NU works to strengthen ties with ETHS

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Behind a purple wall in Evanston Township High School stands a new office dedicated to strengthening the ties between the Wildkits and the Wildcats.

This year, Nortwestern launched a partnership with ETHS, and Kristen Perkins, a member of Northwestern’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships, now acts as the new Partnership Coordinator.

According to Perkins, the collaboration, which is under President Morton Schapiro’s “Good Neighbor, Great University” initiative, is a “commitment to leverage resources” from the University to ETHS in hopes to better the high school’s already outstanding instruction.

“It’s not the case that ETHS really needs the support and resources of Northwestern,” Perkins said. “Rather, what makes sense and what has been confirmed so much since starting here, is that ETHS and the City of Evanston and Northwestern are so interconnected that this is a partnership that really strengthens both educational institutions and the entire community.”

The idea for the partnership was hatched back in the spring of 2010, when Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Schapiro visited ETHS to see the university’s “Reach for the Stars” program in action. Reach for the Stars places STEM graduate students in K-12 classrooms with the goal of strengthening the classes’ curriculum, as well as the graduates’ teaching skills. After Schapiro witnessed the program’s impact, he decided that a partnership would be a useful expansion and designated Perkins as the liaison between Northwestern and the high school.

Perkins has been a member of the Northwestern community for five years. After working as a science teacher for Chicago Public Schools, she became a teacher-in-residence with SESP. Since then, she has worked on a two and a half year project with ETHS’s science department, and joined the university’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) office.

Though Perkins stressed that the partnership is still only in its early planning stage, it has a few accomplishments already under its belt. Here’s an update on what’s happened so far:

3-D afterschool engagement

FUSE studios, a new after-school program developed by OSEP hopes to gauge high school students’ interest in science and math.

“The idea isn’t necessarily that we attract students who are interested in STEM, although we’d love for them to be a part of it,” Perkins said. “But we want to make this attractive to those who may not think that science is for them.”

Twelve high school students also interned with FUSE this summer to help ensure that the program was developed in a way that is engaging to their peers. The after-school activities are set up as multi-level challenges, and Northwestern students and professional engineers act as mentors. So far, students have built a robot mini-golf course and used 3-D printers to design and create earrings.

Small connections for lasting impact

ETHS’s math department recently reached out to Perkins for help in constructing a new statistics independent study program. She connected them with Northwestern’s math department, and the two collaborated to choose textbooks and plan a curriculum for the course.

Perkins also connected Polykids, an ETHS group made up of students interested in political science, with Patricia Reese, a representative fromNorthwestern’s Institute of Policy Research. The group met with Reese and attended Monday’s on-campus forum with Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“It’s a really small thing, but if it weren’t for that really quick connection… the students wouldn’t have been exposed to a phenomenal speaker and that opportunity,” Perkins said.

Brand NU tradition

Beginning this month, Perkins plans on devoting one day in October each year to ETHS students. Around 100 sophomores will come to campus to get a small taste of college life by meeting with Northwestern faculty and students, as well as learning about a variety of career paths and major options. In May, the university held a successful run of this event, nicknamed “Kits n’ Cats.”

Perkins looks forward to brainstorming with community members and students on both ends to develop more events similar to “Kits n’ Cats” that promote stronger ties between ETHS and Northwestern.

“We live and work in the same community here in Evanston,” she said. “So the stronger ETHS is, then that makes for a stronger university.”

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