Faculty Focus: July 2020

Math Teacher Mrs. Toni Dactilidis, who recently completed her 12th year at Fenwick, is entering her 23rd year as an educator.

What is your educational background?

TD: I was educated in the City of Steel and Stone: Joliet, Illinois. From preschool at the Little Red Schoolhouse to my Master’s Degree at the University of St. Francis, I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a diverse city with valuable lessons surrounding me at every turn. I am reminded of a beautiful quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes that I saw every day in high school proudly displayed in the building, ‘the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.’  I love my hometown and, as I grow older, I search for ways to give back to show appreciation for all the education I received in that city. I relish all the lessons learned – from sports to dance, music to the Greek language – my education began at a very young age thanks to my mother, Mary Ann, and all the resources she found for me in Joliet.  

If you have never visited Joliet, please do! My high school alma mater, Joliet Central, is one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen – Forever the Steelmen! I tell my students that the reason I teach high school students is because I loved my high school experience so much. Thank you to all my teachers, both in the classroom and beyond, in Joliet throughout the years! 

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

TD: I will begin my 23rd year of teaching in August. Next month will definitely look different than other school year beginnings; but, I am excited to connect with a new group of Friars. I started teaching young people right out of college. I have taught students from the grade school level up to the college level for the past 22 years at Gompers Junior High School to Joliet Junior College. I completed my student teaching at Joliet Catholic Academy, where I truly witnessed the power of a Catholic high school education for young people. Prior to Fenwick, I taught at Rich Central High School [Olympia Fields, IL], where I really fell in love with teaching high school students. As a novice teacher, I was surrounded by amazing mentors who supported and guided me. My students there were wonderful, strong, smart young people that worked hard toward all their goals. I loved my time at Rich Central. But my experience at JCA inspired me to teach at a Catholic institution one day; luckily, I found Fenwick in 2008 in search of an AP Statistics teacher and a crew moderator for theater productions, all of which, I had experience with at Rich Central. Needless to say, the stars aligned for me perfectly. 

As I reflect back on my 22 years in education, I think about all the wonderful mentors from whom I have learned. Anna White, the Gompers principal, comes to mind. She taught me so many great lessons on being an effective educator. She created a school climate where students felt loved and had a safe environment to learn. Ms. White showed me daily that loving your students must still involve having good structure and discipline – a priceless lesson indeed! I thoroughly believe love is the foundation of every classroom where learning and supporting each other will then fill the room. From the very beginning of the year, I show my students that I love and care for them as people with hopes, desires, dreams and ambitions. I start the year with a project no matter what the class is and incorporate our mathematical concepts into the project. My students feel loved and appreciated right from the onset because I create a supportive environment where we all feel comfortable to learn together. The ‘T-Shirt’ project is one of my favorites – come by my room during the year; I love to hang the “T-Shirts” up so we are reminded each day of the strong community we have together.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?  

TD: Shout out to my book club – we just finished reading and then discussing Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips: a beautifully written book with themes and experiences that speak to all of us in America even though the book’s setting is the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. I have wonderful colleagues at Fenwick that are dear friends and we share a passion for reading and continuing to learn and grow in all we do. We love to gather as well: community! 

I am currently reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning; I enjoy reading about history, and this book is challenging me to think so very differently from the historical stories I usually read. Next on my list is Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell; this has been on my reading list since Dr. Tracy Gau recommended it to me in January. Gladwell’s books have always been favorites of mine. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

Ms. Dactilidis likes to travel the world, too.

TD: I have so many interests and now [summer] is the time when I can really enjoy so many of them. I love being outside all year round but the summertime allows me to do that more than ever. In the summer, one will usually find me around the yard playing in the dirt. I have a big garden filled with delicious vegetables – lettuce, spinach, onions, beets, herbs, peas and beans are some of the veggies that I have enjoyed up to this point in the summer. My zucchini are close to harvest and then cucumbers will be coming in. I cannot wait for the peppers and tomatoes to start exploding as well! My husband and I start everything from seed and it is truly a labor of love to tend to a thriving garden. Each year, I become more enamored with my perennial flowers – I love the ability to transplant them and separate them to expand my garden or share with family and friends. I relish the quiet time in my veggie or flower garden in the morning as the warmth of the summer sun rises over me. It is precious quiet time that is so appreciated after a long school year. It is a time to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit. 

Besides my yard, another favorite location of mine is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. I enjoy hiking, biking and cross country skiing through the preserve, which is a short walk from my backyard – nature at your doorstep! 

