Alumni Reunions & Events
Alumni Day: Bringing All Classes Back to TJ
With over 250 attendees, Alumni Day 2015, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was the most successful Alumni Day ever. Alums from the classes holding their 5th, 10th and 15th reunions arrived in force, accompanied by others home for the holiday, including a number of recent graduates. In addition to a complimentary buffet lunch, tours of the new building, and the announcement of this year’s Teacher Hall of Fame inductees (below) and Alumni STARS, the Alumni Association arranged for two fascinating panels, one featuring alumni and the other featuring current students. As part of the weekend’s activities, Colonial Athletic Boosters hosted the first ever student-alumni flag football game and barbecue on Friday afternoon.
Alumni Educator Panel: What the TJ Experience Taught Us About Teaching Others
Mark Gray-Mendes, TJ ’03, TJ’s Assistant Director of Student Activities and Boys Varsity Basketball coach (see November 2015 issue), moderated the alumni educator panel that included the husband-and-wife team of Ryan and Juliana Heitz, both TJ ’93, co-founders of a STEM-focused middle school for gifted students now in its first year (see June 2015 issue); Eric Jao, TJ ’93, founder of Mix Major, a recently launched music production program with classes and workshops for youngsters, teens and adults; and Nicole Tucker-Smith, TJ ’95, co-founder of Lessoncast, a digital platform that helps educators spread their successful innovations.
Ryan Heitz explained that he was inspired by TJ’s nurturing atmosphere and emphasis on hands-on learning when designing his school’s curriculum while Juliana Heitz described how, after becoming a parent, she came to appreciate the importance of the emotional and social aspects of learning.
Jao told the alumni audience how, as a TJ student, he convinced his parents to support his entrepreneurial aspiration to become a new kind of sock-hop DJ, and how he ended up spending most of 2009 touring with Madonna (“she’s awesome . . . so knowledgeable . . . and down-to-earth,” he said).
Tucker-Smith talked about how the contrast between her own TJ education and her experience teaching at a rough school in Baltimore (“it made ‘The Wire’ look like a playground”) led her to become a school principal and to found a company that could speed the process of spreading effective educational approaches. In December, she participated in an online “shark tank” style competition held by the Gates Foundation.
TJ Senior Panel: When I Needed to Be Strong
Alumni enjoyed the opportunity to hear directly from current students about how their strategies for coping with the pressure to excel on every front while getting sleep, having friends, and being a normal teen. The panel, moderated by Major Ted Zagraniski, TJ ’00, a Pentagon Army Strategist, included seniors Cheryl Mensah, Andrew Li, and James Park.
Cheryl openly described how struggling with mental illness taught her how important it was to create a safe environment for students facing mental health challenges. After talking with School Psychologist Greg Myers, TJ ’98 (profiled in this issue) and becoming involved with Active Minds, where she is now co-President, she worked with SGA to create TJ Mind Matters, a website where students can share their feelings and find support from other students as well as links to additional resources.
Andrew talked about dealing with the experience of coming in last as a scrawny freshman on the cross-country and track teams and how he grew emotionally as well as physically from pushing himself in new ways.
James described the difficulties he faced after learning that a heart condition would prevent him from participating in sports. The 6’4’’ freshman (now 6’6” senior) became Class President and found student government to be an excellent substitute for the camaraderie and excitement of sports, and one that has led to many new opportunities.
In order to give each group of alumni the option of attending a panel session while the other was touring the research labs, the same student panelists held a second session, “From STEM to Blossom,” in which they discussed various new interests discovered at TJ and how those discoveries have led to personal growth.
Friday Afternoon Student-Alumni Flag Football
The weather simply could not have been better as students and young alumni ran for touchdowns, hung out on the sidelines, and ate burgers provided by the Colonial Athletic Booster organizers of the first-time event, Mindy and Tim Conway, Parents ’16, Ray and Leslie Lemanski, Parents ’16, and Jojean (JJ) Bolton, Parent ’17. Guest of honor, Coach Ken Kincaid (1998-2000, 2010-2014), now Athletic Director at County Christian School in Loudoun County, joined parents, students, and alumni for the reunion. All had a great time catching passes and catching up. Read Coach Kincaid’s heartfelt observations on the event here.
