Lucky 7: New Courses Coming for Fenwick’s 92nd Academic Year

Four advanced computer science classes, one advanced theatre class, Mandarin and yoga headline exciting curriculum additions for Friar students and teachers!

By Mark Vruno

The Fenwick administration and faculty are excited to offer several new courses to students this coming school year. A series of four Advanced Computer Topics (ACT) classes as well as a new World Language course (Mandarin), an Advanced Theatre class and a new Physical-education class (yoga).

Dave Kleinhans

In discussing the new Advanced Computer courses, “Close to 30% of Fenwick’s graduates pursue a degree in STEM [science, technology, engineering or mathematics],” reports Computer Science & Physics Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans. “Our investment in courses and physical spaces must match this interest.” The school’s new Computer Science Engineering & 3D Printing Lab, which debuted in the fall of 2019, will support four new advanced Computer Science (CS) classes: Data Structures & Algorithms, Introduction to Robotics, 3D Printing and IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity.

The four, half-credit “ACT” classes are designed for students interested in diving deeper into the so-called computer sciences. They will have the opportunity to explore specific topics beyond the College Board’s AP Curriculum in an online format during scheduled CS class time. Each course has a programming or computer-aided design (CAD) requirement and is taught via an online, education-software platform.

Don Nelson joined Fenwick’s faculty in the 2019-20 school year.

“These topics represent areas that provide valuable preparation to students interested in pursuing technical disciplines — and those that are hot in today’s computing market,” adds CS/Physics Teacher Don Nelson. He should know. Mr. Nelson spent 30 years as a business person/nuclear engineer before embarking on a second career in education. (Prior to coming to Fenwick in 2019, Nelson taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, formerly Gordon Tech.)

“Each of the classes offers students with experience and advanced knowledge of CS through two primary activities,” Nelson explains:

  • The online format is offered through Coursera and more than 100 partner universities (e.g., University of Illinois, Northwestern) and private corporations (e.g., IBM).
  • A capstone project complements the online format with a hands-on application of the concepts presented.

Upon successful completion, the student will receive a digital certificate and hands-on experience valued by universities and prospective employers. “With Don and our five other engineers serving as teachers here, combined with our recent physical space and course investments,” Mr. Kleinhans continues, “Fenwick is uniquely positioned in the high-school arena to serve students interested in STEM.” (See sidebar for additional course details.)

 

“If you want to talk to someone, speak in your language. But if you want to connect with someone, speak in theirs.”

– Nelson Mandela

 

Mandarin I (1.0 credit)

“The sixth language offered by Fenwick will be Mandarin [Chinese],” reports Principal Peter Groom. It is the language of government and education of the Chinese mainland and Taiwan (with the notable exceptions of Hong Kong and Macau, where a local dialect of Chinese called Cantonese is more often used.) Mandarin is one of five major regional languages of China.

At admissions-sponsored events over the past two years or so, “we have heard repeatedly from families that this is an area we needed to seriously consider,” Mr. Groom continues. “We have a current freshman student with some background in Mandarin.” He adds that the language fits within the wheelhouse of faculty member Shana Wang, who offered to teach it as a pilot program this school year.

Shana Wang

Last year, incoming Friar prospect Dylan Zorovich ’23 “was looking for a language but could not find it at Fenwick,” recounts Ms. Wang, who describes the free-thinking freshman from Elmhurst, IL, as both “diligent and delightful.” In true Dominican fashion, mentor and student set out on a journey this past August. “Our quest? To find a common language,” says Wang, who has taught in China.

Principal Peter Groom

The full-fledged course next school year seeks to provide a lively and challenging introduction to the basics of reading, writing, speaking and listening in Mandarin. Students will aim to identify at least 300 Chinese characters by the end of the year and write at least 150 Chinese characters using the correct stroke order. These characters are used to construct simple sentences while employing the proper grammatical conventions. In addition to learning Chinese characters, students will partake in continuous speaking and listening practice. They will watch videos, listen to dialogues and make presentations about important historical figures and events in China, Taiwan and Singapore. There will also be a focus on various Chinese cultures and their specific contributions to the global society.

Theatre II  (0.5 credit)

Caleb Faille

This course is geared toward musical theatre, performance and design, building on the student experiences learned in Theatre I (which is a prerequisite). Students will engage in activities including music and text analysis, staging, scene analysis, choreography, theatre tech, lighting design, stage management and production. The course will culminate with a musical revue including solo and group numbers. The skills learned will not only enhance students’ musical theatre experience but also expose them to careers off the stage. 

