T. J. McDowell Jr. (’94) sat in his first high school advanced placement class, nervous over what his teacher might say about his first paper. He felt out of place amongst all the “smart kids,” and worried he didn’t have what it took to keep up.
The teacher handed papers back. McDowell’s had the class’s only A. And attached to it was something extra: an application to Harvard.
McDowell didn’t choose Harvard; he chose Nebraska Wesleyan University instead, and today directs a Lincoln Public Schools effort to boost graduation rates at lagging Lincoln high schools. He also serves on NWU's Board of Governors.
If inspiring teachers motivated McDowell, it was the uninspiring ones that motivated Antwan Wilson (’95). “I… saw some folks who didn’t inspire, who had very low expectations. I saw people who didn’t push people,” Wilson told Margaret Reist of the Lincoln Journal Star in September. He recognized that he and his classmates deserved better. “That had a primary effect on my wanting to pursue education.” Today, he serves as assistant superintendent of Denver Public Schools for post secondary education.
For Deborah Frison (’77), it was a sort of communal torch that she saw passed from her birth mother to her adoptive parents to her college mentors that saw her through. Everyone who held that torch in Frison’s life held also high expectations for her. Today, those high expectations extend to every student at Omaha Burke High School, where Frison serves as principal. Frison is also an NWU Board of Governors member.
She oversaw a 12 percent increase in graduation rates among Burke’s Hispanics, blacks and students on free and reduced lunch from 2009 to 2010. “I just can’t think of anything more important than that relationship piece,” she told the Journal Star.
McDowell, Wilson and Frison comprised a panel of Nebraska Wesleyan alumni and education experts who spoke to business leaders September 13 at the Lincoln and Omaha Chambers of Commerce on the issues of at-risk youth and college success.