Shortlist Committee

The Shortlist Committee helps the Chicago Humanities Festival bring more curious, culturally savvy young professionals in their 20s and 30s to our year-round events.

These enthusiastic leaders are committed to increasing young professional attendance at CHF. They accomplish this through networking, fundraising, and representing the Shortlist on stage as introducers for our public programs. They help realize CHF's mission of making the humanities accessible to everyone in Chicago.

The Chicago Humanities Festival staff salutes their dedication and hard work!

Speakers and Performers

Justin Clarke

Justin Clarke was born and raised in St. Petersburg, FL. He earned a bachelor’s degree in health care management and a master’s degree in applied social science in public administration from Florida A&M University. A Project Manager – Sr. Consultant at Allstate Insurance Company, he is no stranger to the arts after attending both an arts and humanities focused middle and high school. Justin spends his leisure time working with nonprofit boards and community focused organizations. Youth mentoring, networking and public awareness are top social priorities for Justin. In 2013, he was exposed to the Chicago Humanities Festival, through Board member Cheryl Harris, and joined the Shortlist Committee in 2014. His most memorable CHF event was Elephant Room with Louie Magic, Dennis Diamond, and Daryl Hannah.

Sara Garber

Sara Garber grew up on a farm in central Illinois, in the rainforests of Central America, and in the swamps of north Florida. She attended college and law school at the University of Illinois and is now a criminal defense and civil rights attorney at Jackowiak Law Offices. Sara was first introduced to the Chicago Humanities Festival through Artistic Director Matti Bunzl, who was Sara’s favorite college professor! When not working and getting cultured at the Chicago Humanities Festival, Sara can usually be spotted dancing in the sunshine on Logan Boulevard or otherwise frolicking around Logan Square.

Jessica Herman

Jessica Herman is a magazine writer and copywriter whose writing on everything from furniture design to South Side jazz musicians has appeared everywhere from Slate to Time Out Chicago to Condé Nast Traveler. The California native studied English literature at Northwestern University. She has loved living in Chicago for the past decade and contributed to four travel guides about the city. One of her favorite CHF programs to date was a presentation by New York Times fragrance expert Chandler Burr.

Nicholas Kantas

Nicholas Kantas proudly supports the Chicago Humanities Festival and joined the Shortlist Committee in 2013. Nicholas began attending CHF events with his father while in high school. In addition to the excellent programing and lectures, Nicholas enjoys the fellowship and conversation with other CHF members. Currently, Nicholas is a prosecutor in the Felony Trial Division of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. In his free time, Nicholas enjoys performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and kayaking. He is married and lives in the suburbs.

Jose Leon

Jose Leon is a native of Chicago's north side. He studied economics at the University of Illinois and is now a manager for the Starbucks Coffee Corporation in the Evanston area. Jose was introduced to the Chicago Humanities Festival during the 2011 Fall Festival and has been a friend of the Festival since. In addition to his involvement in the Shortlist program Jose enjoys attending CHF events for their depth of programming and some of his favorite events include: Junot Díaz, Marina Abramović and Gary Shteyngart. When not being stimulated by the CHF Jose enjoys exploring Chicago's eclectic neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants and sits on the Board of Directors at the Youth Job Center of Evanston.

Grace Lin

VP of the Golden Girls Fan Club, VP of Unicorn for State Animal of Illinois, VP of Chicago-based menswear brand J.Cheikh; Grace Lin has only one of those titles, but holds so many more labels. Hailing from Northbrook, by way of Taipei, she graduated with a fine arts degree from DePaul University. In 2012, she joined the CHF Shortlist Committee and has since been an avid and passionate proponent of its mission. Like CHF, Grace advocates to provide a platform for many voices, striving to foster humanity with a willing ear.

Jackie Ostrowski

Jackie Ostrowski is thrilled to join the Shortlist Committee and help engage fellow Chicagoans in the humanities. A Chicago-area native, she graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and Spanish literature. She now works in content strategy and management at branding/communications firm VSA Partners. When not wrangling web content or enjoying CHF events, Jackie loves losing track of time at bookstores, sketching, and playing the piano. One of her recent favorite CHF events was Donna Tartt's talk and book signing.

Matthew Pirotte

Matthew Pirotte was born in Ft. Scott, Kansas and grew up in Joplin, Missouri. He attended the University of Kansas where he graduated with a degree in modern European history. He attended medical school at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and then completed his residency in emergency medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He is currently an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at Loyola University Medical Center. His all-time favorite CHF program was Atul Gawande in 2013.

Ellen Sawyer

Ellen Sawyer is thrilled to be a part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. She knew she was in the right place when other people encouraged her competitive reading of New York Times articles and shared in her excitement when Gary Shteyngart favorited not just one but TWO of her tweets. A native of Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas, Ellen spent her undergraduate years editing the college newspaper, starting book clubs, performing in plays, and educating her peers about interpersonal violence. Upon graduating, she spent time living and working in both New Zealand and French Canada, which served to deepen her love for the humanities and other cultures. When she's not selling apartments, she spends as much time as she can writing and performing comedy in Chicago. 

Joe Schagemann

Joe Schagemann is the manager of portfolio analysis at Invenergy LLC, a developer and operator of power generation facilities. He received a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a CFA charterholder. So far, his favorite CHF presenters have been authors Sherman Alexie and Junot Díaz, as well as economics expert Austan Goolsbee. Joe also enjoyed doing a shot of vodka with Gary Shteyngart after his recent CHF appearance. A native of southern Illinois, Joe lives in the South Loop with his fiancee, a former Education Fellow at CHF.

Liz Traines

Liz Traines grew up in the Chicago area, earned her finance degree at Boston University, and now works for Accenture. Liz’s deep curiosity in the humanities started while she studied abroad in Paris, so when Liz moved back to Chicago in 2011, a serendipitous Chicago Humanities Festival advertisement prompted her to sign up for several lectures. She then began volunteering on the Shortlist Committee and has loved seeing the organization grow over the years. In Liz’s free time, you will find her at the farmers’ market, exploring Chicago’s restaurant scene, or blogging about health and nutrition. 

Benno Weisberg

Benno Weisberg is an attorney for the State of Illinois. He received a master's degree from Boston University and a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University, both in creative writing. He received his law degree from Northwestern University. A longtime fan and member of CHF, Benno was an inaugural Shortlist Committee member in 2011. His personal CHF highlights over the years have included introducing the "Gentlemen Prefer Bonds" discussion during the 2012 festival and attending the discussion between Gary Shteyngart and Aleksandar Hemon in early 2014.

Odette Yousef

Odette Yousef has been delighted and honored to work with the Chicago Humanities Festival since 2012, and considers it one of the main reasons she stays interesting. She's a reporter for WBEZ 91.5 FM and co-hosts My Chicago on WTTW Channel 11. When not consuming other people's knowledge or making them share their stories, Odette enjoys weird theater and biking through the neighborhoods.