Dr. Simran Jeet Singh is always on the run, both figuratively and literally. The marathon runner, devoted husband, and doting father splits his time between San Antonio and New York City. He is an active member of the Sikh community and a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.
It’s no wonder Singh, along with five other graduates of Northside ISD, will be honored as the 2016 Pillars of Character at the Northside Education Foundation’s annual gala, Sept. 21.
Tickets are still available and there is still time to donate an auction item to the event. To purchase a table or ticket to the event click here and to donate an auction item click here. The event will be held at the Vista Room at the Venues at Valero. For more information, call (210) 397-8599.
Almost 700 business partners, community members, and educators are expected to attend the event. The gala is NEF’s largest fundraiser of the year and proceeds are used to fund grants to NISD faculty and staff. More than $300,000 was awarded last year in Resource, Innovation, and Team grants.
Each year, Pillars are selected from almost 100,000 Northside ISD alumni who graduated from NISD high schools since 1951. The Pillars represent the six character traits taught to NISD students as part of the Josephson Institute’s Character Counts program. The traits are: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
The 2016 Pillars of Character are:
2016 Pillar of Respect
Dr. Simran Jeet Singh
Respect, Dr. Simran Jeet Singh says, is recognizing the humanity and divinity in everyone. “When you see people that way, it changes your perception of our world,” he said.
A product of Northside ISD, Dr. Singh attended Thornton Elementary School, Rudder Middle School, and O’Connor High School. Dr. Singh credits the teachers, administrators, and friends he met throughout his academic career for shaping who he is today. His Northside educators helped him be an educator and see the potential in others. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, a graduate degree from Harvard University, and an undergraduate degree from Trinity University. He is an Assistant Professor at his alma mater, Trinity University, in the Department of Religion and a Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. He is called on to speak on the topics of diversity, inclusion, civil rights, religion, and hate violence. He splits his time between New York City and San Antonio and is an avid marathon runner. Running, started out as a way to supplement soccer when he was younger. Today, he runs to combat stereotypes. He and his wife, Dr. Gunisha Kaur, are the proud parents of a daughter, Jiya.
2016 Pillar of Citizenship
Laura Silva Nieto
Developing young leaders is Laura Nieto’s passion. As the Director of Community Affairs and Grassroots for Southwest Airlines, Nieto gives back to the community by dedicating time to mentoring and advocating for diverse groups. She believes that every individual has something valuable to bring to the table. She says the best outcomes occur when each person’s individual talents are welcomed and recognized.
If you were to ask her in high school, she might not have been able to tell you that her role as Head Varsity Cheerleader and her three years as class president would translate into a career of giving back to the community. Her sense of community pride and empathy for others is rooted in her connection to the Culebra Park neighborhood where she was raised. It was there that Nieto learned the value of being a good citizen in her community. She felt pride for her hometown and her school when she represented them in New York City as a cheerleading All-American nominee in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That first trip to New York City, coupled with her father’s encouragement, sparked a love of travel that she still has today.
As an avid Marathon runner, Nieto satisfies her passion and curiosity for cultures and travel and is well on her way to completing the Six World Marathon Majors which are held in cities all around the world. She hopes that her experiences will encourage Northside students to continue to learn about the bigger world around them.
Nieto attended Esparza Elementary School, Sul Ross Middle School, and Holmes High School. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations from Texas Tech University and was recently named a Texas Tech University Distinguished Alumni. She is a fellow of the National Hispana Leadership Institute’s Executive Leadership Program and was named to the Top 25 Latino Leaders list. She and her husband Ruben are the proud parents of 10 year-old Sobie.
2016 Pillar of Responsibility
James “Drake” McLean
Ask “Drake” McLean for family photos and you’ll find that he’s in very few of them. The photographer is always behind the camera and rarely in photos. His love for photography began as a student at Northside schools and remains a hobby.
