Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59

Black History Month 2019

Pioneering perspective: Fenwick’s first black graduate reflects on the segregated life of his youth. “Mine is a difficult story to tell,” he says, offering a history lesson in the process.

Interview by Mark Vruno

Introduction

School records dating back 64 years confirm that alumnus Richard Cochrane ’59 blazed a trail as Fenwick’s very first African-American student and graduate. Originally from Maywood, IL, Mr. Cochrane now lives in the sunny Southwest. In high school, he was active in student government (class treasurer and secretary) and played football and basketball (captain).

Last February, one-time Fenwick student turned educator Marlon Hall, PhD. shared his freshman-year experience of the early 1970s, when he endured verbal abuse and physical bullying – all racially inspired.  In one of several replies to Dr. Hall’s guest blog, Cochrane pointed out that his memories of Fenwick were quite different and much more positive 17 years earlier:

“Dr. Hall, I appreciate your sharing your Fenwick experiences and the strength they gave you. In context, in 1950 the world-renowned chemist Percy Julian became the first African-American to take up residence in Oak Park. His home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day of that year and again in 1951. In May of 1954 the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Board of Education’ ruling. In September of 1955 I walked into Fenwick as a freshman, two years before the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and I am black. There were no other black students and there would only be one more in the next four years.

“Many of my experiences were similar to yours but the negatives were overwhelmed by the support of the majority of the student body, and the faculty support cannot go without mention. There were whispers and some name-calling and even a fight or two, but the Dominican family pushed, nudged and refused to let me think of anything but finishing. I was also aware of the financial burden that I was placing on my family. In return, I received an excellent education both academically and socially….”

Cochrane’s heartfelt response prompted our Alumni Relations Team to reach out. We learned that Rich is “happily retired” and soaking up sunshine in New Mexico. Our questions and his answers:

Richard, where did you attend college? Please tell us about your professional background and STEM-related career.

RC: After graduating Fenwick in 1959, I attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where I majored in chemistry. While there I played freshman basketball and varsity football for two years until my knee gave out. I got a job in the coatings and ink industry and, eventually, spent 35 years with Sun Chemical Corporation. I held positions in lab synthesis, tech service, lab management, operation management and national accounts. I retired from Sun in 2003.

What was it like being the only black student at the Fenwick?

Cochrane (bottom, center) was the only black student on this 1959 Yearbook page — and one of three in the entire school. (Sophomore Wayne Morgan ’61 and freshman Harry Smith ’62 were the others.)

RC: In 1955, I believe my freshman class enrolled about 354 students and the school enrollment was about 1,236. As I’ve said, I found the faculty very supportive and the student body mostly treating me like any other student, with a smaller group either curious or distant. Only one of the other three students from my parish in Maywood [St. James, which closed in 2006] was close to me at Fenwick.

On the first day of school, when I went to the office to pick up my class schedule, the staff called back one of the students I was with to ask if I was really going to attend school there. A notable few of the upper-classmen were kind enough to offer short words of encouragement. If I missed the Madison St. bus, I would walk west until the next bus came and would often find the Oak Park Police close behind to make sure I reached Harlem Ave. The single greatest factor was the Dominican community. I got the feeling that they would not let me fail (or even consider quitting).

Did you have a sense that you were making “history” at Fenwick?

A young Cochrane using a slde rule in 1967.

RC: I had no sense of making history but there was a constant feeling of not being totally “at home.” Remember, at that time Oak Park had a population of 62,000 [there are 10,000 fewer residents today] and had only one black family — and their home had twice been bombed.

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59”

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”

STEM Studies Can Lead to Biotech Careers

 

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Fenwick alumnus Ray Bandziulis says he has spent his entire, 28-year career in the biotech field. 

By Mark Vruno

Courses related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are some of the more popular classes among Fenwick’s student body. Several members of the Class of 2021, for example, are enrolled in Freshman AP (Advanced Placement) and Honors Biology taught by Ms. Amy Christophell ’06. They, along with upper-classmen and women, were treated last semester to a visit by a distinguished Friar alumnus and biotechnology expert Ray Bandziulis, PhD.,’76.

Dr. Bandziulis is Vice President of Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs at Lucigen Corp. in Middleton, WI, near Madison, where he helps to design and manufacture reagent tools for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) research as well as molecular diagnostic devices for infectious diseases. With annual sales of approximately $15 million, the 20-year-old company now sells internationally. Bandziulis defines the biotech industry as “an interesting blend of science business and engineering skills – working together to solve problems in the life sciences and in human medicine by the application of DNA technology.”

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A scientist at work in the Lucigen lab near Madison, Wisconsin.

