Brains and Bravery

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Laura Burgess is a fifth generation boarding school graduate. This is her sixth year as an admission professional and eighth year in boarding schools. She serves her alma mater, Emma Willard School, as associate director of admissions. Laura holds a B.A. from St. Lawrence University and an M.A.L.S. with a concentration in education and cultural studies from Dartmouth College.

Heads up, folks: at least one student at your school wants to be just like you when they grow up. Are you worthy of their admiration? Not because of what your resume says you have accomplished but because of who you are and who you strive to be. It is a difficult question to answer, but the good news is that with the wide variety of ages, experiences, and perspectives represented on the faculty of every boarding school, you are probably already working alongside someone you want to be when you grow up, too.

Christine Horansky, a blogger for The Huffington Post, alludes to the intrinsic power of mentoring when she notes, “[t]he stories we see and hear are the stories we tell ourselves.”[i]  Enter Rachel Connell, who is our Director of Advancement at Emma Willard. Last year, life flung Rachel and me together with great gusto when Rachel stepped in to serve as our Interim Director of Admissions as well. Rachel shouldered stratospheric responsibility with what can only be termed tremendous bravery. A year that could have been a disaster was quite successful because Rachel has powerful intellectual capacity and the bravery to use it. LPB and RAC

Holding two senior administrative positions simultaneously was risky and ambitious but as Sheryl Sandberg notes in her widely acclaimed book Lean In, the diluting of ambition “[m]ay explain why girls’ academic gains have not yet translated into significantly higher numbers of women in top jobs.”[ii] Ambition is the differentiator and Rachel was the first to model it for me through her use of her brains with such bravery. I am immeasurably grateful for her example because it is now the story I tell myself. Rachel is sleeping more soundly these days with only one senior administrative responsibility, and she allows me to invade her home to smother her adorable German Shepherd mix with love and watch her collection of Colin Firth movies. Most importantly, however, I am far better prepared to support her successor, Jamie Hicks-Furgang.

Jamie models her own version of brains and bravery. She and I are just starting our journey together but I am learning loads already.  She constantly pushes me to contribute in unique and impactful ways, and supports me when I find an avenue I would like to explore. We have discovered that we do our best planning in our sweatpants with a late-night snack. It is a gift when your mentors are not too high and mighty in their “mentor-ness.” Jamie and I are braver together because we have each other’s support. JHF and LPB

If we model constant aspiration to be better people and professionals, our students will notice and they will learn. They are indeed watching our every move. With each ounce of wisdom gleaned from others, I am setting an ever-better example. Rachel and Jamie have brought out the qualities that make me worthy of the admiration of the girls who live just outside my door (and occasionally knock upon it in search of hugs or snacks).

Boarding school communities bring to life the transformative power of mentorship in uniquely authentic ways. For those just beginning their career, make sure your circle is not limited to other young faculty. Seek out colleagues who have seen and done it all. Cultivate a relationship before you think you need it and it will be more natural when you do. Thank the people who inspire you. Be on the lookout for those who could use a touch of kindly delivered guidance.

The concept of mentorship is fluid. Rachel and Jamie were not my first mentors and they will not be the last, but their impact will be timeless.


[i] Horansky, Christine. “Girls Deserve to Be the Narrators of Their Own Stories.” The Huffington Post. 11 February 2014. Web. Accessed 22 February, 2014.

[ii] Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. p. 15.

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