Tess McKenzie

Tess McKenzie-Ousley ’91 was an active part of the Lewis community during her time at the University - the only college at which she applied. From the beginning of her college career, Tess enjoyed the small class sizes and the opportunity to work closely with professors.

Believing in the quality of education Lewis provides, Tess began a journey to support the University she came to know and love through both service on the Lewis University Alumni Association Board, as well as supporting a scholarship for students.

“I was raised by my grandparents, Mr. Willie and Mrs. Nolan McKenzie. They instilled in me faith, family and education. I was so impressed when I came back to Lewis University. There are so many changes, all of them positive! It made me so proud to be an alumna of the school - so proud. Just coming back and seeing the vision of Brother James Gaffney and the expansion was incredible.”

Tess grew up attending Catholic schools including Holy Family Grammar School and Unity Catholic High School, which further fueled her interest in Lewis University. She earned her undergrad degree in English and became a high school English teacher upon graduation in 1991. She stayed in the school system  until 2003, during which time she married, had a baby, and went back to school to receive her master’s degree in Education. A member of the Black Student Union Choir, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Greek Council, and Student Government, she strove to not only make a difference at Lewis, but in the community as well. She credits her education at Lewis with providing her the knowledge and drive to start her own business.

“With a small child, I had new decisions to make. What I was looking for in child care, I simply couldn’t afford on a teacher’s salary. My affordable options did not provide quality care for me, so I started my own early learning program. It started with a daycare in a little house in Chicago, working with neighborhood children, providing quality daycare for those parents who could not afford the big franchise centers. After five years, we mastered a curriculum and found some property, opening our first official facility in 2003. In 2008 we expanded again, followed by another expansion in 2011. It felt amazing to be able to offer high quality child care for children at a high risk for failure due to poverty and other risk factors."

This year, her daycare was the only daycare brought into The Prevention Initiative Program. This program is part of Chicago: Ready To Learn, a prevention initiative program for children age birth to three who are at risk for failure for many reasons. The centers work with kids and their families, even going to their homes, to help them with parenting strategies and skills that will enable a more positive outcome for the children.
While Brianna’s entrance into college gave Tess an initial reason to become involved again, she says there were other factors at play in her decision. Along with her husband, Pastor Craig L. Ousley, she finds value in paving a path for excellent education for future generations like their youngest daughter, Sahan.

“I saw a news story on financial aid and how universities were going to suffer because financial aid wouldn’t come through,” she says. “The story commented that a Chicago university didn’t have that problem because of their high rate of alumni contribution. That really struck a chord with me. Alumni should come back to contribute to the University and help with the progression of both the programs and the campus. We need to increase alumni support and funding so the University can continue the amazing growth we’ve already seen in the last decade. Lewis provides a high quality education and I want to be a part of continuing that excellence. We all have something to give – we just have to step up and do it.” 

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