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Natessa Amin ’06 art gallery

The Romano Gallery welcomes former student and award-winning artist Natessa Amin ’06 for an exhibit titled “Memory Palace” from October 19 to November 20. Born in Pennsylvania to an Indian-American family, Ms. Amin is no stranger to the complexities of growing up biracial in the United States. The contrasting cultures and religions of her heritage provide a deep well of inspiration for the artist, and she frequently incorporates imagery into her paintings that evokes Indian, African and Pennsylvania Dutch textiles as a response to her family’s background and the place in which she was raised. 

Natessa Amin ’06 art

With her highly tactile painting practice, Ms. Amin employs techniques such as layering pigments, dyes, silver leaf, glass particles and textural gels. She often sprinkles pigments and dyes over the canvas, drags granulated glass particles across surfaces and uses lines made with embroidery thread to guide the curve of the forms that emerge. “I aim to create worlds of tactile immediacy that dismantle hierarchy for the viewer in the hope of forming new connections from one piece to the next,” Ms. Amin says. “Through this series of...interchanging visualizations, I search for moments of convergence as I negotiate and reconcile what it means to be hybrid.”

Currently an assistant professor of practice at Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Ms. Amin is also the co-founder and director of the artist-run FJORD Gallery in Philadelphia. Her work has been exhibited in many group and solo shows. Recent exhibitions include Natessa Amin: Hyphen at CUE Art Foundation in New York, New York; But we can’t say what we’ve seen at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Los Angeles, California; and Fields and Formations: A Survey of Mid Atlantic Abstraction at the Delaware Contemporary/American University Museum in Wilmington, Delaware. She holds a BFA from Boston University and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Pennsylvania.

Ms. Amin will join the Blair community for an artist’s talk at 7 p.m. on November 18 in The Romano Gallery.
 

Society of Skeptics

Blair Academy is pleased to welcome Dr. Thomas G. Crabtree to the Society of Skeptics on October 19 at 7 p.m. With over 39 years of experience working in the medical field as a surgeon and as director of AMI Expeditionary Healthcare (AMI), Dr. Crabtree will speak to Blair students about his current work, “A Tale of Two Pandemics: A Personal and Viral Journey.” Through the lens of his and the United States’ experience with Ebola and COVID-19, Dr. Crabtree plans to focus on two main topics, highlighting the need to listen to experts while being skeptical and finding the opportunity within chaos, and arguing that there has never been a better time to pursue a career in science or medicine. 

Since 2008, Dr. Crabtree has led AMI Expeditionary Healthcare LLC as Group Medical Director. AMI is a global organization that provides medical services to international aid organizations, humanitarian concerns, private sector and government agencies in a wide range of remote and challenging environments.

Prior to working in a civilian clinical office setting, Dr. Crabtree served as a colonel in the U.S. Army where he held a career as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and focused on post traumatic, oncologic and congenital defect reconstruction. Always leading a life of service, Dr. Crabtree later served as the medical director and the senior medical advisor to the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance of the U.S. Pacific Command. There, Dr. Crabtree was responsible for guiding, brokering and executing myriad military medical and civil-military medical assistance efforts and health development programs throughout the globe. 

It is from these experiences that Dr. Crabtree is able to offer his main takeaway to the Blair community: Be skeptical about your life and examine what it is you want to contribute to the world.

“Using my own career experience and my time serving during two devastating but very different pandemics—both of which occurred during the students’ lifetimes—highlight just how important it is to be skeptical, ask questions, but at the end of the day, honor and treasure expertise. 

“Also, you may know what you want to do. If so, make it happen,” said Dr. Crabtree. “You may not know. Guess what? It will likely still happen. The next 20 years will be full of twists, turns and tumult, but in this chaos lies your path. Finally, the opportunities to contribute, thrive and make a difference in science and medical careers has never been better.”

Dr. Crabtree was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and is a Harvard and Stanford graduate. He completed his general surgery training in San Francisco and Tucson and his plastic surgery training in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

 

History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

Dennis Peachey: Celebrating a Life Well Lived

The Blair community gathered to bid farewell to a beloved faculty member on Saturday, October 9, remembering Dennis Peachey ’62 as a kind and humble leader who dedicated his life to caring for and supporting Blair students and all aspects of campus life for 40 years. Nicknamed “Mr. Blair” for his renowned dedication to the School, Dennis’ story began, in many ways, the year that he turned 15.

“In the summer of 1958,” wrote longtime friend Larry Snavely ’67 in a memorial video presented at the service, “Dennis rode 14 miles through the woods to interview for a job on Bar Island, Parry Sound, Ontario. Impressed by his initiative, Walter Baumann [Blair class of 1922] hired him on the spot.” Over time, Walter’s admiration for the boy grew, and, before long, “He was inspired to make Dennis a very generous offer. Walter offered Dennis a full scholarship to his alma mater, Blair Academy.”

The rest is Blair history. After graduating in 1962, Dennis returned to the School a few years later, joining the faculty as Secretary of the Academy. In addition to his development role, Dennis coached soccer, skiing and hockey and taught in both the science and art departments. He married his wife, Lynn, Hon. ’65 ’74 ’77, and together they began raising their two children on campus. Later, as Assistant Headmaster for Finance and Development, Dennis revitalized the School’s endowment and oversaw a renaissance in the development of Blair’s buildings and grounds. His greatest achievements, however, were reflected in his genuine love of people and personal relationships. 