“Theatre I is for students with no theatre background,” Mr. Groom notes. “This second-level addition will attract those who do have some background in theatre.” Therefore, previous experience is required, as is approval from Theatre Teacher Mr. Caleb Faille, whose responsibilities within Fenwick’s Expressive Arts Dept. gradually have been increasing. “Mr. Faille now is in charge of our spring musicals,” Groom reports. An additional benefit is that Blackfriars Guild members can study their craft during the school day, he adds.

 

“Yoga is like music; the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”

 – B.K.S. Iyengar

 

Yoga (0.5 credit)

Also coming to the Fenwick curriculum in 2020-21 is a yoga course, “which can fulfill the P.E. [physical education] requirement, for sophomores,” Groom says. Expressive Arts Chairperson Rizelle Capito will teach the course. She has conducted yoga instruction for Fenwick faculty as well as for the varsity football team.

Rizelle Capito

Ms. Capito says, “Studies and research have shown that yoga and mindfulness exercises not only promote physical health, but also mental health. Our students are under a lot of pressure and stress and we need to provide them with healthy ways of dealing with their stress. The class will include the physical practice of yoga to build physical strength and flexibility, meditation and mindfulness exercises. The hope is that the students will take these tools and incorporate them into their daily lives as a means of staying both physically and mentally healthy.”

Sophomores have the option to choose a regular PE class or yoga as their physical-education credit. (Placement is not guaranteed and is dependent on period availability and scheduling.) The course is designed to introduce students, safely and accessibly, to the basic postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation methods of yoga.  Areas of focus will be on low-impact activities to improve overall flexibility, strength, core and cardiovascular endurance.

Find complete course descriptions in Fenwick’s 2020-21 Course Selection Guide.

Continue reading “Lucky 7: New Courses Coming for Fenwick’s 92nd Academic Year”

Alumni Spotlight Shines on Physics ‘Star’ Daniel H. Chang, PhD., Class of 1985

28 years after earning dual degrees from MIT, a fellow Friar let present-day students glimpse his Jet Propulsion Lab work for NASA.

By Mark Vruno

When alumnus Dan Chang, PhD. ’85 returned to Fenwick last November, he felt right at home talking to students in the school library. Ever since immigrating to northeast Illinois from Taipei, Taiwan, in 1976, Dr. Chang has had an affinity for libraries and books.

Chang was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist in 1984-85 (Blackfriars yearbook photo).

Ten-year-old Chang spoke no English when he came to the United States. His father was a diplomat for the Taiwanese consulate in Chicago. During the summer, when their mother was working as a medical technician, his sister Anne and Dan went to the public library “almost every day,” he told the Forest Park Review eight years ago, “and I read every book about physics, space and aviation.” Before applying for a scholarship to Fenwick as an eighth grader, the future rocket scientist attended Grant-White, and then Field-Stevenson elementary schools.

“Let’s talk about the universe,” Chang engaged one group of science students last semester, as he booted up a customized PowerPoint presentation. Over the past four decades, there have been some rather astonishing developments as the field of astronomy became less Earth-centric, he told present-day Friars: “When I was in high school, we didn’t know there were other stars with planetary systems. Now, we know there are nearly 4,000 exoplanets!” (An exoplanet, or extrasolar planet, is a planet outside of our solar system.)

“Did you know there are more planets than stars in the galaxy?” Chang continued. “Small planets are common, even in the Habitable Zone, but they are too dim to see through a telescope,” he added. In astronomy and astrobiology, the circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ) is the range of orbits around a star within which a planetary surface can support liquid water given sufficient atmospheric pressure. Such complexity is par for the course for Chang, who was a straight-A student at Fenwick, a National Merit Scholar Finalist and one of three valedictorians from the Class of 1985. (Chris Hanlon and Ray Kotty are the other two.)

Chang went on to study at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He says he “held my own” at the private research university and earned a bachelor of science in aeronautics/ astronautics, then a master’s degree in dynamics/control. After moving to the West Coast to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, see below), he would go on to a doctorate, in electrical engineering and photonics, from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2002.

Dr. Chang reunited on Nov. 22 with Math Coach Mr. Roger Finnell ’59 (center) and old pal, classmate and Fenwick Math Teacher Ray Kotty ’85.

In the aforementioned newspaper article, ’85 classmate Kotty, who has taught math at Fenwick since 1993-94, described his former Computer Club and “mathlete” teammate as “a little bit more [of] a risk-taker than the other guys in the math-club group. He was always going to go ahead and blaze his trail.” Outside of school, the two mathematical whizzes attended weekend astrophysics classes together at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — and have remained friends over the years.

