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North Park Celebrates Homecoming

North Park University's Alumni of the Year 2009

CHICAGO (October 6, 2009) – North Park University’s Homecoming Week concluded on Sunday, October 4, after nine days of festivities that included a Latin fiesta, theatrical performances, the Block Party, athletic matches, a young alumni event, awards banquet, and more.

Another highlight of the week was the renaming of the University President’s residence on Friday, October 2. Alumni and friends gathered at the home on North Spaulding Avenue to witness the dedication of the Hawkinson House, named in honor of several alumni and their spouses: Eric and Lydia (Myhren) Hawkinson, Zenos and Barbara (Gustafson) Hawkinson, and James and Alyce (Larson) Hawkinson.

Hundreds of students, alumni, and friends attended Saturday afternoon’s Block Party, an annual tradition hosted by North Park that featured food, music, and games for the University community as well as the community at large. Many also attended the Homecoming Banquet that evening, where alumni Kathryn Edin-Nelson and Josh Church were recognized as the 2009 alumni of the year.

Distinguished Alumna – Kathryn Edin-Nelson, Class of 1984

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.”

Up-and-Coming Alumnus – Josh Church, Class of 2000

Location, location, location. That was what Josh Church primarily considered when choosing the college he would attend.

Church’s extensive and rigorous search consisted simply of looking at a map of Chicago, finding Wrigley Field, and then looking for the nearest Christian college. The Maine native had fallen in love with the Cubs while watching WGN and listening to legendary broadcaster Harry Carey.

Yet the decision to attend North Park University proved to be more fateful than Church imagined. Little did he know that nine years after graduation, his alma mater would honor him with its Up-and-Coming Alumnus Award.

Church is a co-producer with the film company Mosaic, which has produced several of Will Farrell’s films. Although North Park didn’t have a film and TV major, professor of communications Dr. Bob Hostetter worked with Church to craft his own.

“A lot of places would have said, ‘You have to stay inside the box,’” noted Church, who wanted to focus on writing.

His unique program included a semester at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center, a program through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities that trains students to serve in various aspects of the film industry with both professional skill and Christian integrity.

While at North Park, Church was also elected vice president of the Student Association and was honored with the Senior Par Excellence Award when he graduated in 2000. His success also paved the way for future students who have since earned degrees in film and TV studies.

“North Park allowed me to pursue my dream,” Church said at the dinner. He credited faculty as well as Jodi Mullen Fondell, then campus chaplain, with giving him important educational and spiritual guidance.

“Josh possessed a lot of energy and had a great passion for media studies,” Hostetter says. “His passion and clarity of purpose suggested that he would very likely succeed.”