Churchill Junior High School
Environmental Studies Major
Nick Young knows what he wants to accomplish.
"I want to be successful in what I do. Failure is not an option for me," he said.
"When it comes to teaching children or whether it is golfing on a Sunday,
I have always had that internal drive. Where it comes from I don't know, but it is something that I am lucky to have and something that I try to share with my students."
Young, 29, graduated from Galesburg High School in 1999 and Knox College in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies. Since 2007, he has taught science and social studies at Churchill Junior High School. He also serves as an assistant coach for both the football and girl's track teams.
"His commitment to the students is gigantic and sincere, and I think probably a little bit rare," said John Haslem, director of Knox's Center for Teaching and Learning, who has known Young for almost a decade and has spoken to several of his classes. "He can identify with the kids who come into the school, because he went there and knows what it was like when he was a kid. He is committed to seeing the kids have the best experience that they can have when they go through the junior high."
Young has always known he wanted to work with people and make a difference in their lives. When he graduated from Knox in 2003, he first sought to do this in health care. After a year and a half, he decided that being cramped inside a 2005 silver Dodge Intrepid and traveling around Illinois between the boundaries that interstate 80, 74 and 57 set was not how he wanted to do it.
"After I graduated, I got a job as a medical representative selling pharmaceuticals for a small company out of Alabama," he said. "I sold a lot of cough and cold medicine, which I learned quickly wasn't the thing for me."
So, he sat in on a few middle school classes and did observations under Cindy Roach at Lombard Junior High, fell in love with teaching, and headed back to Knox to obtain a bachelor's degree in educational studies.
When Young arrived on Knox's 90-acre campus after his graduation from GHS, he admittedly needed to grow up, and needed some advice. Without Haslem's help, Young might not have seized the opportunity that the institution provided.
"Nick was a fine young man. He, early on, needed some guidance about how to approach his schoolwork here, how to conduct himself outside of the classroom," Haslem said. "We just had frank conversations about what it would take to be successful in the classroom and what kind of behavior that I expected of him. I spoke to him as an advisor, but also as a friend."
Andy Gibbons, defensive coordinator of the Knox football team and former head coach, has known Young since 1998, when he began recruiting him to play football at Knox, and has also played a role in helping him succeed.
"People don't know the impact Andy Gibbons makes on guys' lives," said Young, an offensive tackle on Knox's last winning football team, in 2002 when Knox went 6-4. "It is not always about wins and losses."
Young has lived in Galesburg for most of his life, and is pleased to share his experiences with his pupils.
"The kids need direction and need guidance, and I'm happy to work with them and do that stuff," Young said. "You learn from your mistakes, and that is what I try to relay to my players and students. Any information that I can help them with, I give it to them. I am pretty honest - that is one of my biggest virtues. I am not afraid to speak my mind. Knox played a part in that. I have always been strong-minded. I always have believed in certain values and ways things should be done. I think I carry that over to my coaching and into my classroom and into my life."
Young had to work at being a leader in and out of the classroom, but he has enjoyed every minute. Why shouldn't he? He is doing what he loves.
"I know how to laugh and humor others and myself; that is a big part of my life. You only get one shot at it and you might as well enjoy it while you are doing it," he said. "I think over time being a leader is something that I have developed. I was pretty immature my early years at Knox, but to my credit, I was a quick learner."
When Young is not teaching or coaching, he is hitting the books. He is currently enrolled in a master's degree program at St. Ambrose University, and one day would like to become an assistant principal or dean. But he will cross that road when he comes to it.
"Ideally, I would like to lead as many people as possible," he said. "I want to make the biggest impact that I can on a large group of people."
Young knows that Knox made him who he is today, and he is grateful.
"It prepared me for what was to come in my life. Knox really does," he said. "There are perks along the way. I got to meet a lot of great people and if you are lucky, you get to stay in touch with those people."
Young stays in contact with Haslem and Gibbons, as well as others. His mom, Penny Young, works at Knox as a billing and collection coordinator. His grandparents, Carol and Dick Baldwin, both worked at the school for many years.
When Young and Gibbons talk, they discuss x's and o's. Occasionally, Young will meet with incoming recruits. Gibbons doesn't hide the way he feels about Young.
"I love Nick," he said. "I consider him a good friend. We've had plenty of conversations about teaching and coaching. Through the years, once you find guys who are in coaching, the relationship grows more. It is a common thing."
Young has found the ideal situation for him to bond with people and give them the freedom to flourish. That's what Knox did for him. He has hopes that those who have negative views of Knox experience what the school has to offer for themselves.
"Go to a play or a sporting event. Walk through campus," he said. "I think Knox is a college that is producing leaders of tomorrow, and there are some strong young minds here."
This profile appeared in "Galesburg Is Knox: Breaking the Bubble," a senior captstone project by Knox College student Matthew Wheaton '10 that explored connections between the city of Galesburg and Knox. View more of Wheaton's project.
Photograph of Nick Young by Evan Temchin '10.