In an effort to intertwine technology and education, Shahzad Rasul (A.B. ’97, S.M. ’08), an IT consultant, began his tenure as director of the University’s Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP) last Monday.
NSP, one of the largest work-study employers on campus, employs over 300 student assistants from the University and works with faculty and students to provide support to neighborhood schools in Hyde Park and Woodlawn.
Rasul sees the ability to expand the role of technology in the program by using resources the University provides. “Technology is an area where our schools have a lot of need and the University has a lot of experience, so we’re working on meeting the needs of the community,” said Rasul, who previously acted as the managing director of the Chicago Public Schools/University of Chicago Internet Project.
While working with the University’s Astronomy and Astrophysics department, Rasul developed methods for classroom technology integration with astrophysicist Ron York.
In the wake of local public schools' loss of arts funding, Rasul also hopes to bring the University’s new focus on the arts to those schools.
“The new [Logan Center for the Arts] will bring new opportunities to our schools,” Rasul said. “We want to work to support [schools that] have lost funding in the arts and sciences.”
Rasul plans to work more with the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community, which includes many schools that have recently lost funding. The project is based on a similar program, the Harlem Children’s Zone, which has received attention from the Obama administration as a model for improving urban education.
Rasul, who has been involved with similar educational programs as an undergraduate and grad student at the University, said he is excited about the increase in community interest and activism from students and administrators in education.
He will also be directing the Gear-Up Program in Chicago, a collaboration between Chicago universities to help students reach higher education after high school. The program works with students for six years, beginning in sixth grade.
The University of Chicago works with Dunbar Vocational Career Academy and Kenwood Academy High School, providing student assistants in class, outside class enrichment, college visits, and parent outreach.
Rasul, who worked with NSP as an undergraduate, said he likes how the program allows for connections between participants and teachers based on long-lasting partnerships.
Third-year Justin Garbacz, an NSP tutor, said he’s watched the students he tutors improve academically after years of working with them.
“I’ve been working with a lot of high school kids from when they were sophomores, and I’ve seen them get acceptance letters from colleges they would have never gotten into before,” he said. “I’m going to be taking a class on urban education next quarter, and I’m a public policy major, so it’s nice having real world insight into what you’re studying.”
Rasul is taking over the position from Duel Richardson, who started the program over thirty years ago as one of the founding members of the Office of Civic Engagement, which now directs NSP. Rasul credited Richardson with improving the University’s engagement with the community.
“There was an era when Duel was one of the few people interested in these [community issues],” said Rasul, who considers Richardson a mentor and friend. President Zimmer awarded Richardson the Diversity Leadership Staff Award in January, before his June retirement.