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Educational Innovator

Nichole Pinkard is filling the gap in education

Nicole Pinkard
Nicole Pinkard

In an era of underfunded Chicago public education systems, Nichole Pinkard has spearheaded a series of innovative education partnerships to fill the gap. 

A leader in education research, Pinkard founded the Digital Youth Network (DYN), a ground-breaking after-school and in-school literacy program that has helped hundreds of Chicago youth learn digital media skills. DYN also partnered with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) initiative, which blurs the line between in- and out-of-classroom learning by helping youth connect with interest-based learning opportunities across the city. 

CCOL’s platform,, helps young people and adults explore Chicago’s vast array of cultural, technological and intellectual resources, discover new interests, pursue passions and document experiences. More than 100 institutions including museums, city agencies and community organizations form the foundation for a robust, informal learning ecosystem. 

Pinkard also co-founded YOUmedia, a model digital literacy program where mentors work with high school students to create new media from traditional media, and co-created Remix World, a social learning network that connects youth learning opportunities in school, home and beyond.

Pinkard’s relationship with Northwestern University began in high school when she participated in Northwestern’s LEAD (LEADership, Education, and Development) program, part of a national nonprofit that helps youth of diverse backgrounds become high achievers and responsible leaders. In 1998, she became one of the first graduates of the School of Education and Social Policy’s (SESP) learning sciences Ph.D. program. Pinkard also earned the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s Alumni Merit Award in 2014. In 2017, she returned to Northwestern as an associate professor of learning sciences, where she is spearheading collaborations through SESP's Office of Community Education Partnerships (OCEP).