At a packed memorial service at Blairstown’s First Presbyterian Church and at a reception on campus this week, former students and colleagues, longtime friends and family stepped forward, giving heartfelt eulogies for a man remembered for his quiet humility, incredible thoughtfulness, superior athleticism and absolute devotion to his family, friends and Blair Academy. 

James T. Thompson ’77, who came to Blair two weeks after his own father passed away, described Dennis, saying, “He was truly the father I did not have...I am a firm believer that the presence of God is found in the interaction between human beings. If you want to find God’s spirit, that’s where it is. That is what Dennis gave to so many people. He gave so much of himself.” Speaking to his dear friend and mentor, James promised, “You are in all of our hearts. You will live on.”

Dennis’ children, Trustee Derek Peachey ’93 and Meghan Peachey-Bogen ’96, also addressed the gathering, peppering their recollections with jokes and family anecdotes, capturing the deep humanity of their father in its fullness. “Dennis Peachey was a complex man, more sensitive than he let on... Intensely human,” Derek offered. He said his father taught his children about the importance of a strong work ethic and how to live a life with humility and decency.

Head of School Peter G. Curran recalled the huge role that philanthropy played in Dennis’ life story. Dennis’ story began with a life-changing opportunity, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Baumann, and Dennis’ legacy will include paying that generosity forward. The Dennis Peachey Memorial Scholarship was founded so other students would have the chance that Mr. Baumann provided to Dennis. “It is so moving to have seen so many alums and lifelong friends give back in Dennis’ name as a way to honor and thank him,” Mr. Curran said. To date, he said, the fund has raised nearly $300,000 from more than 50 donors, granting other students the gift of a bright future.

As one of the School’s foremost ambassadors during his lifetime, Dennis touched many lives in his capacity as coach, mentor and friend. In all those roles, ​​he exemplified living a life of principle, dedicated to uplifting others. Meghan Peachey-Bogen ’96 offered that she had received many kind notes after the passing of her father, but one stood out for capturing the essence of Dennis Peachey well: “When all is said and done, your dad was simply one of the finest persons that I have ever known.”

The Peachey family and Blair Academy sincerely appreciate the gifts that have been made to the Dennis Wm. Peachey ’62 Endowed Scholarship and wish to thank the many alumni, families and friends who have generously contributed. Their gifts honor Mr. Peachey’s legacy of love for Blair and its students and have helped grow the educational opportunities afforded through this scholarship. If you would like to support the Dennis Wm. Peachey ’62 Endowed Scholarship, please contact Chief Advancement Officer Craig Hall at hallc@blair.edu or (908) 362-2032 or Assistant Director of Advancement for Capital and Planned Giving Velma Lubliner at lubliv@blair.edu or (908) 362-2041.

Dennis Peachey memorial video

Click here to watch the memorial video.
 
 

New Thursday Night Series Helps Students Imagine Careers

Baseball journeyman Eddie Lehr ’15 doesn’t mind being compared to Jonah Hill. Ever humble, Eddie just thinks a comparison to a different, background character is probably more accurate. In the 2011 film “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill play Oakland Athletics personnel who pioneer using data analytics to evaluate potential baseball players and assemble a competitive team. Based on the Oakland Athletics’ real 2002 season, the film captures the moment when many Major League Baseball teams began to approach scouting using sophisticated mathematical modeling to analyze players and capitalize on underrecognized talent.

Eddie is a former Blair baseball pitcher and college player now serving as the Cincinnati Reds’ amateur video scout and analyst, a position in which he evaluates and helps acquire potential players. As the new member on the Reds’ management team, he relates to Jonah Hill’s role in the movie and uses his background in economics and business analytics to supplement the team’s more conventional scouting efforts. 

Eddie also works with another Blair graduate, Jeff Graupe ’02, the Reds’ senior director of player personnel. In addition to evaluating players, Jeff plays a key role in the team’s salary arbitration, free agent recruiting and draft negotiations. As the Reds look for new and creative ways to acquire talent, both men use data analytics to inform their decisions.

Recognizing that these alumni hold positions that are likely of interest to Blair’s students, Director of Alumni Relations Shaunna Murphy welcomed the opportunity to bring Eddie and Jeff back to Blairstown for a new event series at Blair. Titled the Young Alumni Professional Panels (YAPP), the series promises to connect students directly with alumni who are just a few years out of school to talk about the work they do. “This series is a great way to show students what opportunities they can pursue and to start to network early. Networking is all about connecting people. These panels are exactly that,” said Mrs. Murphy. 

The Genesis of the Panels
History department chair Jason Beck, who oversees the panel discussions, said the YAPP series was born out of a desire to help Blair students better understand the breadth of options that exist in the job market. “Many Blair students are already thinking about their future,” said Mr. Beck. “We wanted to create a mechanism for students to explore the questions they have about future careers.” 

Frequently, students get stuck in siloed thinking about traditional positions. “Our goal is to expose students to a variety of paths that they may not think about,” explained Mr. Beck. “Many students say that they want to go into finance or business, but often, they don’t really know what that is. The panels will give students a better idea of the concrete possibilities that are out there and show the process that other alums have used to get those positions.” 

Upcoming Speakers

To that end, Blair kicked off the YAPP series last month with a discussion featuring Blair alumni who now work for consulting firms, including: Elliot Parauda ’09, recruiter for information technology firm the Eliassen Group; and Brandon Hardman ’10, consultant for the Scandinavian engineering, consulting and design company AFRY.
 
