How cool – Kathryn Edin-Nelson has been selected as North Park University’s alumnus of the year (2009). NPU is where I’m working on a Non-Profit Management degree.
I recently put a one of Edin-Nelson’s books on my reading list; at the time I had no idea of her connection to my school.
From the NPU website:
When national legislators craft urban policy, they want to hear from Kathryn Edin-Nelson, who is considered one of the nation’s preeminent voices on improving the lives of the urban poor. A native of the small, rural town of Staples, Minn., Edin-Nelson developed this voice when she moved to Chicago to attend North Park University.
“I didn’t even know what sociology was before I came here,” Edin-Nelson told the audience at Saturday’s Homecoming Banquet.
While at North Park, she completed an internship at LaSalle Street Church, which was her first point of contact with the poor families that became the subjects of her life's work. Although she initially balked at the idea of attending graduate school, Edin-Nelson pursued a master’s and Ph.D. at Northwestern University.
She told Saturday’s gathering that North Park gave her “three essential gifts” that prepared her for graduate studies and life’s work— “a passion for Jesus and for faith-infused learning . . . a passion for the city . . . and finally, a passion for diversity.”
During her time as a graduate student, Edin-Nelson also taught sociology at a North Park extension campus in the blighted Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale. Four of the people in her class were minority women on welfare.
“Ironically the first course I was teaching was Minority Cultures, and I was the only non-minority person in the room,” Edin-Nelson said in an interview, laughing. “I was teaching it out of the book, and they were living it.”
The women in her class introduced her to others in similar positions, and their lives became the foundation for Edin-Nelson’s first book, There is a Lot of Month Left at the End of the Money. That led to her award winning book with Laura Lein, Making Ends Meet: How Low Income Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low Wage Employment.
While teaching at Rutgers University, Edin-Nelson collaborated with Urban Promise, an organization started by Tony Campolo, and lived for two and a half years in Camden, N.J. It was considered America’s poorest city at the time and was the nation’s murder capital.
Edin-Nelson’s experiences in Camden, where she investigated why poor women put motherhood ahead of marriage, are chronicled in her third book, Promises I Can Keep, which won the William T. Goode award for the most outstanding contribution for family scholarship. She published her fourth book, on couple dynamics and father involvement in low-income families, in 2007, entitled Unmarried Couples with Children. She is also working on an upcoming book with her husband, Tim Nelson, about the meaning of fatherhood among low-income men.
Edin-Nelson said she values working with “stigmatized populations” and helping to break stereotypes. “You eventually come to the realization that you would have made the same choices had you been in the same situation,” she explained. “These people are not different from me. They have the same desires and motivations and good qualities.”