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Northwestern Tops Teach for America List

Record number of Northwestern graduates entering premier teaching program

August 10, 2010

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Jasmine Nazek, a history major who will be teaching sixth-grade science in Houston, is among the 57 Northwestern University graduates who soon will head off to underserved areas across the nation to participate in Teach for America (TFA).

Nazek is excited, terrified and determined to make a difference with her teaching. And she is particularly proud of Northwestern, ranked first this year among medium-sized schools for the number of graduates entering the TFA program.

Teach for America could be harder to get into than the nation’s top law schools, according to a recent New York Times article. This year, a record 46,000 individuals applied to the program and only 4,500 were accepted.

“The rankings speak to Northwestern students’ academic achievement and commitment to public service,” said Kaitlin Gastrock, TFA spokesperson. “The rise in applications has allowed us to be increasingly more selective.”

Nazek believes that Northwestern students’ understanding of the value of education is a great motivator. “It makes me so angry that many life opportunities for children are determined by zip code or skin color,” she said. “I wanted the chance to work to change that.”

By the time children living in low-income communities reach fourth grade, they are already two to three grades behind their higher-income peers, according to the TFA website.

After an intensive summer training program, TFA members teach for two years in low-income urban and rural public schools. Coming from a variety of academic backgrounds, they are top college graduates and professionals who demonstrate high achievement and leadership.

“I feel extremely lucky and happy,” said Northwestern graduate Alex Podbelski, who will be teaching elementary special education in Philadelphia next fall. “Now I feel like it’s time to prove why I got chosen.”

Teach for America brings in many talented people who otherwise wouldn’t consider teaching, she said. “It gets people thinking about education.”

Alumna Julia Michie wrote in a 2004 issue of the Northwestern Magazine about her experiences in the TFA program teaching third grade in Chicago, noting that many of her students didn’t have books at home. “This would have been unheard of when I was growing up, middle class and luckily the daughter of a librarian,” she wrote.

Thinking about her imminent assignment teaching a sixth-grade science class, Nazek said, "I think more than anything the experience will make me appreciate even more the quality education I received and how integral that was to my own personal success."

Topics: People