Essentially every cell within each person’s body contains the same hereditary DNA – and this is where the differences begin to emerge. “Our unique ‘DNA signature’ identifies us as individuals,” Bandziulis explained to four groups of about 150 curious Fenwick students assembled in the school’s Auditorium in mid-November. He returned to visit his alma mater and reconnect with John Polka, his former biology teacher who retired last June after 52 years at Fenwick. Continue reading “STEM Studies Can Lead to Biotech Careers”

Faculty Focus: December 2017

Brigid (Baier) Esposito

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Mrs. Esposito is in her 14th year of teaching science at Fenwick.

What is your educational background?

BE: I am a Fenwick alumna and member of the 1996 first co-educational class. After high school, I attended Washington University in St. Louis and completed degrees in Chemical Engineering and Systems Science. In college, I developed a passion for service through active participation in the Catholic Student Center. I worked two wonderful co-operative experiences at DuPont (making soy protein) and Proctor and Gamble (making Cascade) and enjoyed both experiences immensely. After college, I decided to pursue my passion for education by participating in the Notre Dame ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) program. Through that program, I taught in a Catholic high school in St. Petersburg, FL, for three years and earned a Master’s in Education.  After returning to teach at Fenwick, I attended night school and finished my Master in Applied Physics at DePaul University.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BE: I have a five-year old and an eight-year old boy so, more often than not, I find myself reading parenting books in my downtime. I am currently reading “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World” by Dr. Michele Borba.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BE: Taking care of my family is already an active job, but I also try to squeeze in a workout whenever I can. I recently started taking Tae-kwan-do with my two boys. My eight-year-old, Stephen, is a brown belt and my five-year-old, Johnny, and I are both white belts. My husband, Steve, earned his black belt when he was in high school. I have also enjoyed doing a little amateur fitness boxing with other Fenwick alumnae.

My Catholic faith is an important part of my life and I enjoy spending quality time praying, listening to Catholic hymns, and reading spiritual books like Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

BE: As a student at Fenwick, I was involved in Blackfriars Guild, Marching and Concert Band, State Math Team, Soccer and Running. Blackfriars is such a wonderful organization because it always felt like family to me. I have many wonderful memories of the late-night dress rehearsals, snack trips to 7-11 and cast parties. State Math Team is the activity that provided the best preparation for engineering school as we learned to solve problems quickly and think outside of the box.

Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?

BE: I coach the Oral Event of the State Math Team. Each year we have a different topic, and the students work hard to become experts on that topic and prepare for an oral exam and presentation in front of a panel of mathematics experts. This year’s topic is Markov chains.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: December 2017”

They Said It: Science Is a Fact, Not Fiction, at Fenwick

‘Preparing the scientists, researchers and health-care workers of tomorrow.’

by Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P., President Emeritus

For example, the dictionary defines excellence as “a quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” Does Fenwick have, as a matter of fact, the right to describe itself in these terms and to embrace the word “excellent” as an integral part of its motto?

Father LaPata is a 1950 graduate of Fenwick.

As a former president of Fenwick, I could write a long essay giving many particular examples of the excellence to be found in the school’s multiple departments — from its teachers, its curriculum and its extracurricular activities to its actual educational outcomes. But perhaps what is even more persuasive is the testimony to Fenwick’s excellence given by those who have little or no ties to our school.

Recently, I was invited to have lunch by and with a group of men whom I did not know. They were not alumni nor family members of our students. After some pleasant conversation I asked them what the real purpose of our meeting was. They explained that in the recent past each of them had a loved one who succumbed to the ravages of cancer. In response, they had a benefit golf outing to raise funds for the “fight against cancer.”

As it happened, these gentlemen gave half of the proceeds to the Northwestern University Research Center. And, to my surprise, they said they were giving the other half to Fenwick because “we know you are preparing the scientists, researchers and health-care workers of tomorrow, and you are doing it well.”

These men seem to know how well we educate our students in the sciences, in part because of our reputation for excellence. What a remarkable testimony to what Fenwick claims in its motto!

Faculty Focus: February 2017

 

Meet Fenwick Science Teacher David Kleinhans.

Educational background:
BS Computer Science Engineering
JD Intellectual Property Law

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
DK: I love work. Prior to university, I was an ice cream scooper, bus boy, and owned a window washing business. After university, I worked in the software industry for 20 years. Ultimately, I founded a company with a close friend and we grew that business until we were acquired by Cognos, IBM’s software divisions. I worked at Cognos for 5 years post acquisition running an international business unit focused on financial performance and analytic software.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
DK: I just joined a men’s book club with some friends that are also in my fantasy football league. We are reading The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Interesting already!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
DK: I like anything outside and that involves new travel. I love to run, bike, hike, ski, and board in new and old locales. I am also a bit of a greenie and a handyman. This past summer I installed a new deck and solar panels. Fun!

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
DK: When I was young, I was on the soccer, wrestling and math teams. Our math team was 12 people. Quite a difference from the numbers Fenwick sees on the math team and on the WYSE and JETS teams. I love how engaged our students are in STEM. Continue reading “Faculty Focus: February 2017”