John Polhill, assistant dean of the College of Science and Technology, paid the ultimate compliment to top honor graduates Carrie Mensch and Jenna Mordan: “I want people like Carrie and Jenna teaching mathematics to my children and being role models for my children’s generation.”
Earning a 4.0 in college is enough work on its own. Add a double major, student teaching, community service and a part-time job and achieving such a high GPA starts to seem impossible. This past May, however, two students rose to the challenge and became top honor graduates, both earning the highest grades in two Colleges: the College of Education and the College of Science and Technology. Both also received the National Science Foundation Scholarship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) for four years. And their one-in-a-million story has one more twist: these exemplary students are second cousins who didn’t know they’d chosen the same university.
Geographically, Carrie Mensch ’12 and Jenna Mordan ’12 grew up just 10 miles apart, but they seldom saw each other. When they came to BU, the young women began spending more time together, formed a friendship and eventually became roommates. The cousins only grew closer, Mensch explains. “We do a lot of things similarly — we hate the same foods and even have the same medicine allergy.”
From childhood, both women knew they wanted to be teachers — Mordan admits to “demanding” to be the teacher when she played school. Initially, she considered teaching art or going into special education, but the excellent math program at her alma mater, Central Columbia High School, near Bloomsburg, influenced her to concentrate on that subject. Mensch made the same decision after having a good math teacher at Danville High School. “The teacher has a huge role in the student’s interest,” says Mordan.
Mensch and Mordan stress that making connections with students is just as important as engaging them in academics. Mensch, who completed student teaching at Central Columbia, says her previous students were excited to learn she would be coming back half time as a teacher this fall, while also teaching at Columbia Montour Area Vocational-Technical School. “I spent the whole semester with them, and I really enjoy seeing that bond,” she says.
Mordan relates to students struggling with math by remembering subjects she finds difficult, and that perspective seems to work. “When I started student teaching, I had a student who was failing,” she says. “On the last test I gave, he got a 93. It was the first time I saw the influence I can have over my students.”
International education has always been on Mordan’s radar. When she learned about International School Manila in the Philippines, she was impressed by all the facility offered, including a staff dedicated to extra-curricular activities and community service. The teaching position she started this summer also offers Mordan something unique. “If no one needs a substitute, I can go to classes as a teacher’s aide for the day. It’s a huge learning experience — I’ll get to observe different teaching styles and environments.”
While their programs were similar, the cousins decided on different concentrations. Mensch minored in educational technology; Mordan took classes in special education and earned a concentration in exceptionalities. Another shared family trait pushed Mensch and Mordan to gain specializations outside of their double majors. “We’re both perfectionists,” Mensch explains. “We always want to improve.”
As they prepared for their careers, Mensch and Mordan were taken aback by how often they were recognized in public and quickly learned the importance of maintaining professionalism beyond the school walls. Mordan acknowledges it can be difficult to distinguish between being a friend and being a mentor. “It’s hard not to laugh at students’ jokes sometimes,” she admits, “but you need to make the line clear.”
Both young women say they feel prepared for their careers and credit much of their confidence to their practicum, an intense course taken prior to student teaching that enables participants to become familiar with how a classroom works by shadowing an educator.
“It was the most beneficial experience I had at BU,” says Mordan, who had the opportunity to teach a few lessons during her practicum. “I got used to being in front of the class instead of in the seat.” •
Christine Heller ’12 is a creative writing major from Nazareth. She enjoys leisurely walks and bad puns.