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Northwest Missouri State University

News Release

Sept. 21, 2009

'Freedom Writers' Gruwell presents Sept. 30 lecture

Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell, a national leader in urban education and a social change advocate, will present the year's first Distinguished Lecture at Northwest.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, in the Mary Linn Auditorium of the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts.

As a teacher in a racially polarized Los Angeles-area high school, Gruwell worked to make her students move beyond the divides of color and culture toward an understanding of tolerance and acceptance. Her success in leading young people to explore their experiences and improve their lives through writing led to the publication of "The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them." In 2007, Gruwell's story was turned into the feature film, "Freedom Writers," starring Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank.

The event is sponsored by Northwest's College of Education and Human Services' Ploghoft Lecture program, the Distinguished Lecture Series, the Northwest Regional Professional Development Center, the Intercultural and International Center and the Office of Student Affairs.

"This is Erin Gruwell's second visit to Northwest in the last 10 years, and we're delighted to welcome her back to campus," said Dr. Max Ruhl, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. "She really is an inspiration for those who are currently in education, those planning to enter the field and all those in the helping professions."

Dr. Jerry Wilmes, director of the University's Wellness Center, attended Gruwell's first lecture on campus and said she was the most powerful presenter he has ever experienced at Northwest.

"I recall that students were still standing in line in the lobby two hours after her presentation in order to get the opportunity to meet her and, in some cases, to purchase an autographed copy of her book," Wilmes said. "She was simply superb."

Dr. Joyce Piveral, assistant director of Northwest's Professional Education programs and associate professor of educational leadership, said Gruwell is the "perfect individual" to bring attention to the challenges of urban schooling.

"Ms. Gruwell's story inspires young and old alike and is worthy of attention from anyone who wants to make an impact on urban schools and young people facing the challenges endemic to urban centers across the nation," Piveral said. "She demonstrates both the ingenuity and the dedication required to make a difference in the lives of inner-city youth as well as young people in all educational settings."

Gruwell's presence on campus also presents the opportunity for Northwest education faculty and administration to thank the individuals who were instrumental in the University's development of programs promoting urban education and providing teachers for the urban schools. Ruhl said these programs, including a series of three-week residential internships and a year-long residential internship, have over the past seven years contributed more than 100 teachers to classrooms of the Kansas City Missouri School District. The success that these teachers from across the state have achieved in the urban school setting has, in the process, gained national attention.

For more information about the Gruwell lecture, contact Nikki Yount at or 660.562.1778.

The Ploghoft Lecture series is made possible through the generosity of Dr. Milton and Zella Ploghoft of Athens, Ohio. Dr. Ploghoft, a 1949 Northwest alumnus, is professor emeritus at Ohio University, and Mrs. Ploghoft completed her elementary and secondary education at Horace Mann Laboratory School at Northwest. Dr. Ploghoft authored a number of textbooks in the social studies and lived abroad for many years, founding the College of Education in Kano, Nigeria, lecturing at Saigon University and leading the university's international programs in such disparate places as Chile, Cameroun, Botswana, the Yucatan, Swaziland and in what was then South Vietnam. In 1992, he became the founding editor of the African Education Research Network.

For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468