Kelly Led “Mission-Aligned Growth” in Tech and Innovation

Kelly Led “Mission-Aligned Growth” in Tech and Innovation
  • Makers
Julie Dengler

Three contributors to Ravenscroft’s growth in this area — much of it now in the Innovation, Design and Engineering Department — share their insights about this period of investment and success.

As Ravenscroft headed into the 21st century as a leading PreK-12 institution, school leaders recognized the growing importance of STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — in preparing students for the opportunities and challenges of their future.

Building on the core disciplines of science and math, the last two decades have seen a marked expansion in curricular and cocurricular offerings that equip Ravens with the mindset and skill set to become leaders in engineering, technology and innovation — with Head of School Doreen Kelly leading the way in what Associate Head of School Justin Brandon called “organic and mission-aligned growth.”

“We have been able to add opportunities for our students, both to meet their needs and interests and to give them what they need to be successful in a complex and interdependent world,” he said.

Here, three contributors to Ravenscroft’s growth in this area — much of it now in the Innovation, Design and Engineering Department — share their insights about this period of investment and success.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Sophie Mazzucchelli ’31, Sophia Pereira ’31 and Alana Alston ’31 are captivated by stones shared by Lower School science specialist Patrick Knox in this 2019 photo; eighth-graders Frances Margaret Gehrke ’18, Bella Church ’18 and Pell Williamson ’18 explore the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant’s science exhibits during a class field trip there in 2013-14; Chris Barnette ’18 collects evidence during a lab in the Upper School Forensics elective in 2017-18; fifth-graders Cesar Bassim ’25 and Jin Jeong ’25 in John Fiedler’s 2017-18 class test a parachute they’ve designed.

Cynthia Fordham: Technology in the classroom

Longtime Lower School instructional technology specialist Cynthia Fordham — who was Kelly’s first hire as the new Director of Lower School in 1999 — recalled the dramatic changes she saw during her 20-year tenure here, from the kinds of work students did to the spaces where they did it.

“Starting with the computer lab in 1999, I saw the transitions of technology,” she said. “Ravenscroft did a really great job making sure that we had the resources for students.”

In those early years, she remembered, Lower School students would visit the computer lab to complete lessons and practice their word-processing and keyboard skills. Soon, teachers were incorporating projectors and document cameras in their delivery of lessons, complemented by collaborative spaces for teachers on Wikispace. Smart Boards and grade-level computer centers soon brought the delivery of subscription-based learning software that supported curricula in all disciplines.

Tech investments in the early years of Fordham’s tenure include classroom Smart Boards and a Lower School computer lab, both seen here in photos from the Winter 2007 Ravenscroft Magazine.

Fordham — who was named a 2011 Tech4Learning Innovative Educator in recognition of her work here — helped lead the way with lessons that introduced students to coding, among other things, worked to ensure Lower School students were taught best practices in digital citizenship and collaborated with colleagues to get students excited about STEM.

By the time she retired in 2020, her students were participating in engineering-design challenges as part of a comprehensive approach to innovation, design and engineering in all three divisions.

“It was truly a collaboration — everyone working together and getting comfortable with technology — and all that happened under Doreen,” she said. “She trusted us to run our own departments, and I looked to her for hiring the right people. That’s what made us successful: the people.”

Programmatic offerings grow to include tech-focused clubs such as the Lower School Power Up Club, shown here creating “squishy circuits” in the 2017-18 school year, and electives such as Upper School Robotics, with Justin Barber ’16, Liam Brosie ’16 and Evan Huseboe ’16 shown here in 2014-15 demonstrating their work to Middle School students.

Jason Ramsden: Resources and infrastructure

Jason Ramsden, who served as the school’s Chief Information Officer from 2006 to 2021, oversaw the crucial period of Ravenscroft’s expansion of technology and the infrastructure that supports it. Just a few years into his tenure, he worked closely with Kelly to introduce student laptops — made possible by a gift from the Replogle family — and a schoolwide database.

“Doreen was very much like, ‘We have to get the pieces in order and get the people on board and understand what it means for the school,’” he said. “We ended up being one of the first schools in the country to go with Chromebooks in 2012.”

Critical investments during Ramsden’s tenure include Chromebooks — in this photo from the Summer 2012 Ravenscroft Magazine, Middle School teacher Bill Rothe works with seventh-graders including Chris Reynolds ’17, Sophie El-Gamal ’17 and Alexandra Kansler ’17 during the pilot phase — and infrastructure that allows eighth-graders to Skype with a CDC director in Zimbabwe in 2013-14.

Additional investments under Ramsden included the campus-wide adoption of cloud-based Google apps and, in 2020, the introduction of the learning management system Canvas — both of which were essential in supporting the school’s shift to remote learning and then hybrid learning as the school responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As technology has continued to make an impact on education, Ravenscroft’s approach has remained thoughtful and strategic, Ramsden noted, adding that Kelly’s leadership in this area gave people a chance to see the benefits of changes without being overwhelmed.

“On the tech side, we never tried to do ‘big change, big change, big change.’ There was some cadence to it, where it didn’t seem like it was ‘big change’ all the time,” he said. “Whenever we made changes, there was support from her. It was never like a top-down decision. It was always conversation first at different levels.”

As technology has continued to advance, opportunities for students to use it have grown, including learning to edit video in the Lower School (Sam Frushone ’23 and Jackson Wickline ’24 are shown here in 2015) and creating multimedia presentations in the Upper School’s Entrepreneurial Problem Solving elective (Hodge Burkhardt ’23, Abby Dix ’24, Chris Lorenz ’23 and Laurel Carter ’23 are shown pitching ideas to Carolina Hurricanes staff in 2023).

