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St. John’s VP McKenzie helped by Illinois State HPS program

Andre McKenzie

Student teaching is the concluding part of the undergraduate educational experience during which students who wish to become teachers take what they learned in the classroom and put it to the test.  Students find out, among other things, if they can create lesson plans that work, if they can impart knowledge to a classroom of students and if they made the right choice in becoming a teacher.

Andre McKenzie says he had a great student teaching experience at Joliet West Township High School, but he discovered even more about himself through that experience.  “What I enjoyed even more,” he said, “were the counseling/advising relationships I developed with students.”

McKenzie, a native of Chicago who was admitted to Illinois State University through the High Potential Student Program in 1973 and who originally hoped to become a high school art teacher, is today co-director of the GEAR UP program at St. John’s University in New York City.  That is just one of the hats he wears as vice president for Academic Support Services at St. John’s.

“Though my primary responsibilities focus on the academic success of undergraduates,” he said, “a number of the programs I work with, such as GEAR UP, are for students in middle school and high school.  I was admitted to ISU through the High Potential Student Program, and I’m thankful to have been provided such an opportunity. I especially remember the ongoing guidance and support of all the HPS staff, particularly that of Mr. Alexander and Bill Savage.”

McKenzie returned to Illinois State after his student teaching experience to obtain a master’s degree in counseling education.  He worked in the Office of Residential Life at Northern Illinois University for three years and then for two years at Northeastern Illinois, serving as assistant director of Student Activities.  Higher education administration became more appealing to McKenzie so he enrolled at Teachers College-Columbia University in New York City as a doctoral student in student personnel administration.  At the same time he earned another master’s degree.

St. John’s University was one of the first GEAR UP grant awardees in 1999, funded by the U.S. Department of Education.  Through the program, mentors and after-school programs are provided for students at Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School and Albert Shanker School.  As those student enter 43 of New York City’s high schools, GEAR UP continues to encourage them that with hard work and good grades, they can continue to attend a college or university.

“We have really been pleased with the success of our GEAR UP program,” McKenzie said.  “Being one of the first grantees in 1999, we’ve had the opportunity to see our initial cohort of seventh graders graduate from high school.  Outcomes data show a higher graduation rate for GEAR UP participants than non-GEAR UP students in our target high school (Long Island City High School) as well as the overall NYC high school rate of graduation.”

McKenzie said the most effective components of GEAR UP include the “push-in” program, where St. John’s tutors assist classroom teachers during their instructional periods as well as a number of programs held on the St. John’s campus to orient students to the expectations and demands of college life.

“I believe that higher education – particularly colleges and universities with schools of education – is best suited to provide the academic and social support needed to help these students,” McKenzie said.  He thinks it might be a bit ambitious to think EVERY university could launch such an initiative because it requires a genuine interest and commitment to serve these populations as well as appropriate resources.

“But from a societal perspective, providing such support is an investment in this country’s future,” he said.

Although his initial dream of becoming an art education teacher was not to be, McKenzie still is a supporter of the College of Fine Arts scholarship program as well as the Black Colleagues Association.  Last year he returned to Normal for the 35th anniversary of the founding of his fraternity’s chapter, Eta Tau, which took place during Homecoming week.  “It was a great time to be there,” he said.

He also has become active with a group of Illinois State alums from the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area.  The group has held one event and another is planned this fall.

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