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Roosevelt graduate student skips PhD to teach in New Orleans

Posted: 05/16/2013

Roosevelt University graduate student Natalie Krusemeier has decided that earning her Ph.D. in English can wait.  She is doing something now that has far more importance to her and others – teaching underprepared students in New Orleans.

“I had an opportunity to go to New Orleans after Katrina and do hurricane relief,” the 32-year-old Geneva, Ill., native said.  “Looking back on that experience, I realized that my work there was not about the physical work that I was performing, but rather, the sense of normalcy that I was helping to restore to the city.”

Those fond memories led her to apply to TeachNOLA, a highly selective program that trains accomplished professionals and outstanding recent college graduates to become high-impact teachers in New Orleans’ highest-need schools. 

As a TeachNOLA fellow, Krusemeier will work to improve the education gap in New Orleans where only one in five eighth graders is proficient in math.  This summer she and other fellows are participating in an intensive, five-week pre-service training to master the skills necessary to improve student outcomes.  Fellows learn teaching skills through a combination of field teaching experience, coaching and skill-building so they can hit the ground running from their first day in the classroom.

“Natalie’s life story matches Roosevelt’s social justice mission,” said one of her Roosevelt instructors, Larry Howe, professor of English and chair of the Department of Literature and Languages at Roosevelt.  “I know she will bring a great deal of compassion and commitment to New Orleans and make an outstanding teacher.”

Krusemeier entered the workforce after graduating from high school and didn’t attend college until the age of 27 when she enrolled at Northern Illinois University as an English major.   “When I graduated I realized that I wasn’t ready to be finished learning so I applied to graduate schools and finally decided to attend Roosevelt University because of its reputation. I attended classes at Roosevelt’s campuses in Chicago and Schaumburg and the quality of education is excellent at both, but I’m partial to Chicago because I like the historic Auditorium Building.”

Krusemeier said that when she was doing hurricane relief in New Orleans, she was part of a team that reopened businesses, enabling displaced people to return to work.  One of the people who made a large impression on her was a teenage girl whose house had been destroyed in the storm.

“Her family had returned to the city to rebuild, and she was overjoyed that her job was waiting for her.  So many businesses remained closed for months, even years.  I began talking with her about her experience with the hurricane, but I quickly realized that she didn't want to talk about it.  Instead, we talked about school dances, boys, shopping, and makeup,” she recalled.

So when the Roosevelt graduate was deciding whether to earn her Ph.D. or teach, her thoughts went back to the girl she worked with several years ago.  “I quickly knew that I had a responsibility to help students who would not have a chance to attend college because of the quality of their educations.  I feel confident that I will gain more from this experience than I would from any doctoral program.”