Chang told students in November, “For the record, Mr. Kotty beat me in just about every math competition at Fenwick!”

Demanding yet kind

Former Chemistry Teacher and JETS Coach Mr. Ramzi Farran (in 1985).

As a high-school student, Chang never experienced faculty legend Roger Finnell ’59 (long-timeMath Department Chairman) in the classroom per se. Mr. Finnell was — and is — moderator of Fenwick’s storied Math Competition Club. Chang fondly remembers what he calls “rigorous” teachers, including Mr. Ramzi Farran (chemistry and JETS coach) and Mr. John Polka (biology), both recently retired, as well as the late Mr. Edward Ludwig (calculus) and Fr. Jordan McGrath, O.P. (pre-calc.), who passed away in 2018.

Chang calls the late Mr. Ed Ludwig, who taught calculus, Fenwick’s “Director of Happiness.” (1964 photo)

“They all were very kind but very demanding,” he remembers, adding that Ludwig and McGrath were not perceived as being kind, initially. “They seemed harsh at first. They pushed us,” explains Chang, who jokingly refers to Ludwig as the Fenwick’s “Director of Happiness.” Looking back, however, the former student appreciates these teachers’ collective toughness.

Other Fenwick teachers were as influential, if not more so, to Chang’s developing, teenage brain. “Math always was easy [for me] to do,” he admits. “It is a rich but one-dimensional subject. Large, open-ended subjects, such as history and literature, are different.” As a sophomore in 1982-83, he discovered cognitive enrichment in honors English with Fr. Dave Santoro, O.P., honors history class with Mr. John Quinn ’76 and speech class with Mr. Andrew Arellano. In those courses of study, “I learned how to think and debate. I developed political opinions. The strategic thinking and soft-skills I began to glimpse then are arguably as important to my job today as the technical, ‘hard-skills.’”

“The strategic thinking and soft-skills I began to glimpse then [at Fenwick] are arguably as important to my job today as the technical, ‘hard skills.’”

Dr. Dan Chang

Back to school

Dr. Chang talks with students in Fenwick’s John Gearen ’32 Library.

This past November, Chang explained to students the discovery of exoplanets by employing the so-called “stellar-wobble” method, as well as the transit photometry method. Doppler spectroscopy (also known as the radial-velocity method, or colloquially, the wobble method) is an indirect method for finding extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs from radial-velocity measurements via observation of Doppler shifts in the spectrum of the planet’s parent star; while the transit method essentially measures the “wink” of a star as an exoplanet passes before it. (The Nobel Prize in physics for 2019 was awarded partially for the first exoplanet discovery, employing the radial velocity method.)

Chang spent several years of his career on JPL’s Stellar Interferometry Mission (SIM), which was an attempt to discover exoplanets using yet another method – direct astrometry, but with unprecedented precision. SIM proved to be too much of a technological stretch and was cancelled in 2009. “The technology is very difficult,” Chang stressed, “measuring angle changes down to approximately 4 micro-arcseconds,” which is about a billionth of a degree. (An arcsecond is an angular measurement equal to 1/3600 of a degree.)

During his nearly 29-year career at JPL, Chang’s technical contributions and leadership have been recognized with numerous individual awards, including the NASA Honors Award in 2007. For the past three and a half years, he has been the project manager of JPL’s Program Office 760, which is known as the “Technology Demonstrations Office.” While details cannot be disclosed, he is responsible for the management and technical direction of the more than 100 people who work within the classified program. Chang, who reports to  JPL’s Director for Astronomy and Physics, was Office 760’s chief engineer for two years prior to overseeing the program.

“This part of astrophysics is close to my heart, but let’s now look at an engineering tour de force,” he proclaimed to the young, fellow Friars, switching gears and delving into the basics of how the Mars landing system works.

No crash landings with Sky Crane: NASA has spent more than
$200 million to develop a propulsive, soft-landing system using a massive parachute for potential use on Mars. The helium balloon has a 110-foot diameter – a canopy big enough to fill the Rose Bowl football stadium in Pasadena, California!

“The United States still is the only country that has successfully landed vehicles on Mars (the massive Curiosity rover in 2012 being the most recent),” he informed the students. “We have been [remotely] driving around up there for seven years.” From 2004-07, Chang served as a principal investigator under the Mars Technology Program (MTP), for which he helped to develop LIDAR for lander terminal guidance.

