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Young Alum Panel Shares Experiences with Parents

Annual forum gives prospective parents an opportunity to listen, ask questions. 
Eight GPS alumnae returned to campus to share with parents their experiences and opinions on how their alma mater prepared them for college. On the panel were:

Allyce Buniak ’16, Washington University, organizational behavior and political science
Abby Jansen ’15, Southern Adventist University, history
Ivey Fidelibus ’16, Georgia Institute of Technology, biology and public policy
Mary Chandler Gwin ’14, Yale University, molecular biophysics and biochemistry
Morgan Pels ’17, Auburn University, nursing
Lauren Hood ’14, University of Tennessee, public relations
Chandler Key ’13, Tennessee Tech, mechanical engineering
Katie Brandao ’17, UNC Chapel Hill, computer science and art history

Before fielding audience questions, the young women engaged in a shared dialog about what aspects of their GPS education translated into success at college. Jenise Gordon, Head of Upper School, moderated the forum.

When prompted to comment on what they learned at GPS that they use nearly every day at college, they mentioned time management and leadership skills, proactively seeking out available resources, standing up for oneself, critical analysis skills, and abiding by an honor code. In fact, the GPS Honor Code became so ingrained in their psyche, more than one admitted to automatically writing it on tests through freshman year of college.

“I knew that when I started college, the first six weeks I wouldn’t know anyone,” Mary Chandler Gwin says. “So, it wasn’t surprising that I was a little lonely, but I was so busy. GPS instilled such a confidence in me to conquer tasks and take on new challenges. It taught me that I would find where I needed to be.”

“We want our girls to be phenomenal advocates for themselves,” Gordon says, “especially our juniors and seniors. We want to hear from our girls and not their parents.”

And lots of comments were shared about how their writing skills put them head and shoulders above their classmates. Abby Jansen says her writing chops were so stellar, she was offered a job. “After the first paper I turned in, my professor called me into his office and asked if I had written it,” she says. “I thought I was in trouble, but he said that he passed my essay around the history department—but first called dibs. As a freshman, I became his grader. I emailed Mr. (Todd) Wells (GPS English teacher) and thanked him for teaching me the skills that got me a job.”  

For Katie Brandao, her writing skills got noticed even before she left for college. Her application essay went through several rounds of revisions with Wells. “He was so good about helping me with my essay,” she says. “I sent at least five extra drafts to him.” The essay helped Brandao get accepted to UNC Chapel Hill and win the Morehead-Cain Scholarship. Even schools that Brandao didn’t end up going to returned positive comments to her about her essay.

Lauren Hood says her fondness for GPS is so evident, she became known as
“that girl who really loved her high school. But I also became a leader in my sorority,” she says. “GPS taught me to go for whatever I wanted.”

Brandao adds, “I had to work to make a big school feel small. I forged connections in a way GPS taught me to do, such as through yearbook staff and student council. I know how to make something intimidating much more comfortable. GPS helped me feel prepared for life and for school.”

When Gordon asked the women to consider what they might tell their ninth-grade selves, the panel threw out suggestions such as: study more, keep an open mind, realize plans change, stand up for yourself, and don’t stress over the college application process.

“I was dead-set on going to one school, and then ended up choosing a different path,” Gwin says. “You end up where you need to be.”

To which Brandao adds, “Keep an open mind. I was determined to go to Duke; I even did Duke TIP and had a sweatshirt! But I toured UNC Chapel Hill and got a (full-ride Morehead-Cain) scholarship to attend there.”

And Ivey Fidelibus says, “I’d remind myself to think more specifically about what majors I might enjoy.”

In revisiting the importance of the GPS Honor Code, Gordon asked how the code impacts them today. Without hesitation, the women mentioned witnessing college classmates cheating on tests and homework—something that they would not consider doing. “I hold myself to a higher standard,” Hood says. “It never crosses my mind to cheat; GPS taught me to maintain my integrity.”

From the audience, questions began with: How did going from an all-girls school to a co-ed environment affect you? The panelists mentioned how coordinate activities at McCallie made the transition a non-issue. One even admitted to not even noticing there were boys in her class. Another says she had many conversations with friends in college about her all-girls experience. “I know myself better because I never worried about what a boy thought about what I was doing.”

The second question asked was: How did you perceive the support you got from GPS about getting into college and were you able to get into your dream/reach school?

One alumna says she got into all five schools she applied to. Another called the support she received “amazing.” Gwin says her dance teachers, Laurel Zahrobsky ’90 and Cathie Kasch ’72, worked with her because she wanted to keep dancing. “I looked into Ivy League schools and group-messaged with Mrs. Zahrobsky and Ms. Kasch during the audition process. So their support went beyond high school.”  

When asked, What do you have that sets you apart? the women offered a plethora of qualities:
innate curiosity, being more articulate and eloquent than peers, note-taking skills, confidence to speak up for oneself, social skills, professionalism, resiliency, and poise.  

The alum panel is assembled annually as part of the admission process, an opportunity for future families to attend and ask questions. But even current GPS family members attended, proving the panel can also be a way to seek affirmation that their girls are right where they belong
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