On October 21, Jeff Graupe ’02 and Eddie Lehr ’15 will lead the discussion about sports management and their experience with the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Other upcoming guests in the series include marketing industry specialists Lauren Keiling ’04 from ESPN, Alexa (Gilmartin) Jachowski ’08 from Reckitt and Paula Hong ’16 from Oracle Moat. 

The YAPP series is being worked into Blair’s regular Thursday evening programming, which includes The Romano Art Gallery openings and current events conversations with Mr. Beck. Students will attend in person and, following a brief talk from the panel, have the opportunity for questions and discussion. 

It is Mr. Beck’s hope that these alumni panels open doors as well as minds for students. “The series will help students make connections with these alumni that can continue after that evening,” he said. 

Eddie Lehr didn’t start out knowing what career he wanted, but he feels fortunate to have traveled the path he has—from pitching to Coach Wagner on Blair’s baseball mound to working alongside a fellow Buc in the sport he loves. “This is my dream job. I haven’t worked a day since I graduated college,” he said brightly. “If sharing that experience helps others find their way, I am happy to do it.”

Students may join Mr. Beck, Jeff and Eddie in person next Thursday at 7 p.m. in Tracy Hall to hear the compelling story of how two Blair athletes made their careers at the Cincinnati Reds.
 

Blair’s Fun-Filled Weekends of Fall

Winnie-the-Pooh proclaimed the first day of autumn “A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!” Blair’s Associate Dean of Students, Rod Gerdsen, could not agree more. As the guru who plans activities for the student body, Mr. Gerdsen looks forward to fall, when the air is crisp and golden and Blair students, just returned from summer break, are bounding with energy. 

“The best activities are in October,” says Mr. Gerdsen, smiling before launching into a lineup of events sure to make any class long for the bell.

In addition to panels and performances, exhibitions and concerts, Blair strives to offer a variety of events throughout the year to keep students active, engaged and broadening their horizons. Mr. Gerdsen’s speciality is planning the fun. He kicked off October’s scheduled activities with a perennial favorite, the Food Truck Festival, during which students’ favorite food trucks roll onto campus, offering a tantalizing array of international cuisine. With the smell of Mediterranean gyros filling the air from the Rolling Pita, this year, Blair gourmands favored the Little Sicilian, which offered fried raviolis and handmade cannolis. While Bro-Ritos served up massive burritos, shrimp tacos and chicken quesadillas, DoMo, a steel drum performer from Brooklyn, New York, performed on stage. As students relaxed on Adirondack chairs and feasted, he even invited a few students onstage to try out the steel drum and make beautiful music.

A few days later on October 10, students got their superhero fix with a trip to the movies, and many plan to soak in the fall festival this coming weekend. On Saturday, October 16, the Bowl will be brimming with hay bales and mums, lined with pumpkins for painting and carving, and feature tables piled high with apples—just waiting to be dipped in warm caramel. 

“That’s not going to be the highlight of the weekend, though,” predicts Mr. Gerdsen. “Have you seen the Meltdown?” A ride akin to those one might see on the TV show “Wipeout,” Meltdown is an inflatable arena that holds eight players at a time. Two swiveling arms spin as students dodge, duck, dip and dive to avoid being knocked off their pedestals. 

The following weekend, Mr. Gerdsen has planned a football tailgate where Blair faculty grill their favorite dishes and gather with students for a celebration before the home game against rival Hill School. 

As if that isn’t enough, Mr. Gerdsen intends to cap off Blair’s October fun with Nightmare on Park Street over the Halloween weekend. Last year, the immensely popular event featured a haunted walk through the Siegel Property. Looming with dark tree trunks and overhanging limbs, the wooded lot allowed just enough moonlight to provide the perfect setting for an event that left students howling with fright.

When asked if inclement weather could put a damper on his plans, Mr. Gerdsen's eyes begin to twinkle like the mad planner he is. “A rainy, foggy night for Nightmare on Park Street? Now, that would be perfect!” Thanks to Mr. Gerdsen, there is always something fun happening at Blair on weekends in the fall. And, while he has nothing against Winnie-the-Pooh, he firmly believes that piles of leaves and hot chocolate are only the beginning...

Once in Awe of Skeptics Speakers, Blair Alum Zach Weisberg ’03 Becomes That Inspirational Leader

Having been born in Virginia and attending Blair in New Jersey and Duke University in North Carolina, Zach Weisberg '03 spent much of his early life on the East Coast. He has found his home and career, however, in the Pacific West, in sunny Los Angeles, California. Once a wrestler and always an avid surfer, Mr. Weisberg splits his time between catching waves and heading The Inertia, the largest global content platform in the surfing, mountain, and outdoor communities. An organization that brings “our passion for the oceans and mountains to life through original films, reporting and monumental gatherings” and “aims to make a positive impact on our planet through partnerships with nonprofits working hard to preserve Earth’s sacred places,” it attracts over 2 million users and generates over 4.5 million impressions monthly. 

On October 12 at 7 p.m., Mr. Weisberg virtually returned home to Blair's Society of Skeptics to discuss his former experiences at the School, The Inertia and the means to fulfilling one’s career goals. 

“My plan was to talk about my experience and entrepreneurship and figuring out a way to pursue one’s passions,” said Mr. Weisberg in preparation for the event. 