Mars 2020: Set for launch this coming July, the new, yet-to-be-named rover is powered by plutonium and may carry a helicopter, a NASA spokesperson says.

With all the Martian craters and high-wind dust storms (up to 70 mph), “how do you safely land a probe?” he asked.  JPL succeeded in 1997 with its toy-car sized Pathfinder robotic spacecraft, which employed the new (at the time) technology of airbag-mediated touchdown. JPL returned again in 2004 with MER, again using airbags and a crude, wind-compensating rocket system called DIMES. However, for the Mars Science Lab mission in 2012 that landed Curiosity – “essentially a nuclear-powered, 2,000-pound MINI Cooper – we had to resort to lowering the probe on a tether to solve the egress problem and other challenges.” This technology is NASA’s rocket-powered Sky Crane, developed for the Curiosity landing and will be used again when the Mars 2020 mission attempts its next landing. “It was surprising to us that it worked!” Chang remarked.

Animation of Mars Helicopter: The small, autonomous rotorcraft is designed to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. “The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

In less than 12 months, another robotic rover could be roaming and exploring the “Red Planet” in a quest to answer that age-old question: Are we alone in the universe? Scheduled for a July 17 launch, Mars 2020 should touch down in Jezero crater (on Mars) on February 18, 2021. NASA has invested some $2.5 billion in the eagerly anticipated mission. The new, yet-to-be-named rover is expected to carry a small, autonomous rotorcraft known as the Mars Helicopter, Chang shared excitedly.

1-MINUTE VIDEO: How Do You Land on Mars? Very Carefully!

The Fenwick Standard

Chang (far left in 1989) rowed crew all four years as an ungrad at MIT: “Most of my varsity years were spent in the bow seat,” which is the front. “Rowers sit facing backwards,” he notes.

In college, when Chang wasn’t studying or reading in the Cambridge, MA campus library, he blew off steam by rowing crew on the Charles River. These days, when he is not working at JPL or consulting for firms such as Skybox Imaging (acquired by Google and recently sold again to Planet Labs), his hobby is aviation. “I like fixing (mostly) and flying – when I’m not fixing – my plane,” says Chang, who owns a single-engine aircraft.

He also enjoys spending time with his wife, Malina, and their teenage daughter, Natalie. While Chang contends that values, work ethic and good study habits begin at home with the family, he wishes he could find a private secondary school in the Los Angeles area more like Fenwick, which he considers the standard. “I’d gladly pay for rigor and discipline, which are critical,” he says. “Unfortunately, most private schools where I live primarily offer social segmentation.”

“Merit and accomplishment are what matter at Fenwick.”

Dan Chang, PhD. (Class of 1985)

Whether at Fenwick or MIT, “the textbooks teachers use are the same as at other schools,” adds Dr. Chang, who has been interviewing under-graduate candidates in the LA area for his collegiate alma mater since 2006. “The quality of the student body is what determines how far teachers can go, how much they can push [their students].” The Dominican friars foster an egalitarian atmosphere, he concludes: “The relative wealth of the student body doesn’t matter at Fenwick. One’s own merit and accomplishments are what matter.”

Could one of these new NASA astronauts one day travel to Mars or another planet? NASA thinks it will happen before the year 2045.
Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight Shines on Physics ‘Star’ Daniel H. Chang, PhD., Class of 1985”

Fenwick Produced More Than 120 AP Scholars in 2018-19!

When it comes to the Friars’ highest-achieving students, demand drives supply for course offerings.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick AP students study together diligently.

Robust Advanced Placement (AP) instruction at Fenwick High School in 2018-19 produced an astounding 121 AP Scholars last school year. The private (Catholic) school in Oak Park, IL, administered 843 AP tests in 26 subject areas. Presently, there are 131 students enrolled in AP Psychology, a new course offering, this school year.

“The AP program at Fenwick gives our students a clear advantage when they reach college,” asserts Principal Peter Groom. “In some cases, students benefit from the same type of rigor they will see in their college classes. In other cases, students earn college credit, which enables them to focus on upper-level classes at the collegiate level,” Mr. Groom notes. “The wide range of options our students can explore while at Fenwick clearly benefits them.”

A mixture of sophomores and seniors participate in mock trial activities during Fenwick’s AP Government & Politics class, which is taught by Mrs. Mary Beth Logas.