Kevin Keim: Facilities and programmatic growth

Kevin Keim, an alumni grandfather and trustee whose support of project-based learning and innovation has been invaluable, noted that updates to facilities and strategic investments in resources that supported programmatic growth were also significant aspects of Kelly’s tenure.

Keim said his decisions to fund the Middle School MakerSpace in 2015 and the Keim Center for Innovation and Research in 2018 — both transformational spaces for Ravenscroft’s programming in innovation, design and engineering — came from his appreciation for what he called “educational experiences that were hands-on — out of the textbook and typical classroom seat.”

Keim’s support for STEM-focused facilities has included the Middle School Makerspace — here, Think It! Design It! Make It! teacher Tim Phillips works with Middle Schoolers David Gring ’21 and Henry Oelhafen ’23 in 2016-17 — and the Keim Center for Innovation and Research, where Upper School Robotics students David Gaul ’20 and Samantha Schantz ’22 work in the Innovation Lab in 2019-20.

His 10-year tenure on the Ravenscroft Board of Trustees has also given him added perspective on how valuable Kelly’s approach to bringing in such new programmatic offerings has been.

“She totally respects legacy and tradition — she is a defender of that — but, on the other hand, she knows … that every idea that we worked on at one time was innovative and was a change idea,” he said. “That is what has led us through this [period of growth]. I think she does that very, very well.”

Today, the Lower School Innovation Hub — in the same space that was once home to Fordham’s computer lab — rounds out the facilities that support the important work being done by the IDE Department. And all across campus, layers of curriculum, programming and outreach in STEM fields thrive today because of the building blocks Kelly has put in place from the very beginning of her tenure.

The Lower School Innovation Hub, led by Danny Carlson (seen here in 2023 with Georgie Shaw ’33, Kate Rivers ’33 and Margaret Ishizawar ’33) rounds out the school’s divisional offerings for spaces that encourage design thinking, collaboration and hands-on learning.

In this 2018 video, Chief Information Officer Jason Ramsden and Director of Educational Technology Sarah Wike explore how the design of the Keim Center provides school leaders with the flexibility needed to grow and evolve IDE programming as needs change over time.

The school’s ongoing commitment to these programs and resources positions Ravenscroft as a leader in educating tomorrow’s innovators in STEM and beyond. As Ramsden put it in the school’s 2018 video (above) heralding the opening of the Keim Center, “Technology is ever-changing, the future of STEM+ is ever-changing, and because of the rapid advancement we see coming down the pike, investing in that for our future is critically important to ensuring that our kids are prepared to thrive in a complex and interdependent world.”

At top, Sophia Hopper ’24 works on a project during Michelle Nunalee’s Middle School Engineering elective in the 2010-20 school year.

Yogin Patel '23 enters data into an app during an Upper School Statistics activity on quantitative variables in spring 2023.


Enjoy these stories about today’s curricular and cocurricular programming in STEM and IDE.

Nine New Developments in IDE
(Nov. 13, 2023)

Math in the Lower School: “Putting kids in the driver’s seat”
(March 20, 2023) — includes links to Middle School and Upper School math features

Varsity Robotics “Controls Their Destiny” With Successful Season
(March 21, 2023)

District C Immerses Middle Schoolers in Real-World Thinking
(Dec. 5, 2022)

Tournament Brings the World of Esports to Ravenscroft
(March 10, 2022)

Lower School Innovation Hub “Creates an Amazing Learning Experience”
(Feb. 18, 2022)

Jairus Cook ’22

Jairus Cook ’22’s outstanding work in Innovation, Design and Engineering at Ravenscroft was recognized with an Academic Achievement Award at the 2022 Honors Convocation. Today, he is a Levine Scholar pursuing an engineering major at UNC-Charlotte.

Cook characterized his four years in Ravenscroft’s Upper School as critical to preparing him for higher education and his chosen field.

“I knew I wanted to be in engineering — and probably mechanical — from a young age,” he said. “Doing actual STEM work at Ravenscroft, especially with the engineering elective, definitely prepared me for college. I remember we did a project where we had to do computer-aided design. We also did the frame of a bicycle with wood planks — really actually getting your hands dirty and doing physical projects. It was project-based, which is how my Introduction to Engineering course was here at UNC-Charlotte.”

He added that the design-thinking approach modeled in his IDE classes was particularly important.

“My experiences with the IDE Department at Ravenscroft challenged me to really think through designs in order to solve the problem or meet the project requirements,” he said. “Looking back now, I can see how the projects we did encouraged us as students to think collaboratively. Seeing our thoughts and plans come to life in a finished product fueled my interest in engineering as a whole as I transitioned into college.”

Alexis Fenner ’19

Alexis Fenner ’19 graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2023 with a double major in Mechanical Engineering with an Aerospace concentration and Mathematics with a concentration in Applied Mathematics. She currently works at Northrop Grumman in California as an Associate Systems Engineer.

“I truly enjoyed all of the math courses at Ravenscroft because they challenged me to think strategically to solve problems in more ways than one,” she said.

Fenner said two Ravenscroft courses that really piqued her interest in STEM were Computer Programming and Senior Engineering Lab.

“The project that sold me on the field of STEM was a group project with the objective of building a device that could accurately shoot an object at specific targets on the floor,” she remembered. “As a hands-on person, I loved completing this project because it not only motivated me to assist my team in building a catapult but also allowed me to learn how to use more complex power tools. It also taught me how to efficiently communicate with a team and to resolve problems effectively.”

As she has moved into her career, she said she draws as well on the competencies she developed through Lead From Here.

“The most important skills I have learned from Ravenscroft are how to work with a team and how to use everyone’s differences as a positive, how to listen to learn and understand rather than listening to reply, and how to speak up for what I believe,” she said.

Jairus Cook ’22

Alexis Fenner ’19