“With a bit of imagination and persistence, it's possible to figure out a way to make your passions a livelihood, no matter how unconventional. In my case, I essentially parlayed my love for surfing and being outdoors into a career. There isn’t a very linear path to do that, but just following in the direction of the things that you want to do; that often leads to opportunities."

Upon graduating from Duke University in the spring of 2007, Mr. Weisberg spent time developing and implementing strategies for Source Interlink Media, a magazine publishing company and action-sports media titan, while working as a freelance journalist for The New York Times, Esquire, and O, The Oprah Magazine. In September 2010, Mr. Weisberg launched The Inertia, which Forbes magazine called “The Huffington Post for Surfers.” Mr. Weisberg also graduated from USC Marshall School of Business with his MBA.

“A Skeptics that sticks out the most was the one with Chris Fussell '92, who was a former wrestler and Navy SEAL and who is from Virginia as well. His brother was actually one of my wrestling coaches in Virginia, and it was interesting to hear his perspective,” said Mr. Weisberg, reminiscing about the inspiring moments he felt as a Blair student. 

Eighteen years later, Mr. Weisberg chuckles modestly as he prepared to reconnect with Blair students. This time, as the inspirational leader. 

“The message was to identify the things that you love to do, and chances are, there’s a way to make that an essential part of not only your life, but your livelihood,” said Mr. Weisberg about what he hoped Blair students learned from his talk. “That was always the goal for me. If you can endeavor to have those dreams, then you can do it.”

History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.


The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.

Student Artists Showcased in National Art Show

Here at Blair Academy, students are encouraged to push their creative boundaries to explore their potential as artists. This often includes exploring a number of opportunities to showcase their work, both on and off campus.

The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers recently honored a number of Blair’s budding artists at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, hosted in New York, NY.  Duc Dinh ’22’s and Julian Huang ’23’s work was also chosen to be on display at the in-person gallery from a pool of winners. Both Duc and Julian had the opportunity to see their work in-person during a trip to the show on October 3.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is one of the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition programs for creative teens. Founded in 1923 and, for nearly a century, the program has inspired bold ideas in creative students throughout the country. All entries are considered for Gold Key, Silver Key, Honorable Mention, American Visions Nominee and American Voices Nominee Awards.

Throughout the school year, Blair faculty encourage art students to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, but it is not a requirement, according to photography teacher Tyson Trish. For students, the competition is a unique way to showcase work outside of Blairstown for the world to see.

“It is wonderful when your creative work is acknowledged by others outside of your community, as it provides students with confidence and positive feedback,” Mr. Trish noted. “I am very proud that these two students’ work is on display for others to see and be inspired by.”

Both Duc and Julian, who earned the Gold Key for their images, were remote-learning students due to the pandemic when they took the photos. Mr. Trish loved that they were able to turn to photography and art as an outlet and form of self-expression during this difficult time.

Mr. Trish and his photography students look forward to entering the contest again this year. To view a full list of participating Blair photographers, read on below.

Sofia Ciminello ’22 “Tenacity” – Silver Key

Ashley Dai ’21 “Pavillion Design” – Gold Key, American Visions Nominee

Duc Dinh ’22 “Gender Fluidity” – Gold Key

Duc Dinh ’22 “On Cloud 9” – Gold Key

Duc Dinh ’22 “Flower for Thoughts” – Gold Key

Hope Dragonetti ’22 “Loansome” – Silver Key

Julian Huang ’23 “Light” – Gold

Julian Huang ’23 “Busy” – Honorable Mention

Christine Jeong ’23 “Miss You” – Honorable Mention

Christine Jeong ’23 “Spike” – Honorable Mention

Christine Jeong ’23 “House of Goddess” – Honorable Mention

Christina Jiang ’24 “The Handprint” – Silver Key

Olivia Kreider ’21 “XXXTentacion Portrait” – Honorable Mention

Mia Leddy ’23 “crystal skies” – Honorable Mention

Christina Tan ’21 “Mermaid” – Gold Key

Linda Thomas-Galloway ’21 “Black and White” – Honorable Mention

Sean Um ’22 “Hopeless” – Gold Key

Sean Um ’22 “Gaze” - Gold Key

Sean Um ’22 “Arab Spring” – Honorable Mention

Sean Um ’22 “Dreaming the Impossible Children’s Book” - Gold Key

Sean Um ’22 “Earnest Prayer” – Gold Key

Dong Bin Won ’22 “Emergence” – Honorable Mention

Dong Bin Won ’22 “Looking through the Internal and External Self” – Gold Key

 

 

Transforming How Blair Introduces Engineering to Students

Head of School Peter G. Curran was driving down the road last summer, when he spied Blair science teacher Chris Thatcher—on top of a local farmer’s barn. “Is that Chris Thatcher?” he asked. “It wouldn’t surprise me. He might be trying out an experiment for class.”

In fact, when Chris Thatcher was not climbing ladders and jumping on barns, the pioneering science teacher did spend his summer conducting experiments for Blair’s new elective, Engineering Science. Open to students in the 11th or 12th grades who have completed or are taking physics, Engineering Science is a new course designed for students interested in pursuing engineering as a field of study or possible future profession. Unlike most traditional classes, however, this course’s curriculum is the brainchild of NASA engineers and secondary education specialists from the University of Texas at Austin. The program also offers teachers the rare opportunity to sample the curriculum as pupils themselves; this summer, Mr. Thatcher worked in teams with teachers from around the country to solve the curriculum’s engineering challenges, experiencing the course from a unique perspective.

