Tag Archives: Omaha North High School

Passing On Education

May 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a freshman at North High School, Elaundra Nichols knew she would someday go to college—she just wasn’t sure what that would look like or what it would take to get there.

An excellent student in math and science, Nichols figured she’d go to a state school—probably the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she attended several summer science camps, or the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Then, Nichols spent a week at the College of Saint Mary Summer Academy the summer before her sophomore year.

“I didn’t even know College of Saint Mary existed before I attended that camp—and it changed my opinion about attending a small school that’s also an all-girls school,” says Nichols, now a second-semester freshman at CSM studying science to become an occupational therapist.

As a young African-American woman, the ability to surround herself with other African-American women was important to her, and to College of Saint Mary.

“One of the things we try to show people who come from these two populations (African-American and Latina) is that if you have an interest, if you persist, you can do it,” says Summer Academy Coordinator Alexis Sherman.

“That experience changed my life in many ways because not only did I learn about CSM, but I also saw and listened to other African-American women who went to CSM during the camp. It completely changed my outlook in many ways.”

Nichols says she learned about the camp (there also is a separate camp in the summer for young Latina women) from a guidance counselor at her school.

Word was out that CSM was looking for African-American students interested in science, so she filled out an application and paid the fee — a mere $25 for the whole week.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “This was a full week. Plus, all of the presenters and counselors at the camp were African-American women and students. I was really excited but also a bit apprehensive at first.”

Like many camps on college campuses, Nichols was quickly immersed in the college experience—living in the dorms, eating at the cafeteria, attending regular sessions and meetings, etc.

At CSM, Nichols immediately loved the forensics and coding classes she took in the mornings. She was drawn to meet and interact with other African-American women.

In the evenings, fun activities brought campers and counselors together to share stories, ideas, experiences, and dreams.

“Almost all of the counselors were CSM students, so it was a great experience to learn about science, but also learn about their experiences in college as women, and African-American women,” Nichols says.

“The speakers they brought in were really amazing, with great stories and experiences. It made it very easy to understand where they were in their lives in relation to where we would be in a couple of years.”

Nichols says she returned to the camp the summer after her junior year, and enrolled as a full-time student at CSM last fall. She participates in student senate and HALO (Honorable African-American Leadership Organization), and works in the CSM Student Leadership Office.

Nichols is excited once again for this summer’s CSM Summer Academy because she’s returning as a counselor.

She can’t wait to pass along all that she’s learned to the next group of young African-American women.

“I’m really looking forward to being as helpful and inspirational to them as the counselors were to me when I was attending as a student,” says Nichols, who keeps in touch with many of her fellow campers and counselors.

“I felt very empowered during my time at the camp, and I want these young women to see how powerful and smart they can be. The goal is to get them all on the right track to go to college, and I want them to know that there are options for them just as there were for me.”

UNL Big Red Summer Camps

Summer camps on UNL’s Lincoln campus also offer experiences that coordinator Lindsay Shearer says “give kids an opportunity to explore what college has to offer.”

UNL camp themes include: chickens, culinary arts, engineering, entrepreneurship, filmmaking, outdoor Nebraska, veterinary science, weather and climate science, and unicameral youth legislature.

“It’s an opportunity to explore what college has to offer. They get a chance to interact with faculty in their chosen field,” Shearer says.


This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Mark McGaugh

February 27, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mark McGaugh describes himself as “that kid everybody always thought was going to be a doctor or a president.” Known as a young child for reading the encyclopedia and watching the History Channel, it’s no surprise that this 24-year-old’s inquiring mind was fascinated by the possibilities of music. His musical career began in the fourth grade, with a recorder class at Belvedere Elementary School.

By fifth grade, he made his first forays into hip-hop during freestyle rapping sessions in the library with friends. It wasn’t until middle school at King Science & Technology Magnet Center when he picked up the alto saxophone that McGaugh started to explore the worlds of classical and jazz music. Omaha North brought the opportunity to join drumline, but the music alone wasn’t enough to protect a teenage McGaugh from the social pressures he faced.

“Growing up here in North Omaha, in a single-parent household, it’s rough. The story goes on and on, but I went through it,” he says.

When he found himself embroiled in some trouble during his junior year, the young man had to step back and decide what he wanted his focus to be. “It was a turning point in my life,” McGaugh reflects on getting caught up with the wrong crowd as a moment when he chose to dedicate his life to music.

