College Readiness Alumni Panel

College Readiness Alumni Panel
Posted on 11/30/2023
Alumni Panel

There are many traditions associated with Thanksgiving, one of which is college students returning home to visit with family and friends. In the case of ten recent graduates from the Somerset Hills School District, their return included a visit to Bernards High School on November 22, 2023 and an opportunity to serve on the Alumni Panel.  


For the past ten years, English teacher Janice O’Brien has organized an Alumni Panel for her current Leadership Development & College Readiness students, and any other seniors wanting to attend. Across multiple sessions, BHS students had the chance to ask the recent graduates their questions about “all things college life!” 


The Leadership Development & College Readiness class is extremely popular. This one semester course covers a plethora of material. The first half covers college essays, applications, and scholarship opportunities, while the second half covers topics such as how to transition successfully to a new environment, growing as a student, and keeping safe. O’Brien also plans for a variety of guest speakers, and coordinates mock interviews, sometimes recruiting SHSD Administrators willing to don another hat in order for students to have an authentic experience. While many aspects remain the same when it comes to the course curriculum, O’Brien has had to craft new lessons to align with the changing times. For example, she addresses safety in terms of using Uber/Lyft, active shooters on campus, and hazing, as well as Covid and the pitfalls of social media. “It is important to evolve so that our young people are informed and self-assured,” shared O’Brien.


What started out with four panelists a decade ago, has grown over the years to where O’Brien now gets emails from countless students asking to be part of the panel; this demonstrates that the event has expanded in size, excitement, and learning! She has always felt it was important for BHS students to have transparent and real time information… “for students, from students.”


This year the Alumni Panel fielded many great questions focused on handling roommates, navigating scheduling, building relationships, making a budget, juggling academics with athletics/clubs, and more.


When reflecting on the annual event, O’Brien shared, “This is by far one of my favorite days. Besides getting to see our beloved alumni, it is always wonderful to hear how prepared for college each of them feels after graduating from BHS!” Feedback has been consistently positive from past graduates in terms of their readiness, especially in writing, of which O’Brien is extra proud. “I love teaching this course and making a difference; I have found my niche.”


Dr. Brian Brotschul, Superintendent of Schools, noted, “The importance of fostering a culture of support and preparation from cradle to career, and beyond, serves as our guide and non-negotiable focus in order to prepare our students to be successful contributors once they graduate.  Mrs. O’Brien’s work at Bernards High School mirrors that vision and has been transformative in what Leadership Development &  College Readiness provides to scores of students.”


Special thanks to the following Class of  ‘23 graduates who were able to attend the Alumni Panel:

Summer Conover (Miami of Ohio University), Sydney Kaul (University of Michigan), Shelby Rich (Syracuse University), Maggie Dolan (Lafayette), Gabe McKinley (University of Rhode Island… Mrs. O’Brien’s alma mater!), Enzo Britez (Wagner College), Hayden Byrne (Virginia Tech), Matt Lesnik (Syracuse University), and Jake Ballard (University of Maryland). 

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