Civic Engagement Profiles -Jennifer Steans, Financial Investments Corporation

Civic Engagement Profiles - Jennifer Steans, Financial Investments Corporation

January 20, 2016

The definition of civic engagement is the following: individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.

Our fourth profile is Jennifer Steans, Financial Investments Corporation, who introduces us to North Lawndale College Preparatory High School (NLCP) and its sister organization, The Phoenix Pact.


I believe in the power of education as the only true equalizer.  It is imperative that we provide a top quality education to all children from under-resourced communities and provide a path for all students to obtain the highest level of education they want and deserve.  Thus I spend much of both my volunteer time and resources on activities that support this objective.  In particular, the North Lawndale College Preparatory High School (NLCP) and its sister organization, The Phoenix Pact, receive a lot of my attention.

North Lawndale College Prep:

Phoenix Pact:

How & when did you get involved with NLCP and The Phoenix Pact?

Under the leadership of John Horan, my family’s foundation (The Steans Family Foundation) helped to found NLCP in 1998.  NLCP is a charter public high school (grades 9-12) located in North Lawndale (just west of Rush Hospital).  It currently serves approximately 850 students from the City’s West Side.  These students arrive at NLCP in 9th grade with significant challenges and deficits (e.g., more than half the freshmen read at the 6th grade level or below; 1 in 10 are homeless; etc.).  The mission of NLCP is to embrace these under-prepared and under-resourced young people and, in four short years, develop in them the academic skills and personal resilience necessary for successful completion of college. 

The Phoenix Pact is an organization that I helped to start in 2015.  Its mission is to provide college scholarships to NLCP graduates.  The scholarships are awarded with a particular focus: to “nudge” or “steer” students to certain colleges where they are more likely to be successful.  Research showed that some colleges know how to support NLCP graduates and minority students.  They work hard to make sure that all their students have a great college experience and earn a degree. Unfortunately, there are a lot of colleges that don’t do this, and where over half their students drop out without a degree – often with a crushing debt load.  NLCP wants its graduates to go to the colleges where students actually succeed, but these colleges often have higher out-of-pocket costs, which our graduates can’t afford.  Thus The Phoenix Pact offers all NLCP students who graduate with a GPA of 3.0 or higher a scholarship so that they can attend better, more successful colleges with no out-of-pocket expense.

Why does NLCP and The Phoenix Pact’s mission resonate with you?

Way back in 1986, my family created its foundation to sponsor a class of sixth graders through the “I Have a Dream” program.  Having learned through our very hands-on experience working with 35 “Dreamers” over the next 10 years that there is a range of issues facing families in struggling communities, we decided to work holistically within a single community to see how we might be able to address some of the issues.  Thus our focus on the North Lawndale community was born.

Given our collective belief in the power of education and the appallingly low high school graduation rates in North Lawndale, we quickly focused on how we could achieve better high school outcomes.  The Charter School Movement was just beginning in Chicago and we saw that as a huge opportunity to utilize what we had learned from our “I Have a Dream” experience to create a better high school.  So we partnered with John Horan, who had run our Dreamer program, to found NLCP in 1998. 

Key to NLCP’s success has been it Counselor Model, in which one counselor is assigned to each incoming freshman class.  That counselor stays with that group not only for all four years at NLCP, but also through their first of college to ensure a smooth transition.  In addition, NLCP has a Senior Project graduation requirement in which seniors showcase their academic success through the completion of a major research paper, project and presentation to a review committee.

How does NLCP and The Phoenix Pact measure its success?

NLCP measures its success by how well it achieves its mission, which is, preparing students so that they will successfully complete college.  Accordingly, NLCP puts significant emphasis on (a) the percentage of starting freshmen who graduate high school; (b) the percentage of graduates who enroll in college; and (c) the percentage of enrolled students who earn degrees.

Do you have a formal role as a volunteer? If so, what is it and what is required by the NLCP/The Phoenix Pact in terms of time, talents and wallet? 

Over the years, I’ve served in a number of roles at both NLCP and The Phoenix Pact, including board member, volunteer and fundraiser.  There is a Board of Directors for both NCLP and the Phoenix Pact, as well as and Associates Board for NLCP.

Time commitments can range from a few hours to serve on a review committee for Senior Projects to more regularly monthly or quarterly meetings to serve on either the Board or Associates Board.

Are other IVCA members involved?  If so, how?

Over the years, a number of partners and associates at my firm and several others, including Arbor Investments, Madison Dearborn and Prairie Capital, have been involved as either volunteers or funders.

If interested IVCA members want to get involved, what are the options?

If an IVCA member is interested in getting involved with NLCP or the Phoenix Pact, or just wants to learn more, there are three options.

First, NLCP has a number of different mentoring programs that could be of interest.  One program, mentioned above, involves working with Seniors as they complete their final “capstone” project.  Another involves hosting a small group of NLCP students for lunch, at the office, so that they can learn more about different careers and the options available to them.  More information about mentoring can be obtained from NLCP’s President, John Horan ([email protected]) or by visiting the mentoring website:

Second, NLCP has a very active Associate Board.  The Associate Board has designed mentoring programs, created a “clothes closet” at the school, coordinated appreciation events for parents and staff, organized fundraisers – and is always thinking up more and eager for more similarly-enthusiastic emerging leaders.  More information about the NLCP Associate Board can be obtained from the Associate Board Chair, Deron Nardo ([email protected]).

Third, the Phoenix Pact is a relatively new organization and is always looking for talented individuals who want to be part of building what will soon be a $30M endowed scholarship program.  Volunteers have helped to design financial models for the organization; develop marketing approaches; and prepare strategic plans.  More information about the Phoenix Pact can be obtained from the Phoenix Pact’s Board Chair, Evan Westerfield ([email protected]).

Click here for a full list of board members.