Arva Rice (BS90) Honored with SESP Alumni Award

Arva Rice (BS90) Honored with SESP Alumni Award

Arva Rice

New York Urban League president Arva Rice (BS90) is the recipient of the 2015 Alumni Merit Award for the School of Education and Social Policy. The award recognizes high achievement in a profession or field of endeavor.

Nearly 300 members of the Northwestern University community gathered April 25 to celebrate the Northwestern Alumni Association’s 82nd annual Alumni Awards. This year’s award recipients have earned acclaim in many fields.

Rice is only the second woman to serve as president of the New York Urban League (NYUL) in the organization’s 95-year history. “It has been an amazing time to be involved,” she says.

Rice, who lives in Harlem, assumed the role in 2009, just after the nation elected its first African American president. “Many people thought the election of Barack Obama signified the end of the struggle for equality, but events were unfolding all the time that showed there was still much to be done. We had one era of civil rights, but now we have to answer the question ‘What does civil rights 2.0 look like?’”

The NYUL’s mission is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first-class education, economic self-reliance, and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services, and advocacy—essentially serving as a focal point for the African American community.

“It was an organization that I had always admired and respected,” says Rice. Raised in Milwaukee, she is the daughter of an entrepreneurial father who made it possible for Rice and her siblings to be the first in their family to attend college.

For the majority of her career, Rice has worked in youth-service nonprofit organizations in New York City. She also served as the executive director at Project Enterprise, a micro-finance agency for small businesses.

As a student at SESP, Rice took courses on the developmental stages of children, which reinforced her interest in education. “It was a challenging learning environment,” she says. “You are one of the smartest kids from your high school class. But when you come to Northwestern, you realize you are amongst people who were all the smartest kids in their class.” Rice rose to the challenge and was on the dean’s list by the time she graduated.

Looking back, Rice remembers that officially, she decided to attend Northwestern because she was looking for the school with the best academics and the strongest reputation within driving distance of her hometown.

But there’s an unofficial reason as well. On the last day of her junior year in high school, Rice’s principal quoted the Bible verse Philippians 4:8 to encourage students to have a successful summer: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure . . . Think on those things.”

When she came home from school that day and saw the mail, she says, “There was a brochure from Northwestern which featured that same verse! It seemed like fate.”

For more than eight decades, the NAA has honored alumni who have distinguished themselves both personally and professionally and who have dedicated their time and service to Northwestern. This year’s award recipients have earned acclaim in business, education, film and television, sports, law, literature, health care, philanthropy and the arts.

Photo: Alumni Merit Award winner Arva Rice with Dean Penelope Peterson at the awards ceremony on April 25.

By Northwestern Alumni Association with photo by Bruce Powell
Last Modified: 4/30/15