2015 Teacher Hall of Fame Inductees
Ms. Judy Bello, English
Ms. Myra Spoden, Math
Mr. Tom Sleete, History
Dr. Barbara Wood, Biology
Teacher Hall of Fame
Dr. Omar Acio (2012)
Mr. Luc Beeckman, ret. (2013)
Ms. Judy Bello, ret. (2015)
Mr. Gerry Berry, ret. (2012)
Dr. Paul Cammer, ret. (2013)
Ms. Genevieve Delfosse (2014)
Dr. John Dell (2012)
Ms. Pat Gabriel, ret. (2013)
Ms. Carolyn Gecan, ret. (2012)
Ms. Pat Groves, ret. (2012)
Ms. Jane Gullickson, ret. (2012)
Ms. Lee Ann Hennig (2014)
Mr. Jim Jarvis, ret. (2013)
Mr. Jay Lamb, ret. (2012)
Dr. John Liebermann, ret. (2014)
Mr. Don Majeske, ret. (2012)
Mr. Patrick McCarthy, ret. (2012)
Mr. Dennis McFaden, ret. (2012)
Mr. Ed Montgomery, ret. (2013)
Ms. Barbara Nelson, ret. (2012)
Ms. Mary O’Brien, ret. (2014)
Dr. Jonathan Osborne (2014)
Mr. Jim Rose, ret. (2013)
Mr. Tom Sleete, ret. (2015)
Ms. Myra Spoden (2015)
Ms. Bettie Stegall, ret. (2013)
Mr. John Struck (2013)
Mr. Michael Stueben, ret. (2012)
Dr. Shane Torbert (2014)
Ms. Milde Waterfall, ret. (2013)
Dr. Barbara Wood, ret. (2015)
Thanksgiving Reunion Wrap-up (’00, ’05, ’10)
With three classes celebrating on the same two days, Thanksgiving is TJ’s biggest reunion weekend. Alumni Day serves as the weekend’s anchor, drawing crowds of reunion classmates as well as large numbers of recent grads and others home visiting family. Classes also organize their own events, with the 10-year reunion class traditionally holding the largest gathering. This year’s reunion events included:
Class of 2000: Reunion Chairs Cassie Melnikow Syckes, Lesley Park Newman, Jacqueline Ferris Zeller and Tammy Bjelland organized a cocktail “hour” from 7-11pm at Arlington’s A-Town Bar & Grille. With their excellent leadership, the class made great progress toward its Class Gift goal of $25,000.
Class of 2005: Over 230 alumni and guests attended the Class of 2005’s Main Event, held at the Josephine Butler Parks House on Meridian Hill in DC. Reunion Chairs Jennifer Goodnight and Nick Stroup deserve kudos for the fantastic turnout and great party. They also organized a more casual meet-up the night before at Arlington’s Spider Kelly’s.
Class of 2010: Following a 5-year-reunion tradition, the Class of 2010 held its Saturday night reunion event at Blackfinn Ameripub in DC. Reunion Chairs Amanda Lew, Lenny Li, Han Kim, Luke Cheng, and Victoria Stringfellow got the word out on Facebook and made it happen.
Class of 2000: Some Alumni of Note
Rahul Singh: Eight years ago, while finishing his Bachelor’s degree at Georgetown (like many entrepreneurs, his path through college was not a direct one), Mr. Singh founded Anant Corporation, now a leading Internet software architecture firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City. As CEO of a company devoted to solving the most difficult problems in streamlining, organizing, and unifying business information, he is responsible for training the team, overseeing and creating technology with the research and development team, and fostering client and service partner relationships.
Tammy Bjelland: Ms. Bjelland is Founder and CEO of Language in Bloom, specializing in language training, curriculum and course design and development, and talent and expertise development. Before founding her company, formerly known as Shenandoah Valley Language Services, in 2012, she spent a decade teaching world languages at such institutions as the University of Virginia, Middlebury College, Shenandoah University, UVA’s Hispanic Studies in Spain program, and la Universidad Católica San Vicente Mártir, in Valencia, Spain. She also writes a blog and hosts a podcast, “The Business of Language,” where she shares business and career advice for those who love languages and want to pursue their passion professionally. She lives in Winchester, VA with her husband, Bryan Stutzman, and their two dogs, Easy and Cyrus.
Jonathan Goertz: Father Jonathan Goertz is a Roman Catholic priest. Since August he has been Pastor at Sacred Heart Parish and Sacred Heart School in Danville, Virginia. Before that he led St. Timothy Parish in Tappahannock, Virginia, where, according to a story in the July 8, 2013 issue of the Catholic Virginian, Father Goertz donated a kidney that saved a parishioner’s life. The man, a retiree on dialysis, was waiting for four years to get a new kidney. Family members and friends were not good matches. “It always strikes me when I meet somebody who has any kind of need — physical, spiritual or emotional — is it possible that I could be the person who can respond to this need,” Father Goertz explained in the article. “Not all of us will be called to be living organ donors, but we are all called to make real, significant, difficult, maybe painful sacrifices in some way. We constantly discern what that means to each of us.”
Dustin Faltz: Mr. Faltz, who held a starring role in nearly every dramatic production TJ presented while he attended, works as a voice-over artist, stage and screen actor, vocalist, studio musician, audio engineer, and instructor. He is a baritone with the ability to sing styles ranging from classical and musical theatre to contemporary a cappella and rhythm & blues. A recent highlight was his work as an audio engineer on “F.A.M.E.,” Chris Brown’s 2012 Grammy Award-winning “Best R&B Album.”