Course Origins
Blair’s new course originated through a serendipitous turn of events. In 2008, the National Science Foundation awarded the University of Texas (UT) at Austin a $12.5-million grant to develop innovative solutions for high school engineering education. In collaboration with NASA engineers, UT faculty developed a series of secondary school courses designed to empower students to use creativity and analytical problem-solving to find solutions to real-world challenges. Whether it is launching a spacecraft or delivering safe, clean water to communities, in modern life, professional engineers find solutions to pressing problems. The UT program sought to design courses that would assist secondary school students step into that role of professional engineer. A few basic principles guided the resulting curriculum including: that all course activities are “scaffolded” and build upon each lesson learned; that the standardized engineering design process acts as a framework for all projects; that students engage in simplified and meaningful activities that professional engineers undertake; and that all design challenges have multiple successful solutions. 

When Blair science department chair Kelly Hadden saw that a window had opened to apply to the UT program, she quickly consulted with her colleagues. “Engineering is growing in importance as a foundational experience for our science students,” she said. “This was a great opportunity to introduce Blair students to different kinds of engineering—mechanical, chemical, environmental—in a hands-on learning environment.” Blair applied to the program and, along with a limited number of secondary schools from across the nation, was accepted. 

That is how Mr. Thatcher found himself, in the summer of 2021, conducting all manner of science experiments, from building towers that can withstand earthquakes to brewing the “perfect” cup of coffee. 

In the Classroom

To date, Mr. Thatcher has structured “Engineering Science” around six projects that form the backbone of the new course. After an introductory exercise focused on how to communicate effectively across specialized teams, he breaks students into groups to solve a series of challenges. In the first two, students study light, using pinhole photography to craft a “mobile obscura” and later re-designing a customized flashlight from scratch. In subsequent projects, Mr. Thatcher challenges students to brew the “perfect” cup of coffee, encouraging them to experiment with recipes, as well as variables such as brewing temperature, particle size and time. The curriculum also tasks teams with building safer buildings for earthquakes. In that exercise, student teams evaluate statistical data and then build a series of tower models, presenting their best design at the end of the course and testing it against a machine that shakes the tower and charts the structure’s velocity and displacement over time during a simulated quake.

All projects involve parameters and real-world conditions that students are required to take into account. For the course’s culminating project, for example, student teams design a prototype of an aerial-drop mechanism that surveys a disaster area. 

It is this application that most interested Mr. Curran. “The practical application of what Mr. Thatcher is teaching is very exciting,” he said. “Kids will take practical applications from this class to wherever they go next.”  

Student Addie Scialla ’22, who is one of 13 pupils in the inaugural class, knows that she will learn valuable engineering skills in the course, but that is not what she is looking forward to most. It is getting to study with the teacher whose enthusiasm, scientific curiosity and devotion to his students took him on an experimenting adventure in the summer of 2021 that excites Addie and her classmates most.

“I know Mr. Thatcher and he’s so energetic and hands-on. I’m really excited to take his class,” Addie said. An avid coffee drinker, she also admits that the coffee challenge is an added enticement. “Every morning, I start my day with a cup of coffee. I know I can perfect it!

Blair Seal

Author of seven novels, including U.S. National Book Award Winner “Let the Great World Spin,” Colum McCann joined the Society of Skeptics on Tuesday, October 5 to discuss the value of storytelling in the Exponential Age. Specifically, Mr. McCann spoke about how society can use stories to shore up democracy and how people can shape the world through listening and storytelling. 
 
For his exclusive talk at Blair, Mr. McCann wished to show the younger generation, specifically, “the value of optimism in the face of all the available evidence” currently impacting society. Watch his presentation below:

Over the course of his writing career, the Dublin native has received numerous national and international honors, including the U.S National Book Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish Arts Academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China and an Oscar nomination. His work has been published in over 40 languages, and in 2017, Mr. McCann was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
 
Apart from storytelling on the page, the Irish author co-founded Narrative 4, a nonprofit global story exchange organization where Mr. McCann, who currently serves as president, encourages the community to tell effective stories for positive change. An essential component of that community, Mr. McCann reiterated, is youth. 
 
“What I wanted for high school students to take away is the extent of the ways that they can change the world through telling their own stories and listening to the stories of others. I also wanted them to understand that optimism is far stronger and far less sentimental than the cynic,” summarized Mr. McCann. 
 
History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.


The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

Hardwick Hall Athletic Mural Dedicated in Memory of Tony Maltese ’55

On the new mural that lines the long corridor of Hardwick Hall, the striking images of Blair athletes from every decade offer their stories across time. The oldest students in Blair’s Athletic History Wall gaze out from 1894. They sit as a team, confident baseball players with handlebar mustaches and crisply parted hair, posing in thick, quilted pants, their legs set wide. The newest images capture Blair’s student-athletes in action—a young woman flying through the air to clear a hurdle, another straining as she pulls back to launch a javelin. Chronicling the story of the School’s sports triumphs, the mural celebrates the Buccaneers who have toiled and left their best on Blair’s athletic fields from the nineteenth century to the present. 

It took a team eight months to build Blair’s Athletic History Wall, and that team gathered on Wednesday, September 29, to unveil the mural and dedicate it to the memory of Tony Maltese ’55, a devoted, philanthropic and engaged alumnus who loved Blair. An accomplished athlete, Tony was the recipient of the Franklin Prize during his two years at Blair, captain of the wrestling team and two-time state wrestling champion. He served on Blair’s Board of Trustees for over a decade, and was recognized for his contributions to the School with the Alumnus of the Year award in 1994 and the School’s highest honor, the Citation of Merit, in 1999. 

