Andrew Erker ’11 has interests that are far-ranging and ever-changing, and he’s constantly working on improving himself and his surroundings. Priory’s newest Computer Science teacher brings unbridled enthusiasm to the classroom, inspiring his Junior School students to stretch beyond basic coding, to think about the ramifications of technology both in their own lives and for the greater world.
He was like this when he was a Priory student. He said, “I was interested in truly everything while I was here at Priory. I was influenced heavily by my older brothers, who were very good both academically and creatively. I was interested in music, sports, and languages. I worked really hard in my classes but wanted to be far more creative. I loved to be happy, to do whatever made me happy as a student.”
Andrew worked hard to overcome the “Little Erker” nickname that landed on him after his three older brothers had gone through Priory. “I picked Priory because Patrick, Teddy, and Alex were here and they were having such a great time. I did a good job of breaking through expectations based on my brothers’ personalities early on. As a younger sibling, you look up to your older siblings, but you don’t exactly want to be known because of them. Soccer was a good way to differentiate myself, and I also had the good looks going for me, something they couldn’t keep up with,” he laughed.
Andrew ran cross country as a Junior School student, and won the Priory Junior School Invitational. He ran track, played tennis, wrestled, and played rugby. Soccer was his sport of choice in high school, and he also became stage manager and starred in various theatrical productions, including Fiddler on the Roof, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and God’s Favorite. He was co-president of the Community Service Club, which gave him an idea of others in the world and the opportunity to step outside his own community. He served on student council throughout high school, and was treasurer his senior year. He was active in Tutoria, traveling to Chile twice as a Priory student.
“The first time I went to Chile, I was one of the younger guys. It was an eye-opening, spiritual experience. I love the language and the culture. The second time I went I was a rising senior, so I was one of the oldest students on the trip. I shifted from a follower role to a leader role and I really liked being part of the decision-making process on where we would go and what we would do. We stayed with awesome families, and I still keep in touch with them today.” On the Tutoria trips to Chile, students learn about the programs origins in the Manquewe movement. They visit three different schools in San Benito, San Anselmo, and San Lorenzo. Priory students live, visit and pray with Chilean students. They go on a retreat in the mountains, which Andrew describes as “an awesome experience.” On his first trip, the bus that was supposed to take them up the mountain broke down. Andrew and the other students had to hike up the snowy mountain in the dark, carrying their bags on their backs. “It was an hour and a half trek up a long, muddy, slippery road. I loved it,” he said. Andrew’s experience with Tutoria, and his obvious enthusiasm for it, makes him the perfect faculty moderator for today’s Tutoria program. He is already thinking about planning a Tutoria trip to Chile for this year. “As long as I’m going to be the head of Tutoria,” he said, “I might as well go all the way with it!”
As a student, Andrew tried to bridge the gap between various cliques among his classmates. “At Priory, my goal was to have a very unified class. There’s always something to learn from other people. The Bible touches on friendship, that a friend is one of the greatest treasures you can have. School is all about creating friendships and relationships. High school is about making good friends and trying to be as happy as you can. Obviously you have to work very hard, especially at Priory, but if you’re having fun, chances are you are working hard. I always had the most fun when I was doing well inside and outside of school.”
The summer after his senior year at Priory, before beginning his undergraduate studies at Saint Louis University, Andrew went to Italy with two of his fellow new alums. They spent a month backpacking, and visited Rome. “We were waiting in line at the Pantheon to get into a Pentecost celebration. We just got to the front when they roped it off and said no one else was allowed in. We looked across and just inside the Pantheon was (then) Brother Cassian, so we called over to him. He told the gatekeeper, ‘These are my students; they’re with me’ so we were the last three people in. Thousands of rose petals rained from the roof, we heard Mass celebrated in Italian, and we went out for coffee after. It was an incredible experience.” Several years later, Andrew was back in Italy, studying abroad with SLU friends in Florence. He was telling his friends the story about running into a Priory monk at the Pantheon when a moment later Brothers Cassian and Maximilian appeared; they had taken Priory students on a trip to Italy. “I saw him in Italy twice in three years, without planning. That’s insane! You couldn’t dream that up!”
