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A Black Belt in Giving Back

Endicott College alumnus Rob Ackerman ’20 M’21 has been named a finalist for the 2023 Wasabi Fenway Bowl Honor Roll, a charitable program focused on recognizing and thanking educators who have gone above and beyond to support their students and respective communities.
Rob Ackerman ’20 M’21 brings a passion for karate, STEM, and giving back to his classroom at Chenery Upper Elementary School in Belmont, Mass.—and now he’s been named a finalist in the 2023 Wasabi Fenway Bowl Honor Roll.
By: Sarah Sweeney

Rob Ackerman ’20 M’21 was eating lunch at Chenery Upper Elementary School in Belmont, Mass., when he got an email that he was a finalist for the 2023 Wasabi Fenway Bowl Honor Roll—a charitable program that recognizes and thanks educators who have gone above and beyond to support their students and respective communities. 

The 5th-grade STEM and math teacher was confused, so he immediately called his mom. “She’s like, ‘Slow down, read the whole thing to me so we can process this,’” he recalled with a laugh. 

After going through the email together, Ackerman realized that—even though he was named a finalist—he was one of three winners, which meant that someone from The Boston Globe wanted to interview and film and make a whole production out of Ackerman. 

“It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest,” said Ackerman, who was chosen among 200 teachers, administrators, and staff nominated this year. “I’m 25. I graduated college with my master’s degree in 2021.”

While it’s true that Ackerman is just a few years out of Endicott College, he has devoted his brief but colorful life to service and teaching. That began in an interesting place—the karate mat. 

Growing up in Bedford, Mass., Ackerman was always interested in STEM and the inner workings of machines. His mother is an engineer and he was likewise fascinated by dismantling electronics to reveal their interconnecting parts. 

But he was no introverted, cerebral boy genius; he was a natural-born leader, and no place was that more evident than at Callahan’s Karate

Ackerman started karate lessons at Callahan’s at age 3, and by 14 he was a formal paid employee.

“I was doing things like an employee before then, because Callahan’s creates an environment that empowers young students to feel confident as a leader amongst their peers. From a young age, I was able to be a role model and assistant in karate classes,” he said. 

As Ackerman grew up, he joined Callahan’s leadership team and started helping out in other areas—a birthday party here, a class or two there. 

“I found that to be a very rewarding experience, being able to work with younger students, and helping them succeed,” he said. “That allows me to also give back to that community, and that’s a common theme for me throughout the rest of my teen and young adult life.”

Endicott College alumnus Rob Ackerman ’20 M’21 has been named a finalist for the 2023 Wasabi Fenway Bowl Honor Roll, a charitable program focused on recognizing and thanking educators who have gone above and beyond to support their students and respective communities.

From an early age, giving back was instilled in Ackerman by his parents. For decades, his mother was the director of the Danny Oates Memorial 5K and his grandmother is a breast cancer survivor, so it was common for a young Ackerman to attend philanthropic events.

“My grandfather passed away from ALS. I never got to meet him, but my father has always had a strong attachment to ALS. He’s done numerous fundraisers,” explained Ackerman. “So, with those experiences combined, I always had this experience of giving back to the community and finding ways to help others in need.”

For Ackerman, giving back now translates into his classroom, where he merges his passion for karate and STEM with the positive impact just one person can make on a young person’s life. For Thanksgiving, he made a poster of all his students’ names and wrote out a list of everything he appreciated about them. Each of his students also received a personal handwritten postcard celebrating their successes in the first quarter of the school year.

“When you teach a student and you see those lightbulb moments, it’s impactful for them because they’re having that moment of, ‘Oh my god, I can do this!’” he said. “I’ll never take credit for it because my philosophy is always to guide students to success, not just push them into it, because they’re in control of that. Like in karate, I’ll push students out of their comfort zone because I know they’re capable. And then when they realize that, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I gave you the resources and tools, but you’re the one that had to decide.’”

He’d flirted with the idea of becoming a full-time karate instructor (he teaches on the side a few days a week and remains very active at Callahan’s), but while at Endicott he took advantage of Endicott’s internship program, even taking on more internship than required to get the most out of the experience and to find his niche as a STEM educator. 

He also found partners in giving back at Endicott with Trustee Nancy Frates and husband John, ardent ALS advocates after the passing of their son Pete, namesake of Endicott’s Frates Hall. 

“Without Endicott, I would never been able to meet the Frates family who had a huge impact on my life and showed me the power of giving back and the power of seeing past tragedy,” said Ackerman, who helped raise money for ALS while at Endicott.

But that’s not all the tools Endicott gave Ackerman to continue his mission of giving back. While here, he further honed his photography skills, a hobby he picked up as a kid and which has allowed him to carry on a Bedford tradition of photographing youth sports—something started by Jeff Hoyland, a Bedford resident photographer who passed from cancer a few years ago. 

“He was known for being at everyone’s events. He did it for free. He did it because he wanted to give back to his community and because it got him out of the house and got him around people. And he knew he only had so many more days left on our earth,” he said. 

Knowing the difference just one person can make in a young person’s life, Ackerman and another photographer in town started a Facebook group to rally other community photographers to volunteer their time to photograph youth sports games after Hoyland’s passing.  

“When [Hoyland] arrived at a game, all the kids lit up because they knew he was there to support them, they knew he was there to take pictures so that they could have some cool memory,” said Ackerman. 

For now, though, it’s Ackerman’s time for the spotlight. When Boston College and Southern Methodist University square off in the December 28 Wasabi Bowl at Fenway Park, a portion of ticket proceeds will go toward supporting the Wasabi Honor Roll finalists’ classrooms. 

“It’s a big confidence boost,” said Ackerman. “It’s recognition that my focus and my intention for teaching are in the right place and going to have a lasting impact.”

Learn more about the Wasabi Fenway Bowl and its commitment to equitable and quality education across New England.