Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences alumnus Nick Ehrmann ’00 intended to study pre-med at Northwestern. But a transition to the American Studies program, and his experience studying abroad in South Africa and Scotland, changed his life. “I became wholly committed to furthering social justice in our own backyard,” says Nick.
After seeing firsthand the complexity of educational inequality through his time in Teach for America in Washington D.C., he went on to pursue his PhD in sociology at Princeton. Nick eventually returned to Washington D.C. to shadow his former students in classrooms and conduct extensive interviews as part of a dissertation project. “It was this experience—watching my former students navigate the transition to college under-prepared—that inspired me to launch Blue Engine’s school-based academic acceleration model in 2009,” says Nick.
Blue Engine partners with public high schools to prepare greater numbers of students for the rigors of higher education while training a new wave of educators to enter the teaching profession. Blue Engine’s teaching assistants team up with teachers to lead small group tutorials in math and literacy classrooms and after school. The rapidly expanding Blue Engine team will reach more than 2,000 students this fall.
Blue Engine students outperformed their district peers last year, and grew in college readiness by 73 percent. Many of those successes have been picked up nationally—most notably by President Obama in the State of the Union address in 2014, in the New York Times, and on the Today Show. “All of this has been driven by the grit and determination of young people who convert opportunities to outcomes that defy the odds,” Nick says.
After a decade and a half of working in education, Nick appreciates his own college experience even more. “Northwestern is a special place,” he says. “It connected my curiosity about the world with creative, interdisciplinary ways of tackling problems.” He adds, “My professors, my classes, my peers—these influences combined to open my eyes to educational equity as a civil rights issue. My 15 years of work in this space have been the most challenging and rewarding work imaginable.”
Nick is celebrating his 15th Reunion, and encourages fellow Wildcats to come back to campus this fall. For details and to register for Reunion Weekend 2015, visit alumni.northwestern.edu/Reunions. >>