Jumping High

When Jax Chaudhry, '07, was a student at Lab, she remembers seeing a University of Chicago student wearing a nerdy T-shirt that read: "I'm not an outlier, I just haven't found my distribution yet." Thanks to Rosa McCullagh's AP Statistics class, she understood it. And as an African American student from a low-income background and a single-parent home, it resonated more deeply.

"I was an outlier, but I found my distribution at Lab," says Ms. Chaudhry. "I want every student to have the ability to find their distribution, to find their space, and to contribute to society in the best way that they can."

Now the manager of matriculation and onboarding at Teach for America, the 26-year-old has devoted herself to building stronger and better educational pathways for under-resourced students.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she had a one-year fellowship teaching at Chicago's Urban Prep Academy, an all-boy's school in Englewood. It was under their critical gaze that she realized making a serious impact would take more than 365 days. It would take a lifetime.

"I remember my students looking at me and having faces of, 'Well, you're only here for a year. You're just going to leave, like everybody else,'" she says. "That was the moment I knew there has to be dedication from someone like me for there to be real change."

That commitment meant coming full circle. She became the executive and program assistant at High Jump, a Chicago academic enrichment program for middle school students who have exhibited academic potential and who are of limited economic means.

(Lab has a partnership with High Jump and recently doubled the space it provides so that High Jump can host nearly 120 students in their program.) It was through Ms. Chaudhry's own childhood participation in High Jump, every Saturday for two years and for six weeks during the summer, that she learned about Lab. Visiting Lab as a prospective high school student marked the first time she felt welcomed by an inclusive environment.

Through Model United Nations and the encouragement of history teacher Earl Bell, she learned her past didn't have to dictate her future. When she thought she didn't do her best for the team, Mr. Bell reminded her she'd done all she could and it was time to prepare for the next event.

"He made it clear that you aren't defined by failure. You define you," she says. "In so many other spaces, I thought I was wearing it on my forehead that I was an inner-city kid that didn't come from wealth. Learning that you don't have to be defined by your circumstances or failure is why I do what I do."

  • Alumni Profiles