Some NU leaders also hold city positions. Here’s what they think of the NU-Evanston relationship today.


Graphic by Michelle Sheen

Juan Geracaris, Peter Braithwaite and Soo La Kim (left to right) are among the Northwestern staff members who have also served in city positions.

Maia Pandey, Senior Staffer

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education member Donna Wang Su started working at Northwestern in 2006. So when her mentee through Evanston Scholars — a nonprofit supporting underserved Evanston students in the college application process — expressed interest in attending NU, Su asked if she had ever explored the campus.

When her mentee said she hadn’t, Su invited her to campus to check out resources like the Block Museum of Art and Dearborn Observatory. 

“She was just like, ‘I never knew that this stuff was just right here — free and just available,’” said Su, who currently serves as associate director of graduate admissions and financial aid.

Though NU ramped up funds toward its Neighborhood and Community Relations Office in recent years, many of the University’s resources remain unfamiliar to Evanston residents. But with projects like NU’s Ryan Field rebuild sharpening the focus on city and University relations, figures like Su are leveraging their dual positions at NU and in Evanston leadership to connect residents with University resources — and vice versa.

Lagging University support

The pandemic made NU and Evanston’s interdependent relationship clearer than ever, according to former Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), who currently works as the University’s director of procurement, diversity and community engagement. As thousands of students left Evanston in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a steady stream of local businesses shuttered in the years following.

Downtown Evanston businesses directly lost student customers, but Braithwaite said the lack of students also impacted establishments citywide: When students flock downtown, residents are more likely to visit businesses in other parts of the city.

“There are a number of downtown businesses that closed or are still trying to claw their way back,” Braithwaite said. “I think there is definitely recovery that we see (post-pandemic), it just can’t happen fast enough.”

Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs Soo La Kim, who is also a District 65 board member, said the University has also adopted more hybrid work models post-pandemic. 

As a result, she noticed fewer of her colleagues working in-person and frequenting downtown businesses.

“People are not on campus as much,” Kim said. “I personally really appreciate the hybrid work schedule…but it makes me wonder what the ripple effects of that are.”

As Evanston businesses have struggled, residents have also continually expressed frustrations that NU does not pay property taxes, Kim said.

Though the forthcoming construction of a 5th Ward school has been a historic step, Kim said surging housing prices have also made the city less accessible.

“The unfortunate thing is that a lot of families — a lot of Black and brown families — are being priced out of Evanston,” Kim said. “We do have a lack of affordable housing, and I think the University’s nonprofit status and how it affects the tax base may have some effect on that.”

Advertising University resources

Braithwaite said he aimed to support pandemic-impacted businesses in his final months as a councilmember. Though he stepped down from the office last July, Braithwaite said he continues prioritizing this goal in his new role at the University, which he began in January 2022.

“I hope I can make it an easier process for local businesses and individuals who want to do business with (the) University,” Braithwaite said. “The University is a decentralized place. It’s almost like each school is treated like its own business unit.”

Stephanie Teterycz, who currently works as NU’s director of operations for the Stoddard Research Group, formerly served as director of NU’s Office of Summer Session and Special Programs. Her role included overseeing a program that allowed Evanston Township High School students to enroll tuition-free in NU classes for credit. 

But Teterycz said very few students enrolled given the logistics of commuting back and forth to NU’s campus during the school year — so she worked with the Provost’s Office to expand it into a summer program.

Now, Teterycz serves as an ETHS District 202 Board of Education member. Similar to what she prioritized in her 22-year career at NU, Teterycz said she has continued to connect Evanston residents to underutilized University resources.

As a parent of high school students, Teterycz said thinking about how she can use her “spheres of influence” as both an NU staff member and Evanston parent led her to run for the District 202 board.

“I’ve tried to publicize and make events accessible to Evanston residents, beyond just the ability to just walk through campus and go to the lakefront,” Teterycz said.

Forging long-term connections

Though many NU buildings are open to the public, Su said she would also like to see empty University buildings repurposed for community outreach efforts. The former Roycemore School site is among unused NU buildings that could be available to city residents, Su said.

In terms of outreach, Su also said the University and city could benefit from allowing work-study students to work with local businesses.

“I’ve met so many undergrad students who are like, ‘Oh, I have work-study, but I can’t find a job that I really like,’” Su said. “(NU could) give students a chance to get a bit of that real-world work experience, but also get paid for it and use their financial aid.”

As faculty advisor to NU’s Korean American Student Association, Su also said Evanston schools could host more performances by University groups.

She recently helped organize Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month programming at her child’s school, Su said, and many school parents were unaware of cultural dance, music and performance groups at NU. The University’s Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts recently invited about 800 District 65 students to watch its production of “Me… Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall.” 

Kim also said she would like to see more NU involvement in the city’s elementary and middle schools. District 65 middle schools, in particular, are working to organize more career-oriented programming, which Kim said could be a “really opportune” time for NU faculty and staff to share their experiences.

Collaborations between NU researchers and Evanston have been especially exciting, Kim said, citing NU graduate students’ support in launching the city’s first electric school bus. But moving beyond one-off collaborations takes effort, she added.

“You need people, power and resources to set these things up and sustain them,” Kim said. “It’s much easier to do kind of a one-time, as-needed thing. It’s much more challenging to set something up that’s going to sustain year after year.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maiapandey

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