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Throughout its history, the relationship between the City of Evanston and Northwestern University has had its ups and downs. Though the University brings many benefits to the community, some Evanston residents believe that Northwestern might not be doing enough.

Members of Northwestern’s current administration, however, have advanced a goal of “building strong, transparent, and strategic partnerships between the University and the Evanston community that enhance the impact of both through collaborative work efforts.”

Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah and Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations Alan Anderson presented the framework to achieve this goal to District 65 Board members on May 22. The plan includes an overarching emphasis on a mutual partnership between both entities. This partnership was supported by Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro early in his term. Dr. Schapiro, according to Mr. Chinniah, “from his very first moments in Evanston really set out to change the narrative of the relationship between the University and its surrounding community.”

The plan contains three pillars: education, child and youth development; economic and community development; and health and public safety.

Mr. Chinniah noted the first pillar—education, child and youth development—was critical in Northwestern’s involvement, and said that “if we do not do that as a great University, we really fail in our fundamental task.”

Within this pillar, Mr. Anderson noted four priorities that will guide the University’s action: strengthening the educational practice of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); collaborative research and data infrastructure; community engagement; and equity and inclusion.

Mr. Anderson placed heavy emphasis on Northwestern’s commitment to establish resources for STEM programs such as EvanSTEM, an in-school/out-of-school network that provides extensive opportunities to STEM for underrepresented students in the community. He stressed the inclusion of “lots of new resources and leaders” in addition to “next-generation science standards,” all of which will be provided and supported by Northwestern.

Additionally, Northwestern’s Science in Society department has implemented a science club that operates in some District 65 schools and at Family Focus. Similarly, Northwestern participates in the Books & Breakfast program at selected District 65 elementary schools. The program provides breakfast to students as well as tutoring provided in part by Northwestern students. 

Dr. David Figlio, a professor and Dean of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern is working with both District 65 and District 202 to identify college readiness benchmarks for Evanston students. This collaborative research initiative has been expanded thanks to a $1 million granted provided by the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. The research will further important research development, and ultimately deepen Northwestern’s partnership with the Evanston school districts.

These measures all highlight the equity and inclusion aspects of the plan by promoting access to the sciences for underrepresented members in the community.

The second pillar, economic and community development, serves to foster equitable employment opportunities for Evanston youth through the University. The inspiration for this pillar was a meeting with Evanston’s former Mayor, Elizabeth Tisdahl, who stressed the importance of employment opportunities. Mr. Chinniah described the University’s efforts through two examples, both of which provide jobs for Evanston youth. The first is the summer youth employment program, including almost 30 Evanston youth who work at various positions at Northwestern. The second example was a program that Northwestern established to provide employment and training to five or six Evanston youth each year, with the possibility of full employment in the following year.

Health and public safety is the third pillar, putting emphasis on safe environments on and off campus, and promoting a healthy relationship between the two. This includes training emergency response teams to ensure proper response to potential disaster.

This presentation exemplified the commitment from Northwestern to continue a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship with the City of Evanston. As Mr. Chinniah put it, “there is no way Northwestern is going to be a great University without a thriving community in which it is located, and at the end of the day Evanston and its surrounding community is not going to be strong unless Northwestern thrives.”