Leaders from Northwestern University spoke with members of the District 202 School Board about the status of the two schools’ current partnership efforts. The groups agreed: Northwestern University and Evanston Township High School relations have come a long way.

Nim Chinniah, Executive Vice President of Northwestern, and Alan Anderson, Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations at Northwestern, gave a presentation at District 202’s Feb. 27 meeting,  detailing the progress, the priorities, and the future of the schools’ partnership efforts.

“I don’t know how we can place any higher value that what we have with NU, a true partner,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon in introducing the two. “We are doing remarkable things between our organizations.”

Mr. Chinniah spoke of how the University has been “organizing from within” to expand its reach in the community. He said that not every college president “comes with engagement as a core value” like Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, who came to the University about eight years ago, just after Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl took office. “Access and affordability for young people is something he feels passionate about,” said Mr. Chinniah.  Collaborating with organizations across the City makes Evanston a stronger community and an even better home to the University, he said. “This work is intentional, deliberate, and important.”

In September 2012, an NU/ETHS partnership office opened on the ETHS campus, formalizing ties between the schools. The office, which focuses on connecting resources between the two institutions, is fully funded by Northwestern as part of President Schapiro’s Good Neighbor, Great University Initiative.

Mr. Chinniah and Mr. Anderson spoke of the three pillars of engagement that help guide priorities in the partnership: education and youth development, economic community development, and health and public safety.

Diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and in STEAM (with an “A” to add “arts”) is one of the priorities of the schools’ partnership. In addition to the help ETHS received from NU in building new science labs last year, the schools have also worked to bring NU student lecturers and mentors to ETHS to work with students interested in STE(A)M. Engaging women in STE(A)M programs has been a priority.

“You have been a model for us,” said Mr. Chinniah, who also said NU is now duplicating some of its work with ETHS STE(A)M at District 65.

College access and career awareness are also priorities. ETHS students are brought to campus to see what college is like. Programs like Kits and Cats helps mingle students from all schools. Collaborations with community groups connect high school students with college student mentors.

“We see power in having young people on campus and seeing that many of us did not land where we are, but that it was a journey,” said Mr. Chinniah. “Many of us are first-generation college students. We are honored to share our journey.” 

ETHS’s experience with affinity groups has had an influence on an NU priority relating to identity, diversity, and social consciousness. Mr. Chinniah told Dr. Witherspoon that he was “moved by your words after the election,” referring to the All are Welcome Here message. “It’s powerful how it’s informing our [faculty and staff],” he added.

Economic and community development is “the economic engine” of a city, and NU is partnering with the City of Evanston to provide six paid apprentice programs. With the help of City staff, six community members were selected to work alongside skilled trades at NU. All six who went through the initial program are now employed, four of them at NU, said Mr. Chinniah. “The Mayor said she was concerned about employment. We had 25-30 young adults working in the University over the summer,” he said.

For the third pillar, health and public safety, the presenters spoke of how NU’s large police department that works with the City, and also talked about the University’s medicine and health system. 

Looking ahead, NU wants to continue to work with ETHS in setting priorities and finding alignment between the schools, to leverage expertise and trust, to encourage collaboration and innovation, and take time for reflecting and reporting.

Board Member Doug Holt asked about the possibility of having NU students tutor students in the community.  Mr. Chinniah said that NU students currently do “a lot of tutoring, but it’s not focused.” He suggested that it might be possible to “harness the energy” and said he would be happy to work with ETHS on that.

Board Member Jonathan Baum said he could divide the relationship between ETHS and NU into “pre- and post-Morty,” referring to NU President Schapiro. He said the relations between NU and the City, the schools, and the community have improved and “We appreciate this.”

“We acknowledge this is a journey,” said Mr. Chinniah. “We have a major ‘work in progress’ sign on us, but we want to move forward to create something sustainable.”