“By all accounts, Tony was a force to be reckoned with during his Blair days both on the football field and in the wrestling room, but his love for Blair extended far beyond athletics,” said Head of School Peter G. Curran as he opened the ceremony. “It is hard not to be moved and inspired by Tony’s generous spirit and the mark he left on Blair through his dedicated support and service.” 

Tony’s daughter, Kristen Maltese Krusen, told the audience how happy and humbled her father would have been to be honored in this way by dear friends who enriched his life and kept him connected to Blair. “My dad loved Blair and attributed much of his success in life to his experiences here,” she said. “In the wrestling room, he learned that if you get knocked down, you get back up every single time, and that’s a lesson he instilled in his children. Dad would have loved seeing generations of Blair athletes represented on this wall and getting the chance to attend this dedication and talk with all of you today.” 

Tony’s passing in January 2021 affected many in the Blair community deeply, especially his classmate, Takis “Taki” J. Theodoracopulos ’55, with whom he maintained a close and lifelong friendship. At the ceremony, Taki addressed assembled guests that included former Blair Head of School and one of Blair’s newest Trustees T. Chandler Hardwick III; his wife, Monie Hardwick, who led Blair’s advancement office for 10 years; as well as Blair’s present Head of School, faculty and coaches. Speaking about how his friend personified selflessness, Taki explained, “Tony always put others first. Even when I happened to run into Tony [when his son was gravely ill], he asked only about me. I’ve never met a person who was more giving. His generosity extended to his family, his friends, this school and, of course, the country. I am very lucky to have met him.”

Chan also spoke of his friend Tony as one of the great 20th-century “Blair boys” for his strong character, quiet generosity and love for Blair. “Remember Tony Maltese,” Chan urged. “He was one of the greatest Blair alumni, a great friend to this school, and a great friend to us.”

Director of Athletics Paul Clavel ’88 believes that visitors will be engaged by the rich history now etched onto the walls of Hardwick Hall. From the long-forgotten wooden track that once guided Blair runners to the triumphant faces of the boys’ basketball team hoisting their trophy high for the first time, the mural suspends in time favorite and fascinating moments from Blair history. Coach Clavel also hopes the Athletic History Wall will serve not only as a reminder of past accomplishments, but also as an inspiration to current students. “When our athletes look at these images, I hope they realize that victory comes through teamwork, and strength comes from embodying humility, a strong work ethic and good sportsmanship. I hope they see that image of Tony Maltese and compete like him.” 

Frozen in time, the enlarged image of one handsome wrestler stands out from the mural. Crouched and ready to pounce, Tony Maltese stands as a fitting symbol of the energy, dedication and character it takes to be a true Blair athlete. 

Joe Mantegna Skeptics

Not even a month since his return from Rwanda, the site of the 30th FIBA Afrobasket tournament, Blair’s very own Associate Dean of College Counseling and boys’ varsity basketball coach Joe Mantegna had a lot to share about his recent trip. To watch his full presentation, click below:

Joe Mantegna Skeptics

Once a recruit of Mr. Mantegna’s, Luol Deng ’03 appointed his former teacher to serve as assistant head coach for the South Sudan Basketball Federation Men’s National Team while also asking fellow teammate and Mantegna recruit, Royal Ivey ’00, to serve as head coach. 
 
“Luol and Royal recently hired me to help them, and they were my first two recruits to Blair! Life has now come full circle and I am serving them, so that is pretty cool,” said Mr. Mantegna in preparation for his Society of Skeptics speech.
 
For the evening discussion, Mr. Mantegna, who posts an impressive 396-145 career record as head varsity coach, spotlighted the history of South Sudan and how they came to independence. He then focused on the ability of sports to unify and bind culture, even in a young and divided country like South Sudan. He also shared with the Blair community the highlights of his recent Rwandan trip with Luol’s and Royal’s involvement. 
 

“I think South Sudan’s performance in Afrobasket really showed the power of sport. When we beat Uganda and Kenya, which are both nations bordering South Sudan, there was literal dancing in the streets of Juba. For hours after those wins, there was a lot of pride in South Sudan, and they didn’t care which tribe the guy came from, they just knew that South Sudan had beaten Uganda and Kenya,” said Mr. Mantegna. “I think there’s real power in that. People underestimate the power in that, especially in such a divided, polarized country.”
 
A revered coach and mentor to so many students around the world, Mr. Mantegna did not fail to bring the community together once more, this time, back at home in Blairstown, New Jersey. 
 
“For South Sudan and many teams, playing the game of basketball means being part of something bigger than yourself. As part of the Blair team, it means getting to be a part of the brotherhood. With this tournament, you kind of feel like you have the hopes, dreams and aspirations of your entire country hanging in the balance. To be a part of uplifting a country—it goes beyond wins and losses,” said Mr. Mantegna.
 
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for students, Mr. Mantegna believed, is a lesson in humility. “There’s always somebody, even in the face of a world pandemic, that has it worse than you. There’s an African proverb that says ‘The man with no shoes is sad until he meets the man with no feet.’ There’s always great perspective in seeing what the struggles of other people are and being reminded of that.”

History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

Time Away: How Blair Faculty Spent Their Summer

As students departed campus following Commencement for their summer break, many faculty took time away from Blairstown to rest and recharge for the next school year. Some used the opportunity to catch up on developments in their fields and revise their courses, while others volunteered for service organizations and broadened their experience through travel. Read on to see how a number of Blair faculty members spent their summer!

