There are many hidden gems at Northeastern, and Balfour Academy and Carla Oblas are two of them. Since 1983, Balfour has helped prepare many of Boston’s middle and high school students for a college education—and for life. As a teacher at the academy and later as its director, Carla has guided many cohorts of talented students over her 30-year career.
Raised in New York City, Carla always had an affinity for mathematics and teaching. She attended graduate school at the University of California, Davis, earning her master’s degree in mathematics and her teaching credentials. Rather than accept a graduate teaching position at the university, a community teaching fellowship gave her the experience of going into neighborhoods to educate students who otherwise might not have received the academic exposure.
“It was very exciting because my peers and I were teaching by discovery,” Carla says. “We taught using Socratic dialogues with the students to understand what they knew and didn’t know.” It was a dynamic way to teach and interact with the students—and she loved it. When the program secured a National Science Foundation grant to expand, Carla moved to Massachusetts to implement it in Boston. “At first, I was teaching remedial math, but it soon became apparent that students needed more,” she says.
Northeastern’s then-president, Kenneth Ryder, recognized the challenges that many of Boston’s students faced when they got to college. To help prepare these students for college studies, the university launched an on-campus summer program that served them beginning in middle school. It thrived, and when the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences invited teachers to participate, Carla was referred. Then, with a grant from the Balfour Foundation to promote college readiness, access and success for underserved populations in New England, Balfour Academy at Northeastern was established.
The academy prepares students in grades 7 to 12 for college through summer enrichment courses, which are augmented by mentoring and tutoring during the school year. In summer classes at Northeastern, students undergo an immersive learning experience, and for most it is the opportunity of a lifetime.
In her three decades of teaching, Carla has helped fuel the academic success of Boston’s inner-city students—and she knows that a strong support system like Balfour’s is vital to getting ahead. “Eighty-five percent of our scholars have gone on to college,” she says, “and 96% have graduated.”
Carla also acknowledges the impact on Northeastern students who come and tutor at Balfour. “They want to give back to the community, and the experience makes an impact on them in different ways,” she says. “Many are inspired to become teachers.”
If you ask Carla what the biggest highlight is in 30 years of teaching Balfour scholars, she is quick to respond. “It’s knowing the kids for such a long period of time and seeing how successful they are,” she says. “They’ve become lawyers, gone into politics and teaching professions, and are living great lives.”
Recently retired, Carla’s lifelong commitment to providing a quality education for young students has inspired her to name Balfour Academy as the beneficiary of her retirement plan. Through her gift to create the Carla B. Oblas Balfour Scholarship Fund, she will help ensure that future academy students have the resources they need to pursue an undergraduate degree at Northeastern.
“I want Balfour to endure and grow, and I want to continue changing the lives of Boston’s students,” Carla explains. By empowering generations of young students to pursue and realize their dreams, her gift will achieve exactly that.
“If I can do this, then maybe others can as well,” Carla says.
Get more information on Balfour Academy at Northeastern.
Hear from a Balfour student when you read how the academy celebrated three decades of success.