• A school co-founder.
  • A chemistry graduate.
  • Changing lives for children.
  • A former Webber Scholar.
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Willamette helped Julie Kennedy discover a passion for teaching.

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Clearing a Path to College

Julie Kennedy ’99 helped found a successful Brooklyn charter school for inner-city students.

Julie Kennedy '99 left Willamette with a chemistry degree, a passion for teaching and a desire to create positive change for children in need.

She went on to help found and lead a charter school for inner-city students in Brooklyn — one that beat all other New York City public schools, both regular and charter, in a progress report the year after it opened.

Today, Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School puts students struggling with poverty, learning delays and disabilities on the path to college. A New York Times article examining charter schools featured Williamsburg as a "high-flying school."

According to Kennedy, the experience that most inspired her to teach was the Webber Scholarship, a Willamette program that allows female science undergraduates to serve as role models for children.

"I wrote lesson plans and developed strategies for teaching science to elementary school kids," Kennedy says. "I loved showing kids why chemistry mattered and how it applied to their lives. The Webber Scholarship was a turning point."

After graduation, Kennedy joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a year-long service program. Her work at a New Jersey school cemented the idea that she wanted to teach.

She moved to Boston to teach science at Boston Collegiate Charter School. She also decided to pursue a master's degree in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

When her boss approached her about replicating his school in Brooklyn, Kennedy jumped at the chance. She helped create the new school in 2005 and became its founding principal while finishing her master's.

Kennedy has watched as children have reaped the benefits of her hard work at Williamsburg. The program is based on high academic and behavioral expectations, the belief that creativity flourishes within a structured academic environment and the idea that without great teachers, nothing else matters.

Kennedy thanks her Willamette education for giving her the confidence to take on tough challenges — like leading the school.

"Willamette always encouraged me and other students to make things happen, whether it was organizing a flood relief drive or putting on a basketball tournament. That's the reason I'm doing what I am now. I never questioned that if we had a vision for a school, we could make it happen."

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