 Meiyi Cheng, math teacher:

This summer Ms. Cheng moved from California to New Jersey to start her time teaching at Blair. She also adopted a cat named Taffy (pictured,) who is two-years-old and very friendly. Ms. Cheng is excited to be at Blair Academy and is looking forward to meeting everyone!

Tyson Trish, fine arts teacher:

Mr. Trish and his sons (Weston ’25 and Cameron, 12) joined his father for two days of backpacking in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Mr. Trish’s father is halfway through his pursuit of peaking all 46 4,000-footers in the state. He noted that it was great to have three generations on top of Zealand Mountain.

Mr. Trish also spent a week learning from AP Art and Design teachers from all over the country at an Advanced Placement Institute run by The Savannah College of Art and Design. He looks forward to using the tools as he teaches his first-ever AP-only photo class!

Craig Evans, English teacher:

English teacher Craig Evans and Brian Kathenes, who assists lighting and sound for Academy Players shows, showcased their singer/songwriter skills at Project Self-Sufficiency's Back to School Fair on Thursday, August 12.

The newly-named duo, “Exit 12,” has played locally for a number of years and welcomed the opportunity to provide music for such a good cause.

Joyce Lang, language department chair:

Mrs. Lang completed the first summer of a master’s program at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Due to the pandemic, Columbia held the five weeks of courses remotely, but that didn’t stop the program participants from developing strong, caring relationships as a cohort.

“I am looking forward to the research and practicum work I will complete during this coming school year, as well as the five weeks of coursework that will happen in the summer of 2022,” she said. “Hopefully, that will be on Columbia’s campus in Manhattan!”

She also spent a month at her home in Honolulu with her husband, which they had not been able to visit since the pandemic began in early 2020. While in Honolulu they ate brunch with Dean of Admission Teddy Wenner ’96 and his family who happened to be there at the same time.

“Paul and I were fortunate to have lots of family time with both of our daughters at different points over the summer,” Mrs Lang said. “We also spent a week or so with all of my siblings and nieces and nephews in June at my sister’s place in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.”

Tim Devaney, Spanish teacher:

Mr. Devaney and his family spent time working and playing at a camp in Maine. They then took some family time and went on a sea kayak trip off the coast of Maine, which included camping on an island for a few nights!

 

 

Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79, Dean of Campus Life, Director of Leadership Programs:

Ms. Conforti-Browse and her husband, Blair math teacher Latta Browse, reconnected with Blair alums this summer. Stops included visiting Shamila Kohestani ’08, Zach Weisberg ’03, Zaynah Karem ’16, Winnie (Adrien) Lizardo Orbe ’06, among others. 

 

Quint Clarke, history teacher:

Quint, Dr. Jane Ferry and his brother spent nine days in Kenya in early June as a part of the Blair in Kenya program. Blair in Kenya is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Kenya's poor through educational, medical, and economic opportunities. The organization runs two Kenyan elementary schools, conducts an annual medical clinic with American physicians and operates a microfinance lender. This summer, Mr. Clark and his team spent time checking in on sponsored children, meeting with the administrators and teachers at the schools, and making sure that goals were being met.

“It was a tough year, both because donations were down due to the pandemic but also because of the effect COVID-19 had on schools there,” Mr. Clarke said. “While the disease hasn't yet swept through, government requirements on de-densifying classes cost a lot of money and the local economy took quite a hit. That said, the people seem to be weathering it well and both schools have made significant progress. We are now educating over 900 students (53 percent females) and our medical program has greatly expanded.”

 

Caroline Queally, English teacher:

This summer Ms. Queally worked with former Blair history teacher Glenn Whitman in a professional development program offered by the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.

“The program offered many ways to best set students up for feeling a sense of belonging in the classroom and maintaining long-lasting memory beyond the classroom,” she noted. “I’m very excited to employ several strategies in my English classes this year!”

 

Andrew Sykes, history teacher and Kate Sykes, fine arts department chair:

Mr. and Mrs. Sykes traveled to Colorado and hiked in both Boulder and Breckenridge.

 

David Naysmith, math teacher:

Mr. Naysmith completed his Adirondack quest in 1993, taking 14 years to hike each and every of the mountain range’s 46 high peaks with his son. He inspired his grandson to complete this challenge in 2012, and a granddaughter who just completed hers this past summer.

“She had two mountains left to climb at the start of summer 2021, so she asked her husband, siblings, parents, uncle and myself to climb those two with her,” he said. “So on July 10, a hiking party of 11 climbed Whiteface and Esther Mountains and celebrated, with her, on the summit.”

 

Rod Gerdsen, Associate Dean of Students:

Mr. Gerdsen has always been a lover of learning. This summer, he earned a M.Ed., his second master’s degree, completing the Urban Principals and Leadership Program through Lehigh University. For his capstone project, he  designed a fictional public boarding school that focused on providing a Blair-type experience for underserved, underrepresented, inner-city children whose families fall below the poverty line. He noted that the incredible program focused on inequities in education and how proper leadership can help ameliorate this discrepancy.

 

Allie Solms, Associate Dean of Admission:

Ms. Solms hiked in the Adirondacks and traveled to Vail, Colorado, and Taos, New Mexico, in June and San Francisco, California, later in July with friends from college and high school. She also spent a week in Rangeley, Maine.

