Occidental Student Wins Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarship for Public Service

Laura Paisley Photos by Marc Campos

James Steinberger ’25 will receive up to $50,000 in financial aid as part of the two-year scholarship, created to support young leaders in bridging divides and taking on global challenges.

Inspired by his “Law and Society” class taught by Occidental College Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Alec Arellano, James Steinberger ’25 learned early on that a better understanding of the legal system would aid him in his efforts to create change in society. It is part of what led the junior from Hockessin, Delaware, to choose politics as his major.

Over the last several years, Steinberger has been pursuing a variety of public service internships. He interned with a lobbying firm in his home state, interfacing with a healthcare advocacy organization that works to provide more equitable healthcare outcomes. He also interned with Giffords, a gun violence prevention organization founded by former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), as well as U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE).

James Steinberger '25 stands in front of photos from Obama's Occidental days.
Steinberger stands by the photos of President Obama on the front of Haines Hall, Obama's former residence hall.

Steinberger is one of 100 students nationally to receive the prestigious Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarship for Public Service. The 2023-25 cohort of Voyagers represent 74 colleges and universities from 33 states and territories. Steinberger, who plans to attend law school after Occidental, calls the scholarship a “life-changing opportunity.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this cohort of talented, driven students who share my passion for public service,” he says.

The two-year scholarship program gives college students financial aid to alleviate the burden of college debt, meaningful travel experiences to expand their horizons, and a network of mentors and leaders to support them. Students receive up to $50,000 in financial aid so that they can better afford to pursue a career in public service.

“On top of providing barrier-reducing aid towards my education, this scholarship will enable me to spend next summer participating in a fully-funded work-travel experience,” Steinberger says. “During my Summer Voyage, I plan on traveling to Europe to explore how citizens councils are being used to create more equitable and effective policy outcomes.”

President Barack Obama was a member of the Occidental Class of 1983. The Voyager Scholarship was created by the Obamas and Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, to help shape leaders for our increasingly globalized world who can bridge divides and help solve our biggest challenges together. Even though they come from different backgrounds, both the President and Chesky believe that exposure to new places and experiences generates understanding, empathy, and cooperation which equips the next generation to create meaningful change.

Awardees also receive a $10,000 stipend and free Airbnb housing to pursue a summer work-travel experience between their junior and senior year of college. The students design their own Summer Voyage to gain exposure to new communities and experiences in a chosen field. Students are also invited to an annual summit to help define and inspire their public service journey.

“At this convening, I’ll have the opportunity to meet with President Obama and Brian Chesky to talk about how to bridge divides and hear how they see the roles of empathy and understanding in leadership and public service,” Steinberger says.

I recognize that with privilege comes responsibility, and hopefully I can use mine for good and make people’s lives better.

Throughout the program, students will be invited to an ongoing speaker series, giving them access to a network of leaders. This network of leaders will expose them to new areas of service and innovations happening in their fields. After graduation, they will join the Obama Foundation’s global community, providing them with Foundation resources and programming.

Steinberger has made a conscious choice to use his education and advantages in life to try and close some gaps in society. “I recognize that with privilege comes responsibility,” he says, “and hopefully I can use mine for good and make people’s lives better.”