Brookwood not only has a talented current student body but also an accomplished and amazingly talented community of alumni. Among the nearly 1900 alumni who graduated from the school since the first Commencement ceremony in 1964 is a dynamic and talented collection of university professors, entrepreneurs, artists, doctors, writers, an ambassador, lawyers, civic leaders, business owners, performers, world class athletes, and more.
Seeing opportunity in drawing on that wealth of alumni experience and knowledge to benefit current students, Alumni Coordinator Gwen Fairweather Dumont ’81 and her colleagues in the Advancement Office began brainstorming ways to bring the two groups together. They zeroed in on the notion of Alumni Mentor Luncheons as a way for alums to share their experiences and inspire rising classes of Brookwood alumni.
"We began the initiative in the fall of 2012, and the inspiration was to promote deeper connections among alumni with current students. Using a particular curricular area of mutual interest seemed an interesting and effective way to help make this happen,” says Gwen, who adds that the luncheons were one part of the continuing effort to reconnect with Brookwood alums. “We then brought the Alumni Mentor Lunch idea to Brookwood’s Administration, Division Heads and Faculty and worked closely with them to further develop the concept and get their thoughts on how the Luncheons should be structured and pitched to the current students.”
The inaugural Alumni Mentor Luncheon program was held in the Fall of 2012 with a gathering organized around the Performing Arts. The alum panel included musicians, vocalists, and alumni in theater. Since that date there have been four more Alumni Mentor Luncheons dedicated to a wide range of topics: Athletics (Winter 2013); Service (Fall 2013); Global Citizenship (Winter 2014); and Writing (Spring 2014).
“We choose the topics based on what we think would be interesting to current students, with an eye to what alums are doing and who in the area would make the trip to campus,” says Gwen. “For example, we thought Performing Arts would be of interest to many current students because Brookwood’s Performing Arts program is so robust. And we knew that Debbie Gantt would be able to help pull in a lot of talented alums who would want to come back to support her in this project. Having faculty and the Advancement Office work together on engaging with the alums has been helpful in connecting with so many of them to take part in the events.”
In total, 15 graduates have returned to their alma mater for luncheons, including: Performing Arts - Ari Fodeman '06, Sofia del Valle '10, Ben Trudeau '10; Athletics - Hannah Beardsley '07, Elliot Hovey '98, Nazy Kerr '03, Liv King '06, Kellen Millard '02, Catharine Pirie '08, Eric Slingerland '06; Service/Volunteerism - Michaela Morris '11, Sam Cohen '04, Emily Fox '98, Cynthia Sweet '90; Global Citizenship - Erin Herzeelle '95, Emma Shorr '06, Charlee Bianchini '01; Writing - Lily King '77, Ursula DeYoung '96, Katrina Morris '09, and Tapley Stephenson '06 via Skype.
The format is casual and open-ended, with students, faculty and alumni sitting around a table in the Dodge Writing Center. A faculty mentor often gets the discussion started but conversation then takes off quickly.
Luncheons are open specifically to eighth graders and to date over 75 students have attended at least one luncheon, with some students attending several. “We’re very pleased with the participation especially considering it's a self-selecting, elective program. Kids come because they are interested, and that only makes the whole program better, as they are invested and contribute to the conversation,” says Gwen.
“Our students have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with graduates in a meaningful way – asking questions, listening to stories, and learning more about pathways into each field,” says Evan Diamond, Head of Upper School. “Our mentors have all clearly enjoyed returning to campus and have been thoroughly impressed with the overall engagement of our eighth graders.”
Gwen adds that the enthusiasm at the events is infectious. “Everyone walks away from the luncheons feeling inspired. The kids see a glimpse of what is possible for them if they were to continue to pursue a particular passion and I think it's empowering for them,” she says. “The alums feel grateful that they have been asked back and that they are being recognized for a special talent or focus in something that's important to them. And the faculty get to see what their former students have gone on to achieve. The overall congeniality of the luncheons, which are casual and informal, adds a sense of community and the notion that what happens at Brookwood carries forward in a shared and collective way.”