Introducing the 2023-24 Penn Fellows

Sydney Wang ’25 and Jenny Zhao ’25 in News | September 15, 2023

          This August, Lawrenceville welcomed four new Fellows from the University of Pennsylvania Independent School Teaching Residency Fellowship Program: History Department Fellow Ansley Keane, Science Department Fellow Brianna Thompson’18, Mathematics Department Fellow Kennedy Dirkes, and English Department Fellow Sarah Jane O'Connor. 

          Keane graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where she pursued a degree in History with a minor in Education and served as the Vice President of her class. This term, Keane is teaching the III Form history class—Forces that Shaped the Modern World—while advising The Lawrence alongside English teacher Elizabeth Buckles.

          She first discovered her passion in the humanities and social science through her high school English classes. However, like most high schoolers, she still “wasn’t totally sure what exactly [she] wanted to study.” Her freshman year at college, Keane took an “amazing” history class where she felt like she was “putting together the pieces of a puzzle.” Coupled with her love for teaching, she enrolled in a teacher licensure program and later interned at the Northfield Mount Hermon Summer Session, where she learned about Fellowship programs like Lawrenceville’s.

          Though she has only been at Lawrenceville for a few weeks, Keane feels that she has already managed to become part of a warm and welcoming community. In addition to the “larger cohort size and good support network” that the School offers, “everyone just seems genuinely interested in talking to [me] and seeing how [I have been] doing,” she elaborated. 

          Former Lawrenceville School President Brianna Thompson ’18 has returned to campus, this time not as a student but as a Fellow in the Science Department, a duty member in the McClellan House, and a Girls’ JV Soccer coach. She noted that many aspects of the School are different compared to when she was a student. For one, the School is “prioritizing students’ mental health and wellbeing more than it has in the past.” There have also been a number of “physical changes,” such as the replacement of the Jane W. Irwin Dining Center with the Tsai Dining Hall. The biggest transition, however, has been that of transitioning from student to colleague with many of her former teachers. “It’s easier to have relationships with teachers [whom I have never taken a course from] now that they are in my department or on my duty team,” Thompson said, “This experience has been really rewarding.” 

          Thompson decided that she wanted to teach Environmental Science while studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in Public Policy and Environmental Studies. Her passion for teaching only grew stronger when she reflected on the “positive experience” she had as a student at Lawrenceville. “I just think that [this Fellowship program] would be a really powerful way to work with young people, and that’s what brought me back to teaching here,” Thompson said. She is excited to “start the school year with optimism,” rejoining the school where she enjoyed a “rich campus life.”

          After pursuing her undergraduate degree in mathematics, Kennedy Dirkes was certain she wanted to teach math. “I really liked this idea that math is a puzzle. You get all these little pieces and you somehow fit them all together to find the answer,” Dirkes explained. To her, math has always been “exciting.” While she understands that not all students will grow to share a similar passion for mathematics, her hope is for students to “walk away from [her] class realizing what they learned was cool.” 

          Through the Fellowship program, Dirkes has been able to gain hands-on experience with teaching while earning her Master’s degree, studying different methods of teaching while implementing them in her classes. Additionally, she enjoys being able to observe students with “so many different capacities” through teaching at Lawrenceville. For example, seeing a student from the perspective of a volleyball coach is different from that of an academic teacher. “I get to see a whole student body instead of just under an academic setting… and that’s one thing I really love about Lawrenceville,” Dirkes said.

          English Teaching Fellow Sarah Jane O’Connor graduated from Williams College with a degree in American Studies and Public Health. Her inclination towards the humanities stemmed from her interdisciplinary education in high school, as she “never felt as though there was only one subject that [she] was interested in.” After taking a variety of classes, O’Connor knew that English—which lies at the intersection of writing and teaching—was going to be her “main pursuit.” She “really enjoys being in a…discussion-based seminar-style classroom” and appreciates the importance placed on “connecting with people…face to face” within the Lawrenceville community. Through the Fellowship program, O’Connor aims to “help her students feel supported and appreciated” while improving her own skills in “leading students and giving effective feedback.” 

          Overall, Lawrenceville's long-standing partnership with the University of Pennsylvania has brought a diverse set of educators to campus.