Although hip-hop, church choir, and the musical endeavors of family members have always been in the background, McGaugh realized that his interests in music could only go so far when limited to school band. “To be a DJ, or you know, a little black boy on the corner rapping bars, you can [only] get so far here in Nebraska.” Fortunately, his mother always strongly supported her son’s musical interests, provided he focus on his education first.

When he graduated from North High in 2011, that focus on academic achievement culminated in an opportunity to attend Florida A&M University.

“I flew the coop,” he recalls. “I went to Florida with a dream.” That dream was centered around widening his musical horizons, but the young man found his perspective changing about life as a whole. “Going to Florida A&M, which is a historically black school, just seeing the different perspective of what’s possible for me, that definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things.”

During college, McGaugh discovered a passion for broadcast journalism. As he earned his degree in the field, he hosted campus radio shows that investigated some of the most intense national news issues of the time. From an exclusive interview with the mayor of Flint in the heat of the city’s devastating water crisis, to reporting on violence against students at a Georgia Donald Trump rally, to debate over Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, McGaugh provided valuable insight and information to his community. “That was a big eye-opener,” he says of the talk show.

While diving into broadcast journalism, McGaugh never lost sight of his dream to pursue music. In addition to his more intense Saturday morning show, he covered sports news and hosted a hip-hop show for campus radio. When he wasn’t studying, he was working for a local music promotion agency to help independent record labels distribute their sound.

“That was a good insight into seeing how the music industry works,” McGaugh says. He learned about the importance of understanding what goes into deciding whose music gets played, met artists, and made connections. He reports that “it’s really an effort over talent thing.”

While he was earning his degree and working with promoters across Florida, McGaugh didn’t forget the needs of his hometown. Upon graduation, he returned to Omaha and could clearly see voids in the artistic community—as well as the potential of the city. “There was an actual music scene that was here when I came back from Florida that wasn’t here when I left.” He refers to a number of musical players changing the Omaha scene—Reverb Lounge, Slowdown, One Percent Productions, and Make Believe Records—all giving new energy to budding artists across the city.

Inspired by these new efforts to invigorate the local music scene, McGaugh made a commitment to making a difference in the musical landscape of the city through community radio. The new Mind and Soul 101.3 station, housed inside the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation on Evans Street, was just the type of platform McGaugh wanted to help develop in his community. He began as assistant program director at the station in January 2017, and now hosts “Lunchtime Live,” formats shows, looks up stories, and keeps things running smoothly to give voice to his community.

“My ultimate goal with being at this radio station is making sure that the message of the community isn’t watered down or isn’t ignored,” McGaugh explains. As he continues to pursue his own passion for music and a newfound interest in DJing, he loves being a part of the platform that shares the messages of all types of people in his city and gives new artists a chance to have their voices heard. McGaugh believes that with the help of organizations like Mind & Soul, the future for Omaha music is bright. “Ultimately, the goal is just to help the world.”

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter

Paypal

June 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was printed in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Many job seekers from Omaha’s inner-city neighborhoods currently think La Vista might as well be Lincoln—or Egypt. That may not be the case much longer. Linda Dugan, vice president of Global Operations at PayPal, has spearheaded a plan to connect PayPal’s suburban office complex with new hires from North Omaha.

A cohort of 28 new customer service employees began using a pilot transportation program to travel to and from PayPal on May 4.

Dugan explains the program’s logic: “Our idea is that if transportation is a barrier, and we can provide a service from the North Omaha community out to our La Vista office and provide return transportation, then we’re going to help enable them to have a really rewarding career with PayPal; and at the same time bring talented and highly engaged team members into our organization.”

Dugan has pondered transportation accessibility for some time. During board meetings for the Sarpy County Economic Development Council, she listened to other La Vista area businesses lament how some potential hires are logistically incapable of considering job opportunities in Omaha’s outer suburbs.

“Not everyone has a car, not everyone can drive, but we do have the expectation of attendance,” Dugan says. “If their car might not make it 40 miles back and forth every day, they self-select themselves out of consideration. Hopefully by solving this (problem of accessibility), we will get some teammates who want to commit to us because we are willing to commit to them.”

Many people want to commit to PayPal because of their extensive benefits.