Andrew majored in Urban Affairs at SLU, which he describes as being like city planning, while also minoring in Spanish. He studied the evolution of cities after World War II, including demographic movements due to federal and social occurrences. He spent four months at SLU Madrid, traveling all over Europe while studying Spanish, oceanography, and art history. He met his girlfriend in Madrid, where she was also taking the art history class. He had a great time, living in an apartment with seven other SLU students. The group played music and traveled together. “It was a great cultural experience,” he said.
He worked hard outside of school, too, spending two summers at the A-Bar-A Ranch in Wyoming. Andrew became the head of the teen program, and designed a new outdoor education program that taught leadership skills, survival in the wilderness, how to identify the flora and fauna, and the history of the American West. “Teenagers don’t want to hang out with their parents or younger siblings, so my program gave them a nice outlet. They weren’t sitting on their phones in the one building with internet access.”
While studying for his undergraduate degree back in the St. Louis, he began building a local business network which led to a position with a downtown start-up called TopOPPS. Andrew was a sales development representative. Cold calling all day and gave him great experience building perseverance. TopOPPS is a sales technology company that builds software for SalesForce.com. He moved into account-based sales development, focusing on a couple dozen companies and trying to get in front of decision-makers. In his time with TopOPPS, he got a taste of programming from the developers who worked there. “I was surrounded by some of the best developers in St. Louis,” he said, “and they were teaching me how to code.” He wanted to make a change, and knew it was time to move on from a traditional sales role but didn’t know what his next move might be.
In that moment of transition, he came back to Priory to visit. He was eating lunch with Brother Sixtus in the Dining Hall when Bernie Kilcullen, then assistant principal, walked in. Their initial casual conversation led to talks and eventually formal interviews with Ryan Niemann ’03, Computer Science Department Chair. Andrew agreed to teach 7th and 8th grade computer science starting this fall.
Andrew built his curriculum on a combination of skills he learned while working at TopOPPS. Seeing how useful basic computer knowledge is, he decided to teach the 7th grade how to use Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets. He has his students build reports in these Google applications on topics they find interesting and educational. “I am aware that computer science can be boring at times, so I do my best to allow the students the freedom to pursue topics they enjoy, so long as they are educational and appropriate. Then they build reports on their topics. It is the best of both worlds. The goal is to give them the skills to use Google apps to their advantage in other classes as they go through their Priory career.” The curriculum for the 8th grade begins with computer game design in Scratch 2 and moves on to website design using HTML and CSS. “I hope my students leave my class with a better understanding of how leverage technology to make their lives easier. I used to hide my inner nerd because I didn’t think technology was ‘cool.’ How wrong I was,” he admitted.
He also loves to read, and highly recommends Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. He has taken the 10,000-hour rule from that book to heart, believing that one can accomplish anything with perseverance and hard work. Last year, he took up golfing, teaching himself how to play, after a friend told him there are some things normal people just can’t do. Believing the opposite, Andrew bet his friend $50 that he could shoot a 79 in just one year of training. So far Andrew has shot an 82 on his best round. He also taught himself how to play a variety of musical instruments, including guitar, mandolin, bass, and piano. “When someone says, ‘I could never do that,’ I always think, ‘Yes, you can, you just have to work at it.’ Some people are born with talents, but talents don’t become skills until you decide to push yourself.”
Andrew’s sense of purpose and direction seem to stem from several seminal moments at Priory. In 7th grade, he learned that the first word in the Rule of Saint Benedict is “listen.” He also was struck by King Solomon’s one wish from God, for wisdom. He learned about the idea of the Renaissance man: a poet, scholar, athlete and leader. “Self-improvement has always been a key focus for me. There is only so much time that you have on earth. If I’m here, I’m going to do it big and try to be the best human being I can be. You can get better. And if someone else is doing something I want to do, I ask ‘Why can’t I?’ The second you stop dreaming, you give up the fight.”
It’s clear that Andrew has plenty of dreams, and the passion to make them all come true.