College Counselor Jody Kennard is an explorer. How else would you describe a woman from New Jersey who has lived in the jungles of Borneo, worked for Pennsylvania Quakers and learned fundraising tips from a formidable nun who once worked for the CIA?
Jody says she was born knowing that she would leave her New Jersey hometown to attend college away. She is number three of four biological siblings with four additional step-siblings. Early on, Jody had an independent streak and unlike many young siblings who aspire to be like their older siblings, she wanted to do the opposite. Jody’s siblings studied Spanish, so Jody took French. Her siblings went south for college, so Jody went north to the University of Vermont. For good measure, Jody also decided to pursue a double major in French and English, while becoming certified to teach in both subjects, something she says was not common at the time.
Jody attended a private all-girls high school as a teen. By chance, she met Fred Sheldon, who attended the corresponding private all-boys high school, at a joint choir concert. After dating for some time, attending separate universities and being separated while Fred conducted research overseas, the two ultimately married and are still partners in life’s adventures today.
Once her education was complete, Jody began her career fulfilling her dream of becoming a teacher. She taught in public middle schools for several years and loved every minute of it. Thoughts of those first teaching jobs still cause Jody’s face to light up with happiness as she discusses them. However, when Fred began graduate school at Yale University, Jody didn’t immediately find a teaching job in Connecticut. Instead, she took a job as a researcher at Yale Law School. At Yale, as the Secretary of State called daily for the experts in her office, Jody learned just how large the world, once represented on Mrs. Scott’s map, actually is and how knowledge and power are interconnected.
Never one to say no to a new adventure, Jody was happy to join husband Fred in Borneo when he took a leave of absence to conduct research on the birds of Sabah. The two lived in a small, wooden house in the middle of a rice patty for several years. Jody says water buffalo frequented the area near her home and the surroundings were quite primitive. Jody and Fred learned the local language and befriended their native guides. It was an adventure she truly loved.
Back in America, Jody took her first job in fundraising at Yale. She continued fundraising for small colleges across the country as she and Fred moved about for new opportunities. For Jody, each experience was a chance to explore and learn. From Sister Francis de Sales Taggart, the CIA nun, she learned that first impressions aren’t always accurate. After all, Jody says she never would have guessed that this nun had been in North Africa with the Foreign Service during WWII. From interacting with the passionate volunteers and donors at each school, she learned the importance of “working with people that just really care.” Of all the highlights she could share, Jody lights up as she talks about the passion and dedication exhibited by her mission-driven colleagues. She remembers the waves of volunteers who stuffed envelopes or made phone calls because of their belief in the school and their determination to see it succeed. There is admiration and awe in her voice as she describes Sister de Sales’ ability to command attention and inspire donors. There is joy in her expression as she describes her daily phone calls with a passionate older volunteer who couldn’t fathom that others weren’t equally as passionate.
When LSU offered Fred a career opportunity, this Jersey girl’s next adventure began. At this point, Jody and Fred were parents to sons Kenny Sheldon ’07 and Ricky Sheldon ’09. “The only reason we considered coming to Louisiana was because of Episcopal,” says Jody. Episcopal provided the family a welcoming community and Jody joined in, becoming a room mom, grade level rep, lunch room server and annual fund volunteer. In 2005, she joined the Episcopal staff as a fundraiser. Once Kenny began exploring colleges, Jody realized a new passion – helping students find the best college to meet their goals. In 2010, Jody became a full-time college counselor. “That’s been the joy of my life,” she says.
College counseling combines the experiences of Jody’s life into one role. “Even though I’m not teaching I still see these kids every day,” she says. She also gets to help students develop their voice and tell their story through the college essay writing experience. “It’s just so much fun,” she says of the experience that allows her to help students discover who they truly are and what they want to be. Jody enjoys the metamorphosis that occurs when a young freshman appears at her door only to emerge four years later as a confident senior with their dream college chosen. “What really catches me is the uncertainty of it,” she says. “I don’t know where they’re going to apply or get in.”
One certainty is that Jody has had a tremendous impact on her Episcopal colleagues. “Not to be overly dramatic, but the thought of Jody’s absence in the Upper School office is nearly unimaginable,” says Shandi Fazely, who works closely with Jody as a member of the College Counseling team. “Jody’s talent for connecting with students and faculty - all people, really - has inspired my own interactions at times. Jody is fierce and devilishly funny. Her quick wit brings both levity and an endless supply of ideas; and she’ll go to bat, always, for students, friends, ideas, policies, procedures, anything, in which she believes.” Justin Fenske, the director of the College Counseling team, will also greatly miss Jody. “Jody is a trusted ear,” says Justin. “Students put their faith in her and spend hours in her office, but that trust is extended to her colleagues as well. I have spent countless hours talking with Jody as we plan the future of college counseling and discuss individual students. I can’t imagine what it will be like next year without her input.”
It is not just the college counselors who will miss Jody’s presence on campus. “Jody has served as a mentor to me personally and professionally in the years I have known her at Episcopal,” says Michelle Chenevert, Director of Technology. “She is always full of energy and gives attention to detail in everything she does.” Art teacher Kate Trepagnier applauds Jody for her passion and commitment to college counseling and the students she serves. “Jody is able to transform nuanced and complicated problems into a concise strategy that the students grasp and implement,” says Kate. “With her curiosity, humor, and focused energy, Jody is respected by students and faculty.”
Jody enjoys the unknown that comes with the college counseling process and exploring faraway places. She says in life “you make choices and you take risks and if it doesn’t work out, you have to be nimble.” That willingness to try new things and explore new worlds seems a fitting trait for a person charged with helping students chart a new path. While Jody’s path now takes her away from Episcopal, she leaves very much still passionate about her work and the school. Even as this adventure comes to a close, many more await her. Jody and Fred will take off for a stint in Indonesia soon. She will also substitute teach here at Episcopal when she can. No doubt, this explorer will keep charting new territory.
Congratulations, Jody. We wish you well on your next adventure!
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