These days, the co-owner of Dietz-McLean Optical uses his photographer’s eye to take care of other people’s eyes by using the latest technologies to make the best pair of glasses for his customers. It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. In fact, responsibility plays a big part in his life. Dietz-McLean is a business started by his grandfather, passed on to his father, and then on to him.
He is responsible for the care and nurturing of not only the business but also his employees and customers. He takes it even further by giving back to his community, serving in various capacities on a variety of boards for the prevention of blindness and advocacy for the sight-impaired.
McLean attended Oak Hills Terrace Elementary School, Neff Middle School, and Marshall High School. He attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and Our Lady of the Lake University with a focus on business, accounting, and economics. McLean has been married to Karlen McLean for 12 years. He has two children, Zach and Taylor.
2016 Pillar of Trustworthiness
Sometimes Lori Castro just has to pause and soak it all in. As a sound recording engineer in the film industry and a Grammy nominee for The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack, she has worked on sequels to movies she watched while growing up in San Antonio.
She was told once that if you love your job, then you will never work a day in your life. She is quick to acknowledge that teamwork is a hallmark of the movie industry. Every person listed in the end credits of a movie is tasked with a job and they have to trust each other to complete their part. She said she understood the importance of teamwork while she played soccer in high school and she also learned to trust her teammates. The same level of trust she practiced on the field translated to her career in the entertainment industry.
And while Castro’s passion is her job, her other passion is being a mentor. She enjoys talking to students about their career options and helping them understand that whatever their circumstances, they can be successful; they just have to work hard and, when faced with an obstacle, understand that it can be overcome.
Castro attended Knowlton Elementary School, Zachry Middle School, and Taft High School. She holds an Associate’s Degree in Recording Arts from Full Sail University.
2016 Pillar of Fairness
Dr. Todd Gureckis
It could be a coincidence or it could be fate that Dr. Todd Gureckis started his academic career at Scobee Elementary School. After all, the namesake of the school was an astronaut and the school motto is “Reaching for the Stars.” Science has always been a part of Dr. Gureckis’ life.
He said his father taught him his love of science and the scientific method. Together they would launch rockets with different payloads to determine how the payload weight impacted the rocket flight. That sense of wonder and curiosity stayed with Dr. Gureckis throughout his academic career in Northside, from Scobee Elementary School to Health Careers High School.
A devoted Longhorn, he received his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from The University of Texas at Austin. Today, he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University. His area of expertise is cognitive and computer science.
He teaches and studies human learning, memory, and decision making. He oversees a cognitive behavior lab at the university where, according to the lab’s blog, Dr. Gureckis and his students study human intelligence.
In 2013, he was honored with the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He received his award at the White House.
Gureckis and his wife Julie enjoy hiking and the outdoors.
2016 Pillar of Caring
Kara Wilson fell in love at age 14. It was a love that was true. It was a love that was deep.
Before the start of her freshman year at Marshall High School, Wilson went on a mission trip to El Salvador. She quickly fell in love with the Central American country, its culture, and its people. Unable to forget one of her first loves, she moved to El Salvador years later and founded Project RED. The nonprofit organization works with underprivileged families on Reintegration, Education, and Development (RED).
The El Salvadorian government enacted a law requiring children in orphanages to return to live with members of their biological families, whether they were immediate family members or distant relatives. Not all of these families are prepared or willing to take on the responsibility of caring for the children, therefore putting many children at risk. Project RED and its staff work with families on enhancing parenting skills, providing basic needs for children including shelter, clothing, and food, spiritual guidance, and scholarships for those wishing to attend high school.
“In the United States children are told they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do” Wilson says. “It’s a privilege not every child has, especially those in developing countries.” Project RED is working to change that for the children in the program.
Wilson attended Locke Hill and Thornton elementary schools, Rudder Middle School, and Marshall High School. She received her undergraduate degree in Missions and Spanish at Abilene Christian University and her master’s degree in International Development for Latin America while living in Spain.