My family jokes that I sponsor ‘Camp Toni’ at my house as well during the summer. I teach my youngest family members how to swim, explore nature and be active just as kids are meant to be! These are some of my favorite summertime endeavors. Time is the most meaningful thing we can give one another. I love that I am able to spend so much time with them during the summer. 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: July 2020”

Alumni Friars Teaching in Academia

It’s “cool” to be smart at Fenwick, and these Ph.D. scholars have taken their intellectual talents to a higher level as university professors.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick instructors have honed developing minds of highly intelligent people over thecourse of 90 school years. From physics and politics to English and French, some of those students took their passions for learning to the next level by pursuing research, education and scholarship at some of the world’s most prestigious private and public universities.

Holder Hall at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, where two Fenwick alumni teach.

At Princeton, the Ivy League research school with New Jersey roots dating back to 1746, two Fenwick alumni-turned-professors can be found teaching on campus: Thomas Duffy ’78 (geophysics) and John Mulvey ’64 (operations research/financial engineering). In Boston, Professor William Mayer ’74 has been a political-science guru at Northeastern University (established in 1898) for the past 28 years. After Fenwick, Mayer attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which he also earned a Ph.D. (in 1989). “I don’t like to move,” he dead-pans, “plus my wife loves the New England area.”

On the West Coast, one of Prof. Duffy’s classmates, Larry Cahill ’78, is a neuroscientist and professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California at Irvine. And in the Midwest, Robert Lysak ’72 is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis – Saint Paul.

Additionally, two members of the Class of 1961 were college professors and are now retired: Terrence Doody (English Literature) at Rice University in Houston and Thomas Kavanagh (French), most recently at Yale University in Connecticut. Another Professor Emeritus isJohn Wendt ’69, who taught Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) for 30 years. (Read more about them.) Spread out geographically across the United States, Fenwick is the common denominator for these seven Ph.D.’s and college professors. Read on for a glimpse at their impressive works.

A Computing Love Affair

John Mulvey in 1964.

John Mulvey is a professor within Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Department, which he founded. He also is a founding member of the interdisciplinary Bendheim Center for Finance as well as the Statistics and Machine Learning Center at the university. Mulvey is captivated by the ongoing revolution in information and machine-learning. The ORFE Department focuses on the foundations of data science, probabilistic modeling and optimal decision-making under uncertainty. “Our world is a very uncertain place,” he stresses.

The work Mulvey does has applications throughout the service sector, including in communications, economics/finance, energy/the environment, health-care management, physical and biological sciences, and transportation. In the past, he has worked with aerospace/defense-technology firm TRW (now part of Northrop Grumman) to help solve military problems, including developing strategic models for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (U.S. Department of Defense).

“Today we work with major firms, including some of the largest investors in the world, which are interested in integrating their risk,” Mulvey explains. For example, “hedge funds and private-equity firms need to manage their portfolios over time to protect themselves. When the crash occurred in 2008, people thought they were diversified. The banking and finance world refers to systemic risk as contagion,” which is the spread of market changes or disturbances from one regional market to others.

Mulvey also analyzes data for supply-chain management, which he calls a “transformative industry. Production and distribution models were separate before,” he points out, “but we’ve brought it all together now. Amazon has built its whole system based on this commerce model.”

Prof. Mulvey at Princeton.

Machines running algorithms and computer optimization became passions for him at a relatively young age. At Fenwick, Mr. Edward Ludwig helped mathematics to make sense for young John. “He was an amazing math teacher,” Mulvey says of Ludwig. “His class was fantastic. I didn’t necessarily want to be an engineer but felt I could go into a technical area.

“In the 1960s we were at the cusp of computing, and the University of Illinois had one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the time,” recalls Mulvey, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and attended the old St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “That’s why I wanted to go there, and I fell in love with computing.”

The ILLIAC IV supercomputer is what drew Mulvey to the University of Illinois in the mid-1960s.

He next ventured west to study business administration at the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California (Cal), then earned a second master’s degree in management science in ’72 from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Three years later Mulvey completed his Ph.D. at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management. His dissertation topic, “Special Structures in Large Scale Network Models and Associated Applications,” won the 1976 American Institute of Decision Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Competition.

Mulvey taught for three years at the Harvard Business School and, 41 years ago, came to Princeton “to have an impact at a smaller school,” he says. (Princeton has some 5,200 under-grads.) “I came here to grow the basic, general engineering program for undergraduates.” The 72-year-old thoroughly enjoys his work: “If you had a job like mine, you wouldn’t want to retire.”

Continue reading “Alumni Friars Teaching in Academia”