Photographer Heather Palecek Turns Her Lens on Convenience in “Still Resisting”

“Still Resisting” opens in The Romano Gallery on September 21, giving visitors the opportunity to view the work of analog photographer Heather Palecek. Ms. Palecek uses historical photography processes in experimental ways, collaborating with nature in each of her projects. Most notably a pinhole photographer, she also works with cyanotype and lumen printing, as well as digital photography, all of which will be on view. Her upcoming exhibition at Blair addresses humans’ relationship with nature and cautions against our overwhelming desire for convenience, featuring a series of cyanotypes about climate change made with food waste, a lumen print installation about the negative effects of single-use plastics, as well as a selection of work celebrating the resilience of plants.

“As a society, I believe our desire for convenience is prohibiting us from experiencing life fully, being present in our interactions, having empathy and living sustainably,” Ms. Palecek said. “I hope you will leave this exhibit thinking about your own relationship to mother nature and how our choices of convenience can impact our relationships with each other and the Earth.” 

A graduate of Montclair State University with a BA in Fine Arts Education with a concentration in photography, Ms. Palecek currently teaches photography at Montgomery High School in Skillman, New Jersey. Her award-winning work has been exhibited locally and internationally at locations as wide-ranging as Oaxaca, Mexico, to Silver City, New Mexico. In 2021, she led a conference on pinhole photography at the Experimental Photo Festival in Barcelona, Spain, and was featured in Trenton Daily as well as the podcast “The Real Photo Show.” Curator of “Third Thursdays” at the JKC Gallery in Trenton, Ms. Palecek resides in Ewing, New Jersey. 

An artist’s talk will be held at The Romano Gallery on October 14, 2021. All are welcome to hear Ms. Palecek discuss her work, beginning at 7 p.m.

 
 

Founder of Compassion Prison Project Kicked off Society of Skeptics

Criminal justice reform activist Fritzi Horstman is the founder and executive director of the Compassion Prison Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization consisting of individuals whose ultimate goal is to make the world more compassionate by helping those who are or were incarcerated. Ms. Horstman gathered the Blair community on September 14 to commence the 2021-2022 Society of Skeptics lecture series and spoke on the impetus behind her development of the Compassion Prison Project (CPP). To watch her full presentation, please click below:

Prior to founding CPP, Ms. Horstman received her Bachelor of Arts in Film and English from Vassar College. She is the Grammy-award winning producer of HBO’s “The Defiant Ones” series, and while building CPP, Ms. Horstman produced two documentaries, “Step Inside the Circle” and “Honor Yard: Finding Hope & Healing in a Maximum-Security Prison.” Both films highlight CPP’s story while educating viewers on the intersection between trauma and incarceration.

CPP works on a range of projects, such as letter-writing campaigns and compassion trauma circles to help incarcerated individuals who may have suffered adverse childhood experiences. All programs serve CPP’s overarching goal of working within the prison system while creating awareness in the general public to shift the negative connotations associated with those who are incarcerated.

“I hope they come to understand that people in prison aren’t monsters, that they learn what trauma does to the brain, body and spirit and maybe have them become excited to help shift the paradigm so that we’re not destroying the lives of people who commit crimes,” said Ms. Horstman in an interview with Blair. “And instead, we hope to help them heal so that they can return to us in a better condition than when they arrived in prison.”

Having spent her career addressing adults, Ms. Horstman revealed her excitement to reach a different, slightly younger audience.

“I could speak about just following what really gets you excited to wake up in the morning, because if you’re not excited doing this work, then, what are you doing? Why are you doing it? ‘Is it for money?’ I would ask. Why is money the goal instead of something that you can really contribute to the world? Because I think focusing on money, focuses on exploitation,” said Ms. Horstman.

“And then, it’s not helping the world. It’s actually hurting the world. So I would say, ‘If you love what you do, then you’re going to take care of the world and that’s giving back to the world just by choosing your occupation.’”

History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.

Community Weekend
Community Weekend

Hoarse voices, high energy and incredible memories are lingering on campus— remnants of our first Community Weekend. Saturday night was filled with the beloved Blair tradition of Soccerfest. This year, the girls’ varsity squad battled local high school Kittatinny under the lights on our home turf. Face paint, cheering and spirit were plentiful as fans rushed the field and piled onto the bleachers for the big game. A halftime penalty kick contest with the Blair Buccaneer as goalie brought laughter and free T-shirts to participants and spectators alike, followed by continuous chants and cheers led by members of the Senior Class Council.

Community Weekend

On Sunday, students gathered in dorm and day-student groups by Blair Lake for Kon-Tiki boat races, huddling as they hurried to craft a serviceable boat out of cardboard and duct tape in one hour. While Insley Hall, day students and the faculty kids rowed fastest across the lake, the Annie Hall boat lasted the longest, turning back to remain afloat and cheer on the second heat. The Kon-Tiki races were followed by Super Sunday, where the much-anticipated soap slide saw students flying down one end of the Bowl while hot pretzels, corn dogs, ice cream and a dunk tank featuring Mr. Curran gathered crowds in the other. In between, lawn games and the traditional egg toss kept students busy and laughing. The weekend ended with the delicious smell of a cookout wafting over campus as students and faculty, relaxed and hungry, settled at tables for a community-wide picnic down in the Bowl. As lines of students drifted back to the dorms for study hall, the air was filled with the camaraderie and friendships that were strengthened over a memorable first weekend at Blair.