Posted by January 17, 2014 blog No Comments

President Obama Recognizes Blue Engine & student Estiven Rodriguez

New York City, NY January 28, 2014 – President Barack Obama featured New York City-based education nonprofit Blue Engine and student Estiven Rodriguez in his speech at the White House College Opportunity Summit on January 16th. Among a group of college and university presidents and leaders from nonprofits, foundations, and state governments across the country, the President recognized Blue Engine for connecting young people like Estiven, “like Michelle, and like me” with opportunities in higher education.

Two weeks later at the State of the Union, the President again recognized Blue Engine’s “innovative tutoring program” and told the story of Estiven Rodriguez, a senior at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in Manhattan who worked closely with Blue Engine Teaching Assistants (BETAs) throughout high school.

As the President explains, Blue Engine “recruit(s) recent college graduates to work as teaching assistants in public high schools that serve low-income communities, teaming up to help students build the skills they need to enter college ready for college.” With the support of teachers and BETAs, Estiven’s performance soared — from failing Regents Exam scores (63) to “college ready” scores (87) that exempt him from remedial coursework and strongly predict degree completion. He’ll be attending Dickinson College in the Fall on a competitive Posse Foundation scholarship.

Excerpts, transcripts, and videos from both Presidential speeches are available below.


WHEELS Senior acknowledged at State of the Union 2014 from WHEELSnyc on Vimeo.


So I’ll end with a great story that I think speaks to this. There’s a former teacher here today named Nick Ehrmann. — Where’s Nick? So here’s Nick right here. — Five years ago, Nick founded a New York City nonprofit called Blue Engine, and they recruit recent college graduates to work as teaching assistants in public high schools that serve low-income communities, teaming up to help students build the skills they need to enter college ready for college.

The first group of students to work with those teaching assistants are seniors now. One of them, Estiven Rodriguez, who also is here today — where is he? There he is. Good-looking, young guy right here. — could not speak a word of English when he moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of nine. Didn’t speak much more English by the time he entered sixth grade.

Today, with the support of a tightly knit school community, he’s one of the top students in his senior class at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, or WHEELS. Last month, he and his classmates put on their WHEELS sweatshirts, unfurled a banner, waved flags and marched down the streets of Washington Heights in New York City through cheering crowds. You would have thought it was the Macy’s parade. But the crowds on the sidewalk were parents and teachers and neighbors. The flags were college pennants. The march was to the post office, where they mailed in their college applications. And Estiven just heard back — this son of a factory worker who didn’t speak much English just six years ago won a competitive scholarship to attend Dickinson College this fall.

So everywhere you go you’ve got stories like Estiven’s and you’ve got stories like Troy’s. But we don’t want these to be the exceptions. We want these to be the rule. That’s what we owe our young people and that’s what we owe this country. We all have a stake in restoring that fundamental American idea that says: It doesn’t matter where you start, what matters is where you end up. And as parents and as teachers, and as business and philanthropic and political leaders — and as citizens — we’ve all got a role to play.

The President’s full speech is available as a transcript and video.


Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age 9. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

The President’s full speech is available as a transcript and video.


Blue Engine prepares students in low-income communities to succeed in postsecondary education through exposure to rigorous and personalized high school coursework. The organization recruits bright recent college graduates to work as teaching assistants in public high schools serving low-income communities. In partnership with teachers, Blue Engine Teaching Assistants (BETAs) reduce student-to-teacher ratios and help small groups of students like Estiven build the college-ready skills they need to transition successfully into higher education.

During the current academic year, 52 BETAs serve over 1,000 students across five New York City high schools. Last school year, Blue Engine’s partnership with three schools increased college readiness on New York State Regents Examinations (Algebra, Geometry, and English Language Arts) by 61 percent. With 609 college graduates applying to be BETAs from 183 colleges and universities nationwide this past spring, Blue Engine presents service as solution, growing a pipeline of future educators and advocates committed to making a measurable impact in the communities they serve.

Since Teach For America alumnus Nick Ehrmann founded the organization in 2009, Blue Engine has been recognized as one of the nation’s most promising social innovations by leading social impact funders including AmeriCorps, Blue Ridge Foundation New York, Robin Hood, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Echoing Green, PropelNext (of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation), Tiger Foundation, Edwin Gould Foundation, Heckscher Foundation for Children, Barclays Capital Foundation, Select Equity Foundation and Coatue Foundation, among others.


Founded by Principal Brett Kimmel, the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) opened its doors in September 2006 in response to the community’s lack of excellent college-preparatory public secondary schools. A member of Outward Bound’s Expeditionary Learning network, WHEELS is rated as an “A” school by the Department of Education and was recognized as a “Transformational School” by Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp in her book A Chance to Make History (2011). The approximately 650 students are 98% Latino and all qualify under federal guidelines for free and reduced lunch. 100% of WHEELS students apply to and are accepted to college.

Emily Brenes, Communications Associate
Blue Engine, Inc.