El Da' Sheon Nix Guides Adolescents 'at a Fork in the Road'

by Anne Taubeneck

A record-breaking high school athlete whose promising football career was cut short at Northwestern, Ohio native El Da' Sheon Nix (BS04) now works closely with adolescents, using lessons he learned both on the playing field and at SESP.

He is administrative coordinator at Cabrini Connections, a tutoring and mentoring program that serves the Cabrini Green public housing project in Chicago. "Critical thinking, organizational skills, time management, and learning the ins and outs of how to network and communicate are a few of the things that I took from Northwestern that continue to be a major part of my success," he says.

Middle schoolers are completely engaged as El Da' Sheon Nix (BS04) leads an after-school
Middle schoolers are completely engaged as El Da' Sheon Nix (BS04) leads an after-school "boys' lesson."

In his senior year at Sandusky High School, Nix beat out Ben Roethlisberger (now the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback) to win an Ohio "Athlete of the Year" award, but suffered a knee injury that sidelined him at Northwestern. Always a mentor for younger students and wanting to help people out, he says he was drawn to SESP, encouraged by Assistant Dean Susan Olson.

Among his favorite classes was Methods of Observing Human Behavior, where he learned how to analyze nonverbal cues — a skill he says he now uses daily to help him read the feelings of young people and "know how to approach them."

Before joining Cabrini Connections, Nix was a youth development worker at Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc. (YOU), an Evanston social service agency that provides guidance for kids 10 through 18. Nix offered academic assistance and one-on-one counseling, and developed and ran after-school "life skills" programs for boys and girls at Nichols Middle School.

"The way I try to work is we do fun stuff, but there are always lessons involved in teamwork, cooperation, working hard and being dedicated," explains Nix, who is the first member of his family to graduate from college.

In one successful YOU program he conceived, run with a co-worker assigned to Chute Middle School, Chute and Nichols "teams" competed in athletic, academic and life skills events, including basketball and soccer games, a dessert-making contest, a debate and "spelling bee baseball." Before the program, Nix says, there had been friction outside school between Chute and Nichols students, but "at the end of the competition, we had a family night where all the kids came together with their parents, so I think they all made friends."

He likes working with middle-school youths because they "are at a transition point, at the fork in the road. This is an age group where you can start to have serious conversations about life and college, about the future and careers."

Nix did his SESP practicum at the Rice Child and Family Center in Evanston, a residential facility for children and teens with behavior and emotional problems. On his first day there, a 14-year-old boy set off a fire alarm, forcing everyone to evacuate.

"As I'm watching this, I'm thinking, what can I do to help?" says Nix. He later used a "de-escalation" technique, encouraging the boy to "rap out" his anger. After that, Nix says, "he cooled down, and we had an actual counseling session." By the end of Nix's practicum, the boy was able to return home to his parents. Nix worked full-time at the center after graduation, becoming the youngest employee to be promoted to a lead staff position.

What has helped him work successfully with adolescents, including those with serious problems? "You have to have patience and understanding and put yourself in their shoes," he says. "You have to be a good listener and follow up. If a kid tells me he got an A in class, I make a mental note to say something about it the next day. It's not just in one ear and out the other."

This year, Nix also established a $1,000 scholarship to be awarded annually to an outstanding student-athlete at Sandusky High School, with funding provided by him and nine other former SHS athletes he enlisted.

His next big goal, he says, is to start his own after-school social service program for adolescents in Sandusky. "I have so many ideas."
By Anne Taubeneck with photo by Ben Shapiro