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.
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.
“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
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’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.
Alumna Samantha Carraher ’96 is in her 18th year teaching Spanish at Fenwick.
What is your educational background?
SC: After finishing my elementary education at St. Giles in Oak Park, I had the honor of attending Fenwick as part of the first class of girls in school history. When I graduated from Fenwick, I went to the University of Dayton, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in Spanish. I also have my master’s degree in Teacher Leadership from Elmhurst College and had the opportunity to study in Spain (Segovia and Madrid) on two separate occasions.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
SC: I actually began teaching at Fenwick immediately after graduating from Dayton in 2000.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
SC: After seeing Hamilton, I decided to read the biography about the title character to learn more about him and the impact he had on our nation’s development following the Revolutionary War.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
SC: I am an avid fan of the men’s basketball team from Dayton and the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. (I’m pretty sure I heard an exasperated groan coming from the direction of Mr. Arellano’s classroom before I even put the period on that last sentence.) I also love gardening and musical theater. My husband and I have tried to get into a variety of shows on cable and Netflix. However, with a two-year-old at home, our television viewing consists primarily of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” “Doc McStuffins” and “Peppa Pig.”
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
SC: I played volleyball and basketball during my first two years at Fenwick, and Coach Power is still trying to recover from the experience. I was a member of Fenwick’s varsity softball team for four years and played for a traveling softball organization called the Windmills. I was also in the cast of the spring musical my sophomore year.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
SC: I am a coach for both the freshman girls’ volleyball team and boys’ varsity volleyball team. I am also a moderator of the Friar Mentor tutoring program.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
SC: There is no shortage of superlatives to describe the quality and character of our students. They are dedicated learners who are incredibly intelligent and hard working. They also exhibit a genuine kindness, concern and compassion for others on a daily basis. I truly appreciate what outstanding people our kids are both in and out of the classroom.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?