Guiding the Future with a Gentle Hand

It was Lebanon Valley College’s renowned Music Department that brought Kelly Wenrich O’Brien ’07 to the College, but it was the excellence of the History, Politics, and Global Studies Department that retained her. After changing her major to pursue a bachelor’s degree in history with a secondary education certification, O’Brien was able to begin her successful teaching career.

Similar to many incoming students, O’Brien used her high school interests to direct her choice of academic major. As a result of her active participation in numerous music extracurricular activities in high school, O’Brien felt that the Music Department would be a good fit. After involvement in the department, she found that music was more of a hobby than a professional pathway. Her affinity for history and an engaging modern United States’ history course with Dr. John Hinshaw, professor of history, led her to change majors.

“As a history major, I enjoyed the small classes, especially as an upperclassman. Often these courses focused around small case study topics, a type of environment that encouraged depth of academic investigation, thought, discussion, and writing,” explains O’Brien. “We were encouraged to explore topics that were of personal interest and had every opportunity to engage with our professors and classmates.”

These seminar-style courses helped O’Brien gain a new perspective on the world, and rethink familiar topics that she had learned as a younger student. For O’Brien, finding new ways to connect with the larger community was the true collegiate experience. 

“This was a purposeful foundation for my future career as a teacher as I daily consider how my students have that same opportunity to engage with their peers, the material, and the world around them,” outlines O’Brien. 

Following her graduation from LVC, O’Brien spent seven years teaching Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography and American Government at Cumberland Valley High School before accepting a new position at Milton Hershey School this year. 

O’Brien remained involved with her College alma mater as an adjunct professor. In 2009, Dr. Hinshaw hired O’Brien to teach the Methods for Secondary Social Teachers course, which she taught for four years. This course instructs students how to use relevant methods in their teaching careers, with lessons on technology in the classroom, the use of current events, differentiated teaching methods, classroom management techniques, and curriculum planning. In addition to the official lessons, O’Brien says that students appreciate the real-world classroom experience that she can impart in her teaching. 

O’Brien immensely enjoys making these connections with her students: “One of my former students in the methods class, Dillon Streifeneder ’14, student taught with me at Cumberland Valley during the 2014 spring semester. It was awesome to see him make practical use of methods I taught him the previous year while also exploring his own creative ideas.”

Instead of teaching college courses now, O’Brien is taking some of her own. She is currently enrolled in graduate school at Penn State Harrisburg, and anticipates earning her master’s degree in American studies at the end of 2016. 

When O’Brien is not in the classroom, she works as a part-time supervisor coordinating lifeguards and was the Key Club advisor at Cumberland Valley. She cites her extracurricular activities at The Valley as influences for where she has decided to spend her extra time.

“Through a variety of organizations, I participated in community service activities that really influenced my role as the Key Club advisor at Cumberland Valley. I also spent four years lifeguarding, which led me to join the swim team with Coach Mary Gardner,” recalls O’Brien.

Such influences have been nothing but positive for O’Brien and her husband, James O’Brien ’07, and they relish their ability to stay connected to their former school. James is the head men’s and women’s cross country coach, as well as the distance coach for the men’s and women’s track & field team.

“I love that James and I have been able to stay so connected to the current students through our careers,” affirms O’Brien. “James’ runners become our family members and we often host them at our house for dinners before races or during a fall break weekend. Each spring we go to graduation at LVC to bid farewell to the students who we have done our best to influence in positive ways. Just as we were surrounded by a powerful support system during our time at LVC, we hope to be part of that for each incoming class of young men and women.”