High-Tech Education Came to Fenwick a Quarter-Century Ago

Where in the World Wide Web has “FenTech” gone and, more importantly, where is it headed? Answers can be found in the growth of the school’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory and CS programs.

By Mark Vruno

In 1993, could we have fathomed high-school educators teaching entire courses to teenagers on tablet computers? iPads weren’t even a tech “thing” 25 years ago, yet this past school year at Fenwick, the “Introduction to Computer Science” (CS) class was taught entirely on Apple iPads, reports Science Department Co-Chair Dave Kleinhans.

Turning Fenwick’s tech visions into realities over the past two-and-a-half decades has been made possible, in large part, by initial, generous funding from alumnus Bernard Brennan ’56, former chief executive (from 1985-96) of the Montgomery Ward department-store chain. Bernie is the younger brother of the late Edward Brennan ’51, former CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Ed and Bernie, the Brennan Bros., are a couple of Friars’ heavy-hitters:  Bernie is a member of the school’s Board of Directors as well as a 1986 Fenwick Hall of Fame inductee; Ed followed him to the school HOF in ’91.

A peek inside Fenwick’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which officially was dedicated on February 28, 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, the younger Brennan and his family made a major leadership donation to create the Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which was dedicated in early 1993. Students at the time, as well as members of the Fenwick Mothers’ Club, also contributed financially to the lab’s creation. Now 80 years old, Bernie Brennan’s blue-sky vision of “computerization projects” today partly resides in the virtual “Cloud,” of course. But keep in mind that, in early 1993, while email may have been a mainstream form of communication at most corporations, the Internet was a fledgling technology. Ever so slowly, companies were beginning to launch new, online branding devices called “websites.” The dot-com bubble (1997-2001) was still a few years off.

For Fenwick’s new Brennan Computer Lab, initial purchases in the mid-1990s included hardware, such as AST Bravo workstations and Netstore SCSI CD-ROM subsystems (used for information retrieval long before web browsers and cloud computing became popular), as well as software, electrical upgrades and accessories, including printers and furniture. The lab was designed to be used by the Math and Science Departments as well as the Library and the English Department. Tech-hungry teachers welcomed the new writing-lab segment, which featured desktop publishing systems for the Blackfriars Yearbook, The Wick student newspaper and staff newsletters.

Bernie Brennan’s 1956 yearbook portrait.

“It was clear to me that we were moving into the technology world at that point in time, and I wanted Fenwick to be in the leadership position,” Mr. Brennan reflected recently. “Ironically, I have been heavily involved in the technology sector for the past 20 years! It is easy to give back to Fenwick and our Dominican friends as they have done so much for the Brennan family. Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.”

“Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.” -Bernie Brennan ’56

New Millennium’s Web of Tech

Freshman math students in Mr. Andrew Thompson’s class, using their iPads (2017 photo).

It is interesting to note that each of Fenwick’s 1,152 incoming students this fall will have an iPad in her or his backpack. (Members of the outgoing Class of 2018 are the first Friars to have had tablet computers in their collective possession all four years.) With improved anti-cheating security measures in place, some high schools in Illinois already have adopted online final exams. Fenwick teachers have administered online quizzes and tests via their students’ iPads, but most educators in the building are proceeding with caution on that electronic front.

Since 2000, Fenwick has had a Technology Services Department in place that today is staffed by four full-time employees. These high-tech staff members manage the school’s more than 400 computer systems and a highly secure Wi-Fi network as well as some 30 switches and 122 access points — not to mention the telephone and email systems and 92 copy machines/printers! Associate Tech Director Fr. Mike Winkels, O.P. also feeds content to a total of six electronic bulletin boards displayed in the cafeteria, outside the library and elsewhere throughout the school.

