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Coming Home-A Chat with Award-winning Teacher & Social Entrepreneur, Nick Ehrmann

Coming Home-A Chat with Award-winning Teacher & Social Entrepreneur, Nick Ehrmann

Nick Ehrmann (Class of 1996) believes in the power of public education. As a young child, he remembers always feeling a “pull” towards the lifeblood of his community, the neighborhood public schools. While attending John Strange, then Eastwood, and on to North Central, Nick recalls this understanding that his friends, family, music, and sports were all “part of a bigger whole.” This “bigger whole” included life both inside and outside the classroom with a “rich, diverse group of people” with whom to learn from and share life experiences with. Nick admits that while in Washington Township schools “you’re not going to get coddled”, you will “have access to some of the best and most well-rounded educational opportunities in the country.” He credits his Washington Township experience as giving him the tools and experiences needed to be successful upon entering the postsecondary world.

In the fall of ‘96, Nick began his journey at Northwestern University. He originally had his sights set on being an orthopedic surgeon, but said his adventures in pre-med “lasted all of ten seconds.” Nick then pivoted and chose to focus on historical studies, which prompted him for the first time to “hover outside” his own experiences and examine “inequality, immigration, race, class, religion, economic forces, and how these things are patterned, and ultimately tied to how opportunity is granted, hoarded, and restricted over generations.” These paradigm-shifting revelations led him to study for a summer in South Africa, the year after Mandela had stepped down. On this transformational trip, Nick made the decision that when he came home, he wanted to dedicate his time and energy to fight for “improved education and social justice back home in the US” as public education is “inseparable from a functional and healthy democracy.” 

From 2000-2015, Nick fueled his passion for equitable education into the classroom as a 4th and 5th grade teacher in Washington DC and launched two non-profit organizations, first Project 312 and later Blue Engine. Project 312, a partnership with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, raised over $1 million to support low income students from high school to college. Later, while working on his Ph.D.at Princeton, he became concerned that his prior work at Project 312 hadn’t gone far enough in equipping students with the academic skills needed to be successful in college. In an effort to overcome this challenge, Nick founded Blue Engine in 2009. Blue Engine’s mission is to increase academic rigor in public high schools–paving the way for low-income students to be successful in college. In order to do this, Blue Engine recruits and trains recent college graduates as “Blue Engine Teaching Assistants” who are then placed in high-need schools and collaborate with teachers utilizing teams, data, and low student-to-teacher ratios in order to provide differentiated instruction for every student.

Nick’s work has been much celebrated, and he has been the recipient of many honors–including being recognized by President Clinton at the 5th Annual Clinton Global Initiative in the fall of 2009, being named an Echoing Green Fellow in 2010, and later a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow in 2011. He also had the opportunity to meet President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when one of his students was recognized at the 2014 College Opportunity Summit. In 2016, this award-winning teacher and social entrepreneur came home to Indianapolis to be inducted into the North Central Hall of Fame. Nick recalls this day as “one of the proudest days in my life.”

In 2019, with five kids under the age of ten, Nick “waved the white flag” on living in New York and headed back to Indianapolis to take up residence in his childhood neighborhood on the northeast side of Washington Township. He says though the transition was difficult, he feels “at peace” and lucky that his children are growing up “in a web of care and love and commitment, where they have freedom but also can’t hide from friends and neighbors, teachers and family. That’s what this community is at its best.” His oldest three children attend Clearwater Elementary (4th, 2nd, and Kindergarten) and the twins are in preschool a couple of blocks away. With such a busy household, Nick is grateful for the transportation that our public schools provide. He says, “No joke, 96% of my decision to move back was because of school buses. They exist. They are glorious inventions.” With the challenges of COVID and the hustle of day-to-day life, Nick sometimes wishes he could “spend a year in a quiet place somewhere in the middle of the ocean listening to mixtapes and watching terrible TV.” However, as a new normal begins to settle in, he truly looks forward to “exploring ways to make an even bigger impact here at home.”