Blair’s annual Young Alumni Skeptics has become one of the most-anticipated events of the year, as recent graduates are invited to share their experiences as collegians and young professionals. On March 2, project manager for KIND Jenna Catalano ’10, bioastronautics doctoral candidate Annika Rollick ’14, Navy Lt. Stephen Pantane ’09 and investment banking analyst William Pemberton ’16 joined the Blair community virtually via Zoom for the 2021 Young Alumni Skeptics. To watch the presentation, please click below:
The Blair community enjoyed welcoming these Young Alumni Skeptics panelists:
Jenna Catalano ’10:
During her four years at Blair, Jenna Catalano ’10 was a member of the girls’ varsity swim team, co-captain of the girls’ varsity crew team, a leader of her class council for three years and a senior prefect. She continued on to graduate early from Villanova University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. At Villanova, she was involved in Greek life as a sister of Alpha Chi Omega, and she is still a lover of all things Villanova basketball. During the summer of her junior year, Jenna was a congressional intern in Washington, D.C., where she roomed with a fellow Blair grad who was also interning on the Hill.
After living briefly in New York City, Jenna took a leap of faith and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a congressional staff assistant before moving on to one of the top consulting firms in the area, Booz Allen Hamilton.
At Booz Allen, she translated her constituent work on the Hill into consulting in the military health space, working to optimize the Department of Defense healthcare system in areas of patient safety and continuity of care. It was here that she found her love for project management, and, in her last year, she served as deputy project manager for a $30 million, 35-person contract. She studied for and completed her Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate in 2017.
In mid-2018, Jenna moved back to New York City to focus on family and true project management. Through networking and a stroke of luck, she landed a project manager job at snack bar company KIND, where she has since launched 12 new products across 11 product lines.
Jenna lives in New York City with her boyfriend, Sean, and is very much looking forward to the reopening of indoor restaurant dining.
“Blair did a fantastic job of preparing me for college and giving me a strong sense of independence, because, at the age of 13, I was already living away from home in the dorms, in charge of managing my schedule, doing my schoolwork, and on my own to make friends,” Jenna said. “By the time freshman year of college came around, I was already ahead of my classmates, and, later in life, I had the confidence and independence to take the leap of faith to move on my own and make my own way. All of this I attribute to my Blair experience.”
Annika Rollick ’14:
Annika Rollick ’14 came to Blair as a boarding student from Sussex County, New Jersey. Interested in science, history and English, she was a member of the crew team and competed at the national level with Blair all four years. Annika continued rowing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and chose to study aerospace engineering. While at MIT, she also minored in creative writing with a concentration in literature.
Annika is currently enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying bioastronautics, one of the institution’s specialties. She received her Master of Science in May 2020 and hopes to complete her doctorate in 2023. Her work centers on changing the design of space habitats, like the International Space Station, to update them with cutting-edge technology.
In her spare time, Annika dedicates time to the community and serves on the national board of Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The organization works to advance gender equity in aerospace with programming aimed at providing resources and outreach to minorities nationwide at local school chapters. Annika also helped start the first international chapter in India this past year after a student in Bangalore contacted the organization. She also enjoys trail running, cycling and snowboarding.
“Blair contributed to my success in a lot of ways,” Annika said. “I think the benefit of learning time management can’t be overstated, so the structure of having school, sports practice, dinner and study hall prepared me well for college. I also had a fantastic advisor, science teacher Michael “Doc” Sayers, and other teachers who didn’t let me talk myself out of applying to my reach schools. MIT is a school that attracts a certain character—contrary to public image, it has a rebellious and really creative culture—and I’m glad I had mentors who saw the fit even when I had doubts about myself.”
Stephen Patane ’09:
Stephen Patane ’09 was a member of the swim and crew teams at Blair. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied economics and rowed for another four years. Following graduation, he received his commission in the Navy and was selected for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training. Through this intensive course, he learned to locate, identify, render safe and explosively dispose of foreign and domestic ordnance, including conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, underwater and terrorist-type devices to enable access across a wide range of military operations.
Following EOD training, Stephen was stationed in Virginia Beach at EOD Mobile Unit Twelve, where he served as a platoon commander. He led platoons in Bahrain and Somalia, and spent time across the Middle East. He and his team were responsible for all EOD and counter-improvised explosive device operations in East Africa. He is currently planning to separate from the Navy this summer to join the private sector.
“Blair contributed to my success by constantly pushing me outside of my comfort zone, not only academically and athletically, but also through its tremendous community,” Stephen said. “Blair's everyday dynamic and inclusive environment exposed me to a wide range of opportunities and challenges that helped shape me into the person I am today.”
William Pemberton ’16:
Since graduating from Blair Academy in 2016, William Pemberton ’16’s desire to be a jack-of-all-trades has nurtured his trajectory in all areas of his life. As an investment banking analyst at Citigroup, he specializes in providing best-in-class strategic advisory to the largest companies in the world in everything from mergers and acquisitions to capital raising. As a student at Lehigh University, where he received his bachelor's degree in finance with a minor in political science, he was elected president of the class of 2020, worked as a peer writing tutor, served as chairman of the minority business alliance and oversaw operations at Taylor Gymnasium on campus. At Blair, he was a two-year boys’ varsity squash captain, and he also served as co-manager of the boys’ varsity basketball team. Outside of Hardwick Hall, Will was a member of the Blair Academy Players’ tech crew each spring.
An aspiring world-changer, Will approaches each day as if it is his last and seeks to make the most of every opportunity, with the intention to never settle. He knows that these traits are required of those who seek to become leading strategic advisors on Wall Street, working with the corporations and institutions responsible for keeping the global economic machine churning. They are the same traits that are essential to navigating an enriching personal and professional journey, one in which no two days are the same.
“When I arrived at Blair, I had never been outside of the state of Illinois for an extended period of time, and my first roommate was from South Korea,” Will said. “Blair was initially a culture shock, as I was surrounded by a diverse representation of people along with continuous opportunities to be enlightened by their unique walks of life. Over the course of my four years, my cultural awareness and embrace of diversity's power grew; they are pillars of developing a strong community and amplifying change. My Blair experience motivated me to think and act boldly for the greater good and has contributed to continued success in all areas of my life.”