Fenwick Technology Director Ernesto Nieto

Fenwick’s students, faculty and staff alike often take this tech group’s behind-the-scenes work for granted. Even those of us old enough to remember slow modems and non-connectivity have come to expect our 21st-century, networked, electronic devices to work – “magically” — with no glitches. “We do a lot of things that people probably don’t think about,” says Director of Technology Services Ernesto Nieto, who came to Fenwick in ’01 by way of St. Ignatius College Prep, the Dominican Conference Center, the Shrine of St. Jude and DePaul University.

Continue reading “High-Tech Education Came to Fenwick a Quarter-Century Ago”

Fenwick Senior Is One of Two Students from Illinois to Receive Prestigious Jefferson Scholarship from UVA

Chris Sedlacek joins the ‘Jeff’ Class of 2022 at the University of Virginia and is set to enjoy his ‘full ride’ in Charlottesville.

By Mark Vruno

Early last month, we reported that Christopher Sedlacek ’18 was among the finalists in the running for the University of Virginia’s prestigious Jefferson Scholarship. Fenwick is proud to announce that Chris has become the second Jefferson Scholar in Fenwick’s rich, 89-year history! Seven years ago, the award was presented to math whiz kid Patrick McQuade ’11, who today is enrolled in a Material Sciences PhD program at Stanford University in Northern California.

Awarded on the basis of merit, the Jefferson Scholarship aims to attract well-rounded students who exemplify three qualities that define the life and legacy of the university’s founder Thomas Jefferson: leadership, scholarship and citizenship. Candidates undergo a highly competitive selection process and, if chosen, receive full financial support for four years of study.

“For one high school to have two students recognized in one of the country’s most respected scholarship competitions is a remarkable occurrence, particularly in a relatively short period of time,” notes Richard Borsch, Associate Principal and Director of Student Services at Fenwick.

Accepting a four-year college scholarship valued at nearly $300,000 may seem like a no-brainer to most people, but Sedlacek actually had to contemplate his decision before saying “yes” to Virginia’s generous offer.

180410_Chris_Sedlacek_0008_web

His Jefferson Scholarship is “more than monetary,” insists Sedlacek (donning his UVA swag), who came to Fenwick from Park Junior High School in La Grange Park, IL.

“For me the attraction was more than monetary, more than a tuition check,” explains Sedlacek, whose collegiate short-list included the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the Villanova University School of Business in addition to the University of Virginia. He applied and was accepted to other Big Ten schools, too, including the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin.

He cites numerous enrichment activities, including networking and internship opportunities, that are a part of the Jefferson Scholarship. “There also are two study-abroad opportunities, leadership workshops and institutes, and small, seminar classes with professors that are only open to ‘Jeff’ Scholars,” notes Sedlacek, who came to Fenwick from Park Junior High in La Grange Park, IL. One college team-building activity to which he looks forward is a camping trip with fellow Jefferson Scholars.

Sedlacek may declare a finance major at UVA, but he also is interested in becoming an Echols Scholar, which could facilitate a cross-disciplinary double major. “I’m very intrigued by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy,” he shares.

All of these value-added opportunities sealed the deal, much to the relief of his parents, Matthew and Kerri Sedlacek of La Grange, IL. (The couple’s younger son, Joe, is a sophomore at Fenwick.) Matt is a senior VP of U.S. commercial sales for computer data storage firm Dell EMC, where he has worked for the past 17 years. “My Mom and Dad were nice about it,” Chris adds with a smile. “They told me not to feel obligated to accept the scholarship from UVA – that if I really wanted to go to Michigan or Villanova, we’d figure out a way to make it work. But I know it [my acceptance] is a huge relief for them financially because the scholarship covers all four years.” That amounts to $62,000 annually (out-of-state) at UVA. In addition to tuition, the annual stipend also includes fees, books, supplies, room, board and personal expenses.

1437_001_edit

A copy of the acceptance letter (above) that Chris received from Jimmy Wright (below), who has presided over the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation for the past 34 years.

20161027_JSF206_(1)

Continue reading “Fenwick Senior Is One of Two Students from Illinois to Receive Prestigious Jefferson Scholarship from UVA”