Special Feature: Commencement 2013

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High School Teachers Who Make a Big Difference

Five high school teachers are the recipients of the Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards

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May 6, 2013 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Five high school teachers who have had a transformative effect on the lives of eight Northwestern seniors will join their former students and receive special awards during Honors Ceremony (June 20) and Commencement (June 21) at Northwestern University.

The five educators  -- selected from a pool of approximately 100 nominations -- are the recipients of the third annual Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards. The awards honor high school teachers who have touched the lives of Northwestern students and include $2,500 for each teacher and $2,500 for each of their schools.

This award is co-sponsored by the Associated Student Government and the Office of the President. Eugene Lowe, assistant to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and senior lecturer in religious studies, co-chaired the 2013 selection committee with Victor Shao, Associated Student Government president.

Last fall’s call for nominations by President Schapiro resulted in essays by 101 seniors who recommended their former high school teachers for the award. The selection committee considered those essays as well as portfolios submitted by the nominated teachers that included an explanation of their teaching philosophy and letters of recommendation.

The 2013 winners teach in high schools across the country, including public schools in Arkansas, the Chicago area, Milwaukee, Edmonds, Wash., and Larkspur, Calif.

Phil Baker

Phil Baker is a 20-year veteran of business and engineering management turned National Board-certified science teacher. Baker currently is a chemistry and physics teacher at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Ark. He was nominated for the Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award by McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science senior Tristan Sokol. Sokol writes that “Mr. Baker taught us not only about chemical potential but about the great potential each and every student had. His impact on my life is the direct cause for me and my classmates going to top-tier universities across the country, from a town that had only seen a handful of students ever travel outside the state.” Baker has been integral in developing and implementing rigorous curricula into the Huntsville High School science department to increase the likelihood of student success. He received his B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Arkansas, completed the executive program at the University of Michigan Business School and achieved National Board Certification in 2010.  

Christopher Esposito

Christopher Esposito, a social studies teacher from Downers Grove South High School in Downers Grove, Ill., graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001. He began his career as a social studies teacher believing that “all students can learn, and it is the role of the teacher to make sure all are engaged in the process.” In the 12 years since, Esposito has earned a master's degree in educational administration from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. in curriculum studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and, in 2011, he became the social studies department chair at Downers Grove South High School. He still follows the same basic principle that guided the operation of his classroom when he started his career, saying “my students now have a teacher who not only sees the importance of educating every individual as an individual but also as an important, functioning member of the society. They have a teacher who understands educating as a joint and collective process, where power is shared, and the goal is the creation of a better society.” Confirming his mission, nominator Laura Ledvora, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences senior, said “from the class environment, class discussions and the assigned readings, I learned to question myself, to question the world and to determine what I truly believe. This history class provided the environment, the encouragement, the knowledge and the reasoning skills necessary to turn me into a thinking human being. I would not be the same person I am today had I not been enrolled in this class.” 

Kelly O'Keefe-Boettcher

Kelly O'Keefe-Boettcher is an American Authors and International Baccalaureate English teacher from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Wis., who can make a teenager feel like her classroom is the best place to be every day for 52 minutes, according to nominator Jessica Holden. Graduating from the School of Education and Social Policy in June, Holden nominated  O'Keefe-Boettcher because "there will always be a young, confused, unloved, ignored, hidden beauty and talent of a student that Ms. O'Keefe has the power to make whole again." She challenges her students to read and write critically while showing her caring and respectful attitude towards everyone she is in contact with throughout her day.  O'Keefe-Boettcher received her B.A. and M.A degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1987 and 2002, respectively, and her teaching license from Alverno College in 1998.

David Quinn

David Quinn is a teacher of English and the theory of knowledge at Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds, Wash. He was nominated for the award by McCormick engineering senior Taiyo Sogawa who credits Quinn with teaching him to think critically, a skill which he is able to apply to his work in computer engineering. Quinn, who takes a student-centered approach to teaching, also served as a mentor for Sogawa in and out of the classroom. He rarely stands at the front of the classroom, reflecting a style that allows students to guide the learning. Quinn asks, “Why are my questions about a text more important than my students’ questions?” Sogawa indicates “Mr. Quinn did not simply tell me to follow my dreams; he was and is a living example of someone who has found his passion and refused to let the normal expectations of who teaches high school stand in his way.” Before becoming a teacher, Quinn was an actor, whose credits include hosting the Primetime Emmy-nominated science series "3-2-1 Contact" and winning a Peabody Award as the host of "I Have AIDS, A Teenager’s Story" (a chronicle of Ryan White). He has made regular appearances in national commercials and was a child actor on "Sesame Street." While teaching, Quinn co-founded Allrecipes.com, now the No. 1 food website in the world, and served as its chairman until 2006. Since joining Edmonds-Woodway High School, Quinn has become the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and increased full-IB diploma registration by 100 percent since 2011.

Julianne Schrick

Julianne Schrick is a nationally board-certified high school mathematics teacher with more than 25 years of experience. She has been teaching at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., since 1995. Her teaching philosophy is based on instilling in students, regardless of their backgrounds or aptitudes, a belief that they can take on hard challenges and succeed. This belief is exemplified by the four students who collaborated on her nomination: Danielle Littman and Rachel Abrahams, both in the School of Communications, and Jonathan Kaplan and Daniel Kaplan, both in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. They wrote that Schrick would “believe in us until we believed in each other and until we believed in ourselves.” Over the last six years, more than 80 percent off her AP Calculus BC students have received a score of 5. Schrick received her B.A. in mathematics and M.S. in education from Dominican College of San Rafael.