Thomas (TJ) Purtell: Dr. Purtell is CTO and co-founder of Omlet Inc., a start-up that grew out of an NSF-funded grant to the Stanford incubator/lab led by his PhD advisor, Professor Monica Lam. Omlet is a user-controlled mobile sharing and collaboration platform that — unlike a social network — doesn’t own your data but instead lets you chat, work, and share, either by linking existing platforms or creating your own apps. In June 2014, Inc. magazine called the platform “an insanely ambitious assault on the entire Facebook model of mobile social networking.” With millions of users since its 2014 debut, Omlet Chat, available for iOS and Android, seeks to enable users to “share anything, with anyone, anywhere,” including text, images, files, video, and music. A year ago, Omlet partnered with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to bring the platform to its devices.
Lesley Park: Currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the Stanford School of Medicine where she was selected for the National Cancer Institute Big Data Scientist Training Enhancement Program fellowship, Dr. Park uses her computational skills to bridge epidemiology and healthcare “big data.” For over a decade, her research has focused on the population of persons living with HIV/AIDS. She was an SAS programmer at the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Biostatistics in AIDS Research for three years between receiving her undergraduate degree and enrolling in graduate school (with a one-year stint as an elementary school English teacher in France!). Her Master’s thesis on HIV transmission rates in Thailand received the Yale School of Public Health Dean’s Prize for Outstanding Master’s Thesis and was published in JAIDS (August 2010). She then spent a year as a Research Associate at the Yale School of Medicine and then completed her PhD dissertation on the intersection of HIV and cancer, working with the Veterans Aging Cohort Study Cancer Core, of which she is now co-Director. Her current investigations focus on HIV and cancer as well as cancer epidemiologic research design and innovative methods to account for measurement error and misclassification, particularly in evaluating and improving the risks for subsequent cancer and cardiometabolic conditions in cancer survivors.
Aparna Nancherla: “It’s okay, you guys,” Ms. Nancherla, a five-foot tall South Asian woman says at the beginning of her standup act, “I’m surprised I’m a comedian too.” Ms. Nancherla, who recently joined the writing staff of Late Night with Seth Meyers, has been a panelist for NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” and has also written for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, is a stand-up comedian who performs across the country with her unique sensibility. Based in New York, she has a loyal Twitter/Facebook following that includes many TJ alums.
Derek Miller: Dr. Miller obtained his BA in English from Yale and his PhD in Theater and Performance Studies from Stanford. He is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Harvard, where he teaches theater history and drama. His research focuses on the intersections of art and industry, particularly with respect to law and economics, exemplified by his current manuscript project on copyright and theater in the nineteenth century. Recently, he has turned the power of big data loose on Broadway. Called “Visualizing Broadway,” the project includes key information about virtually every musical and play that has opened on Broadway since 1900. For more information about his work, visit http://scholar.harvard.edu/dmiller. He lives in Cambridge, MA, with his wife Hannah, an American historian, and his two-year-old son, Hiram.
John Petersik: With an enormously popular blog and website, two bestsellers, and several lines of products to their name, Petersik and his wife Sherry have a huge following among young homeowners looking for do-it-yourself improvement and decorating ideas and advice. Their first book, Young House Love, is a guide to simple, budget-friendly decorating touches; their second, Lovable, Livable Home, published this past fall, is intended to help every family improve the spaces they inhabit, with as much focus on functionality as aesthetics. Last year Target rolled out a line of inexpensive decorator items under the Young House Love trade name, and you may be able to find some products they designed on sale today at your neighborhood Home Depot.
Phil Bunge: After working first as an electrical engineer at Raytheon and then an IT consultant at Accenture, Mr. Bunge went back to school for his MBA in Marketing. For the next four years, he led several successful marketing campaigns for consumer product giant Procter & Gamble. Last April, he moved from Cincinnati to the Bay Area to become Senior Product Marketing Manager for the world’s largest professional network, LinkedIn.
Yext Hosts NYC Alums
The largest-ever gathering of New York-based alumni took place two weeks before Thanksgiving at the midtown offices of Yext, the global leader in digital location management, courtesy of three TJ ’98 classmates: Yext Co-Founder and CEO Howard Lerman; Yext Executive VP of Finance Alok Bhushan; and LG Fairmont Co-Founder and Chief Architect Derek Lee.
TJ Assistant Principal Shawn Frank updated alumni on the renovation progress, and both he and Lerman spoke to the crowd about how much their alumni giving means to TJ and its current and future student body. The TJ Partnership Fund’s newest staff member, Outreach and Partnerships Manager Sally Zabel (see International Partnershipsin this issue), also attended the event.
Thumbtack Hosts Bay Area Alums
On February 26th, a hundred alums gathered at the San Francisco offices of online services marketplace Thumbtack, a start-up that in late 2015 was dubbed one of Silicon Valley’s “unicorns,” a title given to companies valued at over $1 billion.
Hosted by Thumbtack and its Co-Founder, Sander Daniels, TJ ’01, the meet-up brought alums from throughout the Bay Area for food, drinks, socializing, and networking.
TJ Partnership Fund Outreach and Partnerships Manager Sally Zabel played a video put together by Luca Frix, TJ ’18; Daniels spoke fondly of his TJ days; and TJ Assistant Principal Dr. Tinell Priddy caught up alums on the latest renovation news and urged them to strengthen their TJ ties.
This was the fifth TJ alumni meet-up hosted by Daniels and Thumbtack.