Last school year, nearly one in 10 of Fenwick’s students was recognized as an AP Scholar at one of these levels:

  • 49 Friars were named AP Scholars, a distinction granted to students who receive scores of 3 or higher on three or more AP Exams.
  • 17 students were named AP Scholars with Honors, which means they received an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams.
  • 44 students were named AP Scholars with Distinction. They received an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these tests.
  • 11 students were named National AP Scholars for receiving an average score of at least 4 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more exams.
Students take a quiz in Ms. Marianne (Palmer ’96) Carrozza’s AP Spanish class.

“Our AP classes don’t just prepare students for the exam,” explains Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton, who directs Fenwick’s Advanced Placement Program. “They are true, college-level courses taught by some of our most talented, dedicated and passionate teachers. Students in these classes consistently attend top universities and then come back and tell us how well they were prepared to work at that level.”

As a testament to Ms. Pendleton’s statement about collegiate preparation, young alumnus Spencer Gallagher ’19 proclaims: “The AP classes I took at Fenwick have been absolutely essential to my success so far at the University of Illinois. The courses prepared me a great amount for the AP tests, helping me to test out of many classes, and helped me to develop study habits that have proven invaluable so far,” notes the Illini freshman, who grew up in Elmhurst and attended Visitation Catholic School. “Many of the classes I am taking right now are easy compared to the challenges presented by classes like AP Physics C and AP Chemistry.”

As a junior two years ago, Gallagher was one of seven Fenwick students to score the maximum of 36 on the American College Test (ACT); he is the Class of 2019’s salutatorian. “Fenwick really does have incredible teachers,” Gallagher adds, “who help their students through very difficult STEM classes and [help] prepare them for college. Even my classes not taught by AP teachers, especially my senior English class …, have helped me a ton with my writing and prepared me for the rigor of college.”

Freshmen in AP

Even students as young as 14 years old can get into the AP act at Fenwick. Right now, 31 freshmen are enrolled in AP Biology. That number represents more than 10% of the Class of 2023. Throughout the school year, these students are performing labs on plants that they have grown. “They are growing two types of plants: mung beans and black-eyed peas,” explains Science Teacher Amy Christophell ’06, who also also coaches Fenwick’s WYSE Biology Team. “They are responsible for caring for their plants throughout the year,” she explains.

Eager freshman students absorb advanced knowledge in Mrs. Amy Christophell’s AP biology class.

The first lab that they performed was on the seeds before they were planted. “They massed out 100 beans to practice with calculating a mean, a standard deviation and standard error,” Ms. Christophell adds. “They also use the masses to determine whether their data formed a normal distribution. The second lab has students using artificial selection, planting the smallest beans and largest beans by mass. They then came up with their own procedures to determine how the growth was different between the two sized seeds, Christophell says.

Continue reading “Fenwick Produced More Than 120 AP Scholars in 2018-19!”

Fenwick Launches Engineering and Innovation Laboratory

Facility represents the ‘stem’ of flowering course offerings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By Mark Vruno

Science Department Co-chair Mr. Dave Kleinhans (right) works with a student on a laptop computer in the new STEM-focused facility.

Fenwick High School has ushered in its 91st academic year with a new Engineering & Innovation Laboratory. At the Open House in late September, prospective students and their families had an opportunity to see the modular classroom (Room 57), which features 25 new drafting and programming laptop computers, six 3D printers and five interactive, “smart” monitors. These technology equipment upgrades are a major part of the more than $70,000 investment in the refurbished lab space.

“We are teaching in the lab to packed computer-science classes,” Science Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans reports. In an effort to prepare students for business and STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) degrees in college, he adds, many of these courses were co-developed with a University of Illinois, student-run consulting organization. At professional-development sessions in mid-September, faculty members received training on the three-dimensional (additive-manufacturing) printers. 

Principal Peter Groom adds, “The development of our Computer Science curriculum has been a collaborative effort. We put a lot of faith in our faculty, and they really ran with it. In some cases, our teachers took existing courses and tailored them to the 21st-century world,” Mr. Groom explains. “In other cases, we started brand new courses. The opening of the new lab is just the beginning of a facilities transformation that will allow our excellent CS/Physics faculty to maximize the student experience.”

Fenwick’s Engineering & Innovation Lab “is what software labs look like at some of the companies I still communicate with in the private sector,” notes Kleinhans, who started up three software firms over two decades before embarking on a career change to become a teacher. IBM (Cognos) acquired one of his companies, but Kleinhans insists that teaching and mentoring young people bring him far more satisfaction and joy “than any bonus check for selling a company or being a CEO.”

