top of page

At the helm: Justine O'Connell

Audrey Hua '26

Following the mid-year departure of Shelley Swope, former dean of South Cottage, residents welcomed the new dorm dean, Justine O’Connell. An experienced and well-respected faculty member, she was greeted wholeheartedly with cheers and hugs, a promising start to a new position.

Justine O’Connell, Director of Global Initiatives, chair of the Conduct Review Committee, and overseer of the international student affinity space, expressed her enthusiasm for the role. “Mercersburg is the first boarding school I’ve ever worked at, and Fowle has been my home since I got here in 2019,” she said. “I really love working and living in the residential part of my job.” O’Connell offered her thoughts for the future of her work in the dorm. “I’m hoping to create these moments of time and togetherness,” she said, “[and] help them [students] navigate the emotions that come with getting older in your high school career.” 

Nevertheless, she shared some trepidation. “I'm feeling a little bit stressed because I'm moving so quickly, but I have a lot of great support from my friends who live here on campus,” she said. “[I’m] mainly excited about this new adventure and having a new perspective on campus.” She also mentioned her closeness with the students at South Cottage. “I know and I've seen those residents grow into really amazing young people,” she said. “I hope to use the Prefects, and that they can share their experiences in the past of living in South.” When asked what she hopes to bring to the dorm, she said, “I think [I will introduce] mainly traditions that will involve food. I heard the South residents love ice cream.” 

Coleman Weibley, the Associate Dean of Student Life, stepped in as interim dorm dean before O’Connell could make her move, happy for the contact with students.  “I think it allows students to see me in a different way,” he said. “They get to see the fun side of me, and they don't necessarily have to label me by my job title or consequences.” The best part of Weibley’s experience was the students. “A lot of laughs, a lot of sides of students that I don't typically get to see in the dining hall or in passing.” 

Weibley admitted there were hardships to stepping in on such short notice. “There were several nights where I had to spend the night in the dorm, sleeping on a cot in an empty apartment,” he said, explaining the need for an adult in case of overnight emergencies. “There's added responsibilities that I don't think people recognize that come with being a dorm dean.”

Danielle Nordyke, Director of Human Resources, described the qualities that the school looks for in a dorm dean. “Experience that they've had with students, building community, and really having shown a way in which they support students is important for us,” she said. “In her five years here, [O’Connell] has really proven herself as a faculty member who can connect with all students.” Weibley also played a role in choosing the dorm dean. “I think it was a really competitive pool,” he said. “We actually had a lot of interest that we weren't sure we were going to get.” He seconded Nordyke’s point on their ultimate choice. “I think [O’Connell] can relate well with the residents of the dorm, and can work with them to build a culture and community where everyone feels like they belong.”

Prefects of South Cottage were eager to welcome O’Connell. Paloma Casariego Cerdeira ‘24 said, “When I saw her after I went into the dorm meeting, I had a smile on my face for the whole meeting.” Kate Kalinowski ‘24 said, “I’m excited to get to know her better and for the dorm to have a new leader again.” The residents ached with the news of Swope’s departure but expressed their faith in O’Connell. Cerdeira said, “At first we were so sad because Mrs. Swope seemed like the perfect dorm dean, because she was, but I feel like Ms. O’Connell is gonna be such a good replacement for her. She really fits the South vibe.” 

bottom of page