New coordinator to promote stronger relations between ETHS and Northwestern


Adnaan Zaffer/The Daily Northwestern

University President Morton Schapiro’s Good Neighbor, Great University program is funding a new staff position at Evanston Township High School to form connections between the two schools.

Manuel Rapada, Assistant City Editor

An office inside Evanston Township High School boasts a Northwestern staff member working to bridge the distance between Wildkits and Wildcats.

The University and ETHS held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the office in early September. Now, Kristen Perkins, the first Northwestern/ETHS partnership coordinator, works in and out of the office, bolstering relations between the two Evanston academic institutions. This collaboration is part of University President Morton Schapiro’s Good Neighbor, Great University Initiative.

“I think that ETHS is a really great school,” Perkins said. “And this partnership will strengthen ETHS, which strengthens the community, which strengthens Northwestern.”

Northwestern-ETHS partnerships are nothing new.

In May, the University held Kits ‘n’ Cats at NU, an all-day event to introduce college to first-generation students and to those on the fence about attending college.

Last December, two ETHS students mentored by NU astrophysics fellow Laura Trouille placed third in the 2011 Siemens Competition in math, science and technology for a project on galaxies, winning $20,000 each.

Perkins is not new to ETHS, either.

The former Chicago Public Schools science teacher turned SESP employee worked on a project with the ETHS science department for three and a half years. Perkins has worked for the University for five years.

In her current role as partnership coordinator, Perkins spends most of her time at ETHS, meeting with students and teachers, she said. Terri Sowa-Imbo, the ETHS science department chair, said she meets with Perkins once or twice a week to talk about teachers’ professional development, in addition to working on the school’s committee for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

Both Perkins and Sowa-Imbo recognized that there are already many existing, albeit informal, connections between faculty and students at  Northwestern and ETHS.

Perkins said the aim of this new partnership is to determine how current partnerships can grow and remain efficient, and Sowa-Imbo said the partnership will allocate more University resources to ETHS students and teachers.

Perkins’ role is to “ask them, ‘What are your needs?’ and help sort out what are some things the University can do to assist,” she said.

Sowa-Imbo called Perkins’ familiarity with the school “imperative.”

“She knows the flow of the schedule and the background of the students we’re working with, so she can bring in resources and her past experience,” Sowa-Imbo said.

About 70 percent of Perkins’ work is centered on partnerships and opportunities in STEM, which Perkins said offers “a wealth of opportunity” for students.

Sowa-Imbo called STEM education a new initiative, one with a fresh curriculum and ideas from which ETHS teachers would benefit.

“If you haven’t been in school in a long time, you still have a very traditional way of teaching science, teaching engineering,” she said.

Tracking surplus science equipment has been one of Perkins’ first initiatives as coordinator. When equipment is no longer the “latest and greatest that needs to be in a university lab,” that equipment can still be used in a high school classroom, Perkins said.

Perkins said she also intends to inform ETHS faculty about upcoming lectures and better connecting ETHS students to opportunities to work with the NU, including in labs, for which Sowa-Imbo described current ETHS student participation as “hit and miss.”

Though Sowa-Imbo said everyone at ETHS is excited about Perkins’ on-campus presence, Perkins said she has also received support from the University and Evanston residents. ETHS alumni and Northwestern staff have asked Perkins about how they can contribute to the partnership, she said.

With this partnership still developing in its first year, Perkins said she wants to take inventory on what programs already exist at NU and ETHS and see how connections can be strengthened.

The ideal partnership, Sowa-Imbo said, will give students a broader look at what science is and what it will be, as well as show that opportunities in STEM fields are available to everyone.

“We’ve always talked about being a school that’s close to a university and that has advantages,” she said. “Now, we can make use of those advantages.”