Mr. Don Nelson (center) joined the Fenwick faculty this year to help run the computer-science segments of the new lab.

Joining the Fenwick faculty for this school year is Donald Nelson, who is “taking over a lot of our CS [computer science] classes,” according to Kleinhans. “Principal Groom made a great, strategic new hire in Nelson,” Kleinhans believes. “Don is a 30-year business person/nuclear engineer who wants to be involved with students as a second career.” Nelson, who previously has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, holds a B.S. in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. in computer science engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Student input and involvement

“It was inspiring to watch Dave Kleinhans empower recent graduates and current Friars to be project managers for the new lab,” adds Math Teacher and alumnus Kevin Roche ’05.Kevin Brosnan ’20, Spencer Gallagher ’19 and Jack Vomacka ’18 [helped] make it all happen. They met with architects, researched the best equipment, presented to the Board and even were present for the painting and carpeting subcontractors to ensure the job got done. That was my favorite part of it all: those three gain valuable project-management experience thanks to Dave.

Continue reading “Fenwick Launches Engineering and Innovation Laboratory”

Faculty Focus: Science Teacher Mr. Tom Draski

Science Teacher Tom Draski retired earlier in June. The biology fanatic, tennis coach and longtime Catholic Leaguer has spent the last 21 years of his career in education at Fenwick.

190412_Tom_draski_0014_sm

What is your educational background?

TD: I have a bachelor of science degree in biological sciences [from Southern Illinois University] and a master of science degree in biology [from Chicago State University].

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

TD: I have always been a teacher and coach. I began my teaching/coaching career at St. Laurence H.S. where I taught biology and human anatomy/physiology. I started as the frosh/soph boys’ tennis coach and six years later became the varsity boys’ tennis coach. I came to Fenwick in 1998 where I have taught amazing students in biology and human anatomy/physiology. I have had the pleasure to coach both the boys and girls’ frosh/soph tennis teams. I was the Varsity Scholastic Bowl coach at Fenwick from 1999 to 2011. I have coordinated the Fenwick Quetico trip and the Fenwick Willis Tower stair walk fundraiser.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

TD: I tend to do more reading in the summer. The books I have read in the last few summers that I have enjoyed have been The Devil in the White City, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Shack, Mrs. Magrady’s book Lines and The Alchemist.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

TD: I love to do things outside. I enjoy gardening, camping, visiting state and national parks, and playing tennis. I also enjoy the creativity of cooking. I never use recipes.

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

TD: As a student at De La Salle, I was involved in intramurals, the camera club, student government and, naturally, the Science Club.

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

TD: I have for 21 years, and still, coach the girls and boys’ frosh/soph tennis teams. Each year they provide excitement and great satisfaction. I have been able to bring the Quetico trip experience to Fenwick. Over the years I have taken hundreds of Friars to experience true nature.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

TD: I have been so impressed with Fenwick students. They strive for excellence in the class and in athletic competition. Students learn the great traditions of Fenwick. I have enjoyed my time with Fenwick students who are friendly, teachable and receptive to change.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

TD: Interestingly, a freshman in one of my classes asked that question a few months ago. My reply was that I thought teaching would be fun. There was no follow up question to my answer. Later, I relayed this story to Mr. Groom. He asked me the right follow up question. “Has it been fun?” My answer was a big “YES.” I have always enjoyed the stimulation of teaching in the class, in the labs, and on the tennis courts. I still do. When students and athletes can see you have a love and passion for what you do they respond with the effort they need for success. If you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life. Teaching and coaching have been magic.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

TD: I love to get excited for every topic I teach and coach and show passion in my teaching. Every class, every year, has been a chance to teach and coach a new story, to an inquisitive audience. Some days have been diamonds, some days have been stones. I strive to be fair, and teach for success.

What is your favorite class to teach?

TD: Definitely biology! It is what our lives are about. I want my students to understand they are citizens and stewards of our planet. We can control our health and affect the health of others around us. I hope my students understand that we are not alone on our planet, but together we make up a beautiful tapestry of life.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

TD: When my students have experienced success when I encouraged them to think. I ask many questions in class as I teach. The answers to those questions are not as important as having my students think about possible answers. My students should not be afraid of a wrong answer, as they should know they can learn with a right or wrong answer. I encourage my students to reach conclusions on their own, then they can experience success on their own. I love and appreciate the personal notes I have gotten from students and athletes over the years. Whenever I read them, they inspire me and remind me of my humanity.

What challenges face students today?

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Science Teacher Mr. Tom Draski”

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!