Erin Killingsworth '98 is a remarkable student. She excels in her dual major in child and family studies in the College for Human Development and policy studies in The College of Arts and Sciences, and is also involved with many on-campus organizations. The Syracuse Women's Club recognized her with the Ruth Tolley Award for outstanding academic and community work.
But what is most remarkable about Killingsworth is her personal determination to tackle society's ills and make a difference in a very real way. To accomplish this, she and nine other students founded Project Nubia, a program that provides guidance and support to teen mothers.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, more than 40 percent of young women in the United States become pregnant before they reach the age of 20, the highest rate of any industrialized nation. Killingsworth says both low self-esteem and the desire to please a teen boyfriend are key causes of teen pregnancy. "We're concentrating on teen pregnancy because of its huge impact," she says.
Project Nubia originated in 1995 at Nottingham High School in Syracuse, after a school counselor asked Killingsworth and other SU students to help develop a program there. Today the project is affiliated with the Salvation Army. Many of the teen mothers the students work with come from broken homes and low-income families. At the heart of Project Nubia is a commitment to building friendships with the teens and fostering self-esteem through workshops and such simple activities as movie nights at Killingsworth's apartment. "Each of us is a mentor, someone these young mothers can talk to about anything," Killingsworth says. "It's not like a counseling session; it's a laid-back, friendship-based thing."
The SU students involved in Project Nubia work one-on-one with the teen mothers, helping them improve their grades and learn about computers, even pitching in to baby-sit on occasion. "We want to stimulate their interests," Killingsworth says. "Our philosophy is: OK, so you have a child. Now how can we enrich your life? How do you go on to college?"
Erin Killingsworth is determined to tackle society's ills and make a difference in a very real way. One way she is accomplishing this is through Project Nubia, a program that provides guidance and support to teen mothers.
Killingsworth says typically the teen mothers are reserved at first, but open up during the course of the program. "These young women have little or no money and have ruled out any possibility of a career," she says. "In the beginning they don't even think about going to college. By the time the project ends, though, they regard getting a college degree as something positive they want to do."
Killingsworth remembers the first teen mother she mentored. The young woman lived alone, working at a fast-food restaurant to supplement public assistance. "She really loved her child, but often skipped school to be with the baby, which jeopardized both their futures," Killingsworth says. "Once she realized how important education is, she changed her behavior. She graduated from high school, attends classes at a local community college, and hopes to continue on at a university.
"Project Nubia gives her and other teen mothers a future," Killingsworth says. "I'm really proud to help create such a change in someone's life."