By Jill Spotz

When first-year students arrive on College Hill each August, they are filled with excitement and anticipation. Commencement? Life after college? That feels like light years away. But, if you ask most parents of recently graduated seniors, they will tell you the college years actually “fly by.”  The time spent at Lafayette is very short in the scheme of life. In these four years, students grow into conscientious young adults as they navigate college life and their newfound independence. During this time, many parents and families of Lafayette students choose to remain involved by volunteering and supporting causes at the College.

The O'Neill family pictured at 2021 commencement

The O’Neill family at Commencement in May 2021—from left, Noel P’16 ’21, Conor, Cameron ’21, and Andrea P’16 ’21.

For the O’Neill family, two of their three sons graduated from Lafayette (Cameron ’21 and Brian ’16), and their first volunteer connection began during Brian’s tenure. Always strong believers in promoting education, the O’Neills frequently supported schools they were a part of. “We are just real believers in the strength of a good education,” explains Andrea O’Neill P’16’21. “Investing in not only our kids’ experience, but the experience that others can have as a result of our involvement has always been a priority for us.’’

The O’Neills first played a pivotal role in the College’s InternShift program, which was created by a group of alumni and parent leaders in 2015 who saw an opportunity to provide immersive internship opportunities for Lafayette students. But the O’Neills’ involvement with Lafayette took a timely turn in 2019 when the Gateway Career Center began planning a new career exploration program to be held during the winter break called Career Tracks. With a goal of providing students with exposure to potential careers in a variety of disciplines, Noel O’Neill P’16’21 was one of several volunteers who stepped forward to help plan the program.

“Coincidently, I am at a position at Cambridge Associates where I am involved in overseeing hiring and recruiting, including our summer internship programs for both undergraduates and MBAs,” explains Noel. “I am involved in looking at how we think about hiring interns, and I have an appreciation for what it looks like on the college’s side.”

Noel helped with planning the program, and Cambridge Associates has been one of many companies that participated in the financial services track over the last three sessions. Throughout the program, participating companies representing various industries; including finance, technology, life sciences, and more, offer students an overview of the particular career sector, practical advice, and skills that will help them to ultimately gain employment after they graduate. Last year, more than 40 employers participated in the Career Tracks program in industry-specific hubs including New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and the West Coast.

“It has helped us as well to do a very effective and efficient job of explaining to top talent what Cambridge Associates is all about in a condensed and focused way,” explains Noel. “We have also hired several interns from Lafayette since the start of the program.”

The O’Neills felt both of their sons developed confidence and curiosity during their time at Lafayette, through their involvement in the Career Tracks program and beyond. “Anything that they were curious about they could learn more about,” explains Andrea. “In turn, this led them to develop confidence in themselves. There is an intersection between the two that contributed to their Lafayette experience, and we hope that is true for other students as well.”

Serena Fenaroli is pictured with her parents in her dorm room at Move In in 2020

The Fenaroli family—from left, Paul P’22, Serena ’22, and Karen P’22

For the Fenaroli family, their connection to Lafayette has blossomed since their daughter, Serena ’22, first set foot on College Hill from Kansas City, Mo. Serena, who is majoring in economics and environmental studies, chose Lafayette because of its diverse curriculum, multiple opportunities to pursue entrepreneurial activities, and grounding in the liberal arts. It is no surprise that entrepreneurship entered the equation as Serena’s parents, Paul and Karen Fenaroli P’22, have invested in multiple startup technology companies over the years, and Karen has served as CEO of a startup for more than 20 years.

The Fenarolis also participated in the Career Tracks program and were instrumental in the creation of the Data Analytics Boot Camp in connection with the Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Gateway Career Center in 2020. In collaboration with two additional families, Doug and Sandra Griebel P’23 and Dan and Danitza Miller P’20, the Fenarolis addressed a critical need: the opportunity to equip students from traditionally non-STEM backgrounds with marketable skills to understand and analyze data. The 10-week Data Analytics Boot Camp was first offered in summer 2020 to fill the gap students were facing as a result of internships canceled due to the pandemic. The program was so successful that it is continuing this year. It resulted from a partnership among Lafayette, a dedicated group of parents, and Podium Education, which served as the curriculum provider.

“In essence, it became a career skills accelerator for 30 kids last summer,” explains Karen Fenaroli P’22. “I knew as a business person that liberal arts interns need soft technology skills. They are behind the eight ball because of the pandemic. The boot camp not only served as the perfect resource by providing entry-level skills in data analytics and digital marketing, but it met a very important goal—it was equitable. With zero cost to students, anyone could participate.”

The Fenarolis also are involved in a new and exciting initiative—creation of the Marquis Parents Catalyst Fund to support programs that do not yet exist for students. Similar to the Data Analytics Boot Camp, the purpose of the fund is to elevate the experience for Lafayette students by providing resources that will equip them for success after they graduate.

“What matters most is what doesn’t exist,” explains Karen. “The boot camp through Podium did not exist a year ago at Lafayette. My vision was to find a couple of parents that could financially support this initiative and that Lafayette would match that funding. Now, to be offering a third boot camp with almost 100 students participating, I know that we’ve made an impact. I know that other new Lafayette parents will gladly become catalysts. We could be the first liberal arts college to say that every student has the equity of getting soft technology skills, because the Marquis Parents Catalyst Fund created that opportunity.”

You Can Make a Difference

  • If you are interested in learning more about the Marquis Parents Catalyst Fund or other ways to become involved, contact Janice Egan, director of Parent Engagement and Philanthropy.
Categorized in: Careers, Dyer Center, Giving News, Parents & Families
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1 Comment

  1. Jash K. Patel says:

    I cannot wait to work so hard at Lafayette and make the best of my college experience.

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