“I would put our benefits up against anyone in the community and believe that ours would still exceed,” she says, speaking from a conference room in the first of PayPal’s two adjacent offices, which house 2,500 employees (working in customer service, technical support, fraud prevention, corporate communications, and other capacities).

The company’s comprehensive benefits package begins on new employees’ first day and covers everything from family to pets. PayPal also offers tuition reimbursement, and Bellevue University teaches accelerated degree courses in undergraduate and graduate levels after regular business hours at the La Vista office.

No matter how good PayPal’s employment benefits might be, unreliable transportation could force job candidates out of the talent pool.

“I am so hopeful that our pilot can prove what I think it can, that by removing the barrier of transportation we can get really great talent that wants the career opportunities,” says Dugan.

The north Omaha transportation program resulted from a brainstorming session with her boss, John McCabe. “We were talking about opportunities and talent, and I proposed an idea of addressing possible barriers in the community for transportation,” Dugan says.

He liked the idea. McCabe agreed to fund a nine-month pilot program. Dugan’s next phone call was to David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. She explained how she hoped to incentivize talent acquisition from north Omaha with PayPal-funded complementary transportation.

“He was amazing!” Dugan says of Brown. More community outreach followed. Brown’s team helped PayPal network with agencies, keeping a pulse on the employment needs of Omaha’s inner-city community.

Representatives from Goodwill and the Urban League joined the discussion, followed two months later by Metro Transit, Omaha’s public transportation provider. The coalition eventually developed a blueprint for a transportation program that allows PayPal to leverage the Urban League and Goodwill’s talent pool while coordinating routes with Omaha’s existing busing infrastructure.

They organized two job fairs during March in north Omaha. Soon after, the company began extending job offers. PayPal’s buses would depart from the North Omaha Transit Center (near 30th and Ames), which is already connected to other bus lines throughout Omaha’s inner-city neighborhoods.

“Our hope is that this cohort demonstrates the same level of engagement that we have received from our talent from across the community, and that will help us see if we are on the right track,” says Dugan. “We are really hopeful that it will make a difference, that it will be great for our customers and great for the community.”

Dugan has deep family roots in the north Omaha community. Her grandmother was a member of Omaha North High School’s first graduating class. Dugan, her brother, and her parents also graduated from the school.

Now she’s able to give back to the Omaha neighborhood that nurtured her.

“It’s all about community,” she says. “Go Vikings!”

1PayPal

Robot Apocalypse

July 9, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

You’ve heard the old story repeated time and again: American students are failing to keep up with students internationally in math and science.

High-tech businesses have more job openings than qualified applicants.

While some curse the darkness, a program at Omaha North High School is shining some light. A fast-growing program, STEM Education, now is offering activity and problem-based, hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, and math. The STEM Education program, unique to North High School, now includes more than 400 students.

“I can tell you that the push on STEM education has increased dramatically over the past six to seven years, says

John Vinchattle, North High’s Magnet Facilitator.  The goal is to “address our perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech careers.”

It seems that “a push” is an under-statement. As part of its massive growth, the effort includes a robotics program that has grown from just two students six years ago to about 70 students today. The school anticipates more than 100 youth to be enrolled in the program next year.
In fact, the program grew so much that the school hosted the VEX Robotics tournament in December. In February, the school also hosted the Nebraska State Robotics Championship. The event drew 120 teams and more than 500 students.

“We love to get people into our building,” says Jeremy Wiemer, robotics teacher and coach. “We have an excellent facility that works out very well for a tournament like this and great staff at the building and district level that coordinate these large events.”

Teams in the event came from as far away as Colorado.

The tournaments are surprisingly involved. Event judges first interview teams before competition begins. Participants present each robot to the judges and explain the process they used to build it. Judges ask the teams questions and students are evaluated based on their knowledge of their robots as well as the concepts they’ve learned. Students then create alliances with other participants and work together to build a championship-caliber machine.

“We strive to offer a top-notch, 21st-century education,” Vinchattle says.

Ultimately, the goal of the STEM program is to help college-bound students achieve a well-rounded education with an emphasis on STEM.

“We are very proud of our students and their accomplishments,” Vinchattle says.  “We work every day to keep challenging them with relevant real-world experiences.

“I think we’ll continue to thrive because of the students that make up the program, the teachers that challenge the kids, and the community that supports our mission.”