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One teacher’s journey

At the start of each lesson, North­eastern alumnus James Eggers, an instructor in the Teach for America pro­gram, scrawls an inspi­ra­tional quo­ta­tion on the white­board in his class­room at the Freire Charter School in Philadel­phia, where he over­seas the aca­d­emic devel­op­ment of more than two dozen ninth graders.

On a recent Monday in May, Eggers quoted Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s pres­i­dent and Africa’s first female head of state: “If your dreams do not scare you,” he wrote in block let­ters, “they are not big enough.”

Eggers says he chose this par­tic­ular nugget of wisdom to moti­vate his stu­dents, many of whom cope with learning disabil­i­ties, but the saying could just as easily apply to his life­long dream of working for the U.S. Secret Service.

“My goal is to work for the mil­i­tary or in inter­na­tional busi­ness,” says Eggers, SSH’12, who is among a group of young alumni who founded Northeastern’s MMXI Undergraduate Scholarship. “I know that I’m not done serving.”

The next stop on his human­i­tarian journey is some 4,500 miles from his Philadel­phia class­room, but the work will require the same ded­i­ca­tion, inge­nuity, and patience with which he incul­cates his young pupils. In April, Eggers was accepted into the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program, which is spon­sored by the U.S. Depart­ment of State’s Bureau of Edu­ca­tional and Cul­tural Affairs. Starting next spring, he will spend nine months in a col­lege classroom in Brazil, where he will strengthen stu­dents’ English lan­guage skills while pro­viding insights on American culture.

His pas­sion for teaching took shape at North­eastern, he says, where his pro­fes­sors inspired him to reach his full poten­tial. “They taught me I was capable of doing more than I ever real­ized and that I was selling myself short,” says Eggers, an international affairs major who grad­u­ated from the University of Pennsylvania’s master of sci­ence in education pro­gram this past weekend. “If I got involved with helping kids, I knew that I could pro­vide the same inspiration.”

At Freire, he adheres to a “no non­sense” approach to teaching, taking care to remind his stu­dents of the malleability of intel­li­gence. “The brain is a muscle that grows more pow­erful when you train it,” he tells them. “Failure to exercise your brain is a failure to reach your full potential, and that is unacceptable.”

Eggers repeated this mantra on each of his co-​​ops at Northeastern, which taught him some­thing new about himself, his inter­ests, and his dreams.

In 2010, he worked as a spe­cial assis­tant at the Por­tuguese Con­sulate in Boston. There, he co-​​authored a comparative study of the Lusophone-​​Afro Brazilian cul­ture and its influence on the Amer­icas while fos­tering relationships between the con­sulate and a score of New Eng­land schools.

“Working at the con­sulate gave me first-​​hand expe­ri­ence of what it would be like to be a diplomat and intro­duced me to the Por­tuguese lan­guage,” says Eggers, who later honed his second lan­guage skills on a Dia­logue of Civilizations program to Portugal.

As an intern in the coun­ter­feit money divi­sion of the city’s branch of the U.S. Secret Ser­vice, he expe­ri­enced the thrill of serving his country—and had the oppor­tu­nity to meet Presi­dent Barack Obama. “I got to live out my dream of working with the gov­ern­ment,” Eggers says. “It gave me an awe­some oppor­tu­nity to see inside an orga­ni­za­tion that not many people know about.”

Mean­while, he kept his sights set on giving back to kids in need. In 2011, Eggers was named the CEO of Foster Skills, a non­profit founded by North­eastern alumnus Mar­quis Cabrera to help sup­port local foster chil­dren. Today, he works remotely, shaping a work­force devel­op­ment pro­gram in which the non­profit part­ners with big busi­ness in Boston.

Whether at Foster Skills or Freire, Eggers loves the challenge of working with youth. “It’s a huge task to shape the lives of stu­dents who this country has all but given up on, whether through lack of funding or lack of opportunities,” he says. “I think I’m doing a good job of get­ting stu­dents to invest in themselves.”

– By Jason Kornwitz

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