- Pathways & Partnerships
Nikki Rykhus’ journey as a musician, educator and mentor came full circle recently when Rykhus was named the executive director of Twin Cities Catalyst Music. The non-profit organization operates The Treasury in St. Paul and The Garage in Burnsville, music venues that provide music-based educational opportunities.
Rykhus began attending concerts at The Garage at the age of 12 or 13. Rykhus started performing there in a metal band a couple years later and eventually got their first job at The Garage as a recreation leader, providing mentorship for fellow youths in the Burnsville Youth Collaborative (BYC) after-school program and learning the finer points of the music industry - sound engineering, booking, and venue operations.
“When I went to The Garage, it was really cool that it wasn’t a teen club. It was a space that was run by young people,” Rykhus said. “There aren’t many spaces like this where they let kids lead the programming.”
Rykhus transferred to Burnsville High School as a sophomore, both to be closer to The Garage and to take advantage of the opportunities available at BHS. Rykhus’ experiences at The Garage and at BHS fueled their love of music and inspired them to pursue a degree in education, which Rykhus earned from Metropolitan State University in 2022.
“Both (The Garage and District 191) have had such a huge impact on my life and success, not just as a functional adult but in my career as well, preparing me for a career field that involves music, education, community outreach, youth development and leadership,” Rykhus said. “Reflecting back on what I wanted to do at The Garage, I thought it was about the music and the shows, but it was actually about doing homework help with high schoolers and the weekday after-school programming. It made me realize I wanted to work with young people and go into teaching.”
While at BHS, Rykhus participated in the Envision Academy of the Arts, a magnet program that focused on dance, theater and music. Already a bass guitar player and vocalist, Rykhus learned music theory, how to write and compose music, and how to play a few new instruments, including the cello.
“It was cool. I never would have gotten to do all those things,” Rykhus said. “As a young person going through adversity, I dealt with it through music. It was my passion and I put everything into it. Having that supported with Burnsville schools made me want to work with young people to provide those same opportunities.”
Rykhus also developed skills that would prove valuable in their future careers by taking video production classes at BHS. Producing a TV news show, Blaze Weekly, Rykhus learned how to use a camera, how to edit photos and videos, and how to ask questions and conduct interviews. After high school, Rykhus went on to run their own freelance photo and video business.
“That class was huge for me. Just having that class as a career path was so helpful,” Rykhus said. “It was an amazing opportunity to do hands-on project based learning and it gave me the opportunity to grow and be challenged. That was definitely my favorite class.”
In addition to the opportunity to take advanced courses and explore careers, Rykhus said the diversity that District 191 offered was something that helped them learn and grow as a person.
“One thing I really loved was being around people from all different walks of life,” Rykhus said. “We all had different cultural backgrounds, but we were all friends, and we had so many amazing experiences together.”
Rykhus graduated from BHS in 2013. When they decided to pursue a career in education, District 191 provided another opportunity. Rykhus returned as an AVID tutor in 2016, providing mentorship and assisting first-generation scholars prepare for college. They served as a program supervisor for the Burnsville Youth Collaborative in the summer of 2018, writing and implementing a curriculum that focused on project-based learning for robotics and coding. They then began as a teaching assistant for St. Paul Public Schools.
Now back at The Garage, Rykhus is excited to partner with the BYC to provide a space where kids can get involved, use their creativity, and begin to explore opportunities in areas like music production, sound engineering, and audio and video editing. Internships and credit recovery opportunities in music classes are also things The Garage is looking to offer in the future.
“It will be cool to see young people get back into that space. My mission is to continue to partner with the schools and the surrounding community of Burnsville and get people involved,” Rykhus said. “Having that space and mentors and opportunities made such a huge impact on my life. I want that same thing to be available to other young people. I want to work with them, to teach them, to help them navigate, to amplify their voices, and give them the opportunity to shout it out into the world and make a change. I know I can make an impact for myself and for the community here at The Garage. That’s where my life’s work is.”
After-school programming for middle schoolers through the BYC begins on Oct. 25. Registration is now open. Learn more about Twin Cities Catalyst Music at www.catalystmusic.org.