area—now use UCSMP materials such as Everyday Mathematics.


Shaped our understanding of early childhood classrooms

Early childhood education pioneer Vivian Gussin Paley, PhB’47, recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant,” published her acclaimed book You Can’t Say You Can’t Play in 1992. Lessons from the book, which looks at the social and moral landscape of the classroom, have helped shape the educational approach at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and many other schools. In 2010, Paley was honored for her nearly four decades of teaching and research by New York’s 92nd Street Y, which endowed and named an award for a living person for the first time.

Vivian Gussin Paley, MacArthur Fellow


James Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, reads to children at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

Highlighted relationship between early childhood education and economic inequality

Policy makers have benefited from important new insights into the impact of social programs and the economics of early childhood from 2000 economics Nobelist James Heckman. His work supports early childhood education as a leading force for addressing economic inequality and improving the outcomes of individuals over their lifetimes. His pioneering research questioning the benefit of the GED degree received national attention.


Launched interdisciplinary research into race, politics, and culture

In 2004, scholar and activist Cathy Cohen began the Black Youth Project, a national research project devoted to examining the attitudes, resources, and culture of African American youth. Cohen’s major contributions linking academics with activism earned her the University of Chicago’s inaugural Faculty Diversity Leadership Award in 2014.

Cathy Cohen, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor in Political Science


Chicago Public Schools students participating in the BAM program

Developed new programs to prevent crime

The University of Chicago Crime Lab, launched in 2008, partners with policy makers in Chicago and across the country to carry out large-scale policy experiments to identify effective and cost-effective ways to help prevent crime and violence. The city of Chicago has provided additional funding to the violence reduction program Becoming a Man (BAM), which Crime Lab research showed to be effective. One innovative BAM program, which addresses non-academic barriers to school success, decreased violent crime arrests of participants by 44 percent.


Improved high school graduation rates

More than 5,000 schools nationwide use Urban Education Institute (UEI) tools and training. Chicago Public Schools adopted the UEI’s Consortium on Chicago School Research’s “on-track” indicator—a metric that predicts which ninth-grade students will graduate high school—to identify and monitor students who need targeted support. The CPS freshmen-on-track rate rose from 57 percent in 2007 to 82 percent in 2014, increasing across racial and ethnic groups.

Students from the Chicago Public Schools participate in a workshop offered at the University of Chicago.


Theaster Gates, Professor and Director of Arts + Public Life

Demonstrated art’s ability to transform

Artist Theaster Gates received the Artes Mundi prize in 2015, a major honor for contemporary artists. The prize, among the world’s largest, honored Gates for his piece “A Complicated Relationship between Heaven and Earth, or When We Believe.” The judges praised Gates as an activist, urbanist, facilitator, and curator. The professor of visual arts and director of arts and public life at the University is an innovator in using art to reshape and revive formerly neglected neighborhoods. His Dorchester Projects created small-scale artist residencies throughout Greater Grand Crossing in Chicago.


Launched initiative to solve urban dilemmas

In 2015, the University of Chicago launched the UChicago Urban Labs to address some of the world’s most daunting urban problems and help realize the promise of cities in an era of global urbanization. Urban Labs partner with civic leaders and practitioners in Chicago and around the world to design and test the most promising urban policies and programs across five key areas: crime, education, energy and environment, health, and poverty.

UChicago Urban Labs conduct action-oriented research aimed at improving urban life.