In times like these, it is more important than ever to appreciate and share stories of compassion, resilience and love. And with Northwestern Athletics in question for the foreseeable future, it is a good time to reflect on the incredible power of sports to bring communities together and inspire future generations. As any current or former student-athlete will tell you, the Northwestern Athletics community is tight-knit and supportive during athletes’ years on campus in Evanston and beyond. No story exemplifies that message better than that of Amy Schwartz.
Amy Schwartz graduated from Northwestern in 1992 with a degree in history, received her MS in Education and Social Policy from SESP in 1996, and has remained closely tied to the Northwestern community ever since. Her husband, Dan Schwartz (McCormick ‘92), played on the Northwestern baseball team under Paul Stevens, the winningest coach in program history, and also holds a degree from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Amy is now the Founder and Director of Elementary Gifted Enrichment at The School of Saints Faith, Hope, and Charity in Winnetka, where she teaches third graders.
Amy’s program is guided by design thinking principles and processes. In a recent unit, she taught her third grade class — composed of eight students, seven boys and one girl — about architecture, with a focus on the intersection of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) in architectural design. The addition of Art to the traditional STEM framework was important to Amy, and she wanted a project that would spur creativity in her students. Schwartz thought of organizing a field trip that would enable her students to envision futuristic sports facilities — and what place would be better than her alma mater, which had just opened the $270 million Ryan Fieldhouse and completed a $110 million renovation on Welsh-Ryan Arena? After Amy emailed the Northwestern University Alumni Association (NAA), word got around to Ashley Wanland, the Assistant Director of Community Relations within Northwestern Athletics. The rest was history.
“We try our best to meet all visit requests; however, this one was easy to say yes to,” Wanland said. “Alumni are the University’s backbone, their strongest advocates and a vibrant part of the Northwestern community. I saw this as an opportunity to reciprocate the generosity and support that this group of people provides the University.”
Wanland went above and beyond the call of duty, organizing an unforgettable field trip on March 1 complete with tours of Ryan Fieldhouse, Rocky Miller Park, and Welsh-Ryan Arena, where the youngsters got to see the locker room prior to a women’s basketball game that night.
“I am so grateful and inspired by the thoughtfulness and efforts to design an experience where my students learned so much from an insider's point of view. I am filled with a deeper gratitude, sense of pride, and connection to NU because of how Ashley and everyone involved sincerely cared so much about creating a special, dynamic experience for my students,” Schwartz said. “My students, the parent chaperones, and I were simply wowed by how many people were involved and how generous they were with their time. The purple carpet was certainly rolled out for us!”
Furthermore, Wanland got two student-athletes to interact with the students and show them around: Bryce Kirtz from the football team and Nick Cauley from the baseball team. The two young men spent two hours with the students, telling stories about their careers at Northwestern and answering the kids’ questions.
It was no surprise to Amy that Northwestern Athletics created an exceptional field trip for her students. In some of her most difficult times, members of the Northwestern community rallied behind her. Since her graduation in ‘92, Amy’s family has continuously experienced the devastating effects of cancer. Shortly after graduating, Amy lost both her mother and aunt to breast cancer. Her grandmother also battled ovarian cancer. Amy went through genetic testing and was found to be BRCA-II positive (the genetic mutation highly correlated with the development of breast cancer). Due to her family history and various risk factors, her medical team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed several surgeries related to the BRCA-II gene. To this day, her husband Dan maintains that only through advances in cancer research is Amy alive today. While ups-and-downs exist, in the aftermath of this several year ordeal, Amy decided to throw Dan a party, as a thank you for the incredible support he provided her with over the preceding months.
Given the four NU degrees between Amy and Dan, it was only natural that several Northwestern alumni would attend the party, including many of his NU baseball teammates with whom he has remained close with over the years. But to make the occasion even more special, Amy coordinated with Northwestern Athletics to create a “mockumentary” video for Dan beaming with purple pride. Several Northwestern legends spoke to celebrate the Schwartz family. Most familiar to current students would be President Morton Schapiro, known as Morty, and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald. Other notable alumni provided both comedic and heartwarming content in the video including: Steve Schenbaum, an entrepreneur in the sports world; Dave Linn, a former star on the NU soccer team and co-founder of Cycle For Survival (one of the leading fund raising organizations for cancer research); and the aforementioned Paul Stevens. The video included other luminaries with Chicago connections, including Len Kasper, the voice of the Chicago Cubs; Joe Girardi (McCormick ‘86), a four-time World Series champion and former manager of the New York Yankees; Lisa Schahet Schuster (Comm ‘92), a producer in the film world; and three-time Grammy nominee Justin Roberts, a nationally renowned children’s singer from Evanston. To cap off the party, the Northwestern Marching Band played a rendition of the beloved Northwestern fight song.
“It meant so much to me that my students could experience NU in a way that reflected sheer excellence of the community through the spirited professionalism of everyone involved in creating the field trip experience,” Schwartz said. With any luck, one or more of those eight gifted students will end up attending Northwestern, and ensure the Schwartz family’s lasting impact on our campus.
The incredible alumni engagement created memories for Amy and Dan and their friends that will last a lifetime.
Building a passionate and engaged alumni base is certainly not easy. Doing it properly takes a lot more than successful sports teams; it requires a lifelong commitment to those who spent their formative years on your campus. Amy’s story — from her medical battles to her remarkable field trip — makes it clear that Northwestern Athletics has created a community of alumni that enrich each other’s lives through their shared love for Northwestern. With any luck, one or more of those eight gifted students will end up attending Northwestern, and will develop the same love for the Wildcats that the Schwartz family has.