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Student Spotlight

Out of the Classroom, Into the Public Arena

After two years teaching high school algebra at Kealakehe High School in Hawaii, Nicolas Vander Meer found his calling in education. But it wasn’t in the classroom.
Nicolas Vander Meer

“I really loved it. But I realized that a lot of the good I was doing wasn’t having an effect on the education system as a whole,” Nicolas said. He decided to devote his life to championing quality and access through education policy. To prepare for a new career, he honed in on the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.

“I recognized that the LBJ School and UT as a whole were both highly reputable, had amazing faculty, and would provide the public education environment that I grew up with and that I am a huge proponent of,” Nicolas said.

He was admitted to the LBJ School, but money was tight. “I wanted to go to graduate school, but the expenses were a huge factor in my decision,” he said. “The fellowship I received from the school’s Class of 1983 changed everything.” Nicolas is one of six students so far to receive support from the endowed fellowship, which was created by LBJ Class of 1983 graduates.

Nicolas Vander Meer in his classroom.

Nicolas taught high school algebra for two years, sparking his passion for education public policy.

“The fellowship I received from the school’s Class of 1983 changed everything.”

“I feel a strong sense of legacy — to be supported by LBJ grads and to be a student here during the 50th anniversary of the LBJ School.”

When Nicolas first walked into the LBJ School, he saw the framed pictures of all the classes that had come before him. “I felt a connection to them. We all want to make the world a better place through policy and we all chose UT and the LBJ School for that.

“I feel so much gratitude for these donors, who give out of pure generosity. They may never meet me, but they’ve given me so much and inspired me to follow in their footsteps.”

After graduating, Nicolas aspires to change the world by serving in education leadership roles and championing evidence-based education policy reform.

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