Catherine Orders ’23
Laura Patterson, Jackie Sweeney, and Shelley Swope are three faculty faces that some Mercersburg Academy students, depending on where they live on campus, may not see very often. They labor in relative anonymity perhaps. The three serve primarily in the role of Dorm Dean for Tippetts Hall, Main Hall, and South Cottage, respectively. Their work is essential to life at Mercersburg.
Patterson says, “I don’t know how other dorm deans who teach and coach manage all of the responsibilities. They are amazing. For me to feel like I’m doing what is best for the students who live here, I’ve chosen this and advising as my only school obligations. I think it’s one of the most rewarding positions on campus and I’m grateful that the school values my contribution and has allowed me to be a part-time faculty member.”
Sweeney says, “The most important part of being a dorm dean for me is creating a safe, fun, home-like environment in which each student can learn, have fun, relax, and thrive.”
While students may see some of the work that dorm deans do for the community, there is even more being done behind the scenes that goes unnoticed. “There is a lot of planning during vacations before students even arrive on campus. And scheduling all of the dorm faculty for their weekly and weekend duty is like putting a complicated puzzle together,” Sweeney says.
Dorm deans also work to ensure that students are successful and healthy. “I think what most students don’t realize is that I’m their biggest cheerleader. I am the one who holds them accountable for dorm infractions; however, I’m also the one on the sidelines rooting for them or giving them a safe space to cry their eyes out after a breakup or when they’re feeling overwhelmed, which has happened more times than I can count,” Patterson says.
The relationships that dorm deans build with students and other faculty members ensure the positive and rewarding experiences that are built at Mercersburg. “I get to work with an amazing group of kids, and on top of that, the Main Hall faculty are the best. Our team has the wisdom of many collective years of the boarding school experience. I really appreciate how thoughtful and supportive they are, and I can always count on them to make me laugh,” Sweeney says.
Patterson agrees that relationships are essential to building the dorm communities. “Making connections with each student is the most important part for me. This can be a daunting task with almost 100 boys associated with Tippetts Hall. I like to know what their strengths and talents are and what they struggle with so I can be supportive and helpful.”
Swope also appreciates the unique relationships: “Of course, I enjoy the conversations I have with students at the duty desk and in advisory, but it is the spontaneous chats that occur in passing that I love the most. As I’m leaving to walk my dog, I may run into students who just won a close sports game and get to share in their excitement, or when I’m sitting outside reading, I might have a conversation with students about their favorite books. Or I might sit in a circle with a group of residents and look at a picture of cakes, analyzing which slice best represents our personalities and why. These are the moments that make being a dorm dean so fun!”
Dorm deans are clearly some of the hardest working members of our community, but they will be the first to tell you their responsibilities are more than a job. Patterson says, “I most enjoy getting to know all of the students and watching them grow during their time here. I really enjoy working with ninth graders and witnessing their graduation four years later is very rewarding. They become even better versions of themselves during their time here and it gives me hope for the future. It’s also fun to stay in touch with them after Mercersburg and see their journey in life.”
Swope sums it up best: “Living in the dorm is the best part about working at a boarding school.”