The Mercersburg News Person of the Year recognizes a individual (or a group of people) in the Mercersburg Academy community who has shown outstanding dedication, achievement, and passion for bettering the communities they are a part of. In a departure from years past, the recognition is being given in the first publication of the new year.
The 2023 Person of the Year is history teacher, Director of Community Engagement, adviser, graduate student, parent, and inspiration to all … Emily Parsons.
Emily Parsons grew up in Mercersburg, where she devoted herself to the community she has been a part of her entire life. In her current role as Director of Community Engagement, she works to create and nurture a deep connection to the local community with organizations like My Neighbor’s Bounty, Peckin’ Thyme Farm, and the Conococheague Institute, as well as many others.
Head of School Quentin McDowell said, “ Many will talk about feeling compelled to serve the community they were born out of, but she is one of the rare few who is actually doing something. [Parsons] is an invaluable member of the Mercersburg Academy community. She contributes so wholly to the experience here for her colleagues, the students she serves as well as the larger community outside of the academy. What an altruistic experience.”
Parsons took over as the Director of Community Engagement in 2021 and has since worked to completely revamp the school’s program. College counselor Daniel Hulse, who leads the PGA in the Winter Term, said, “She has a keen understanding of the difference between service and engagement and is working tirelessly to bridge the gap between the two.”
Kaori Graham-Myrie ’24 has worked with Parsons as a member of community engagement. “She is a diligent leader and is always looking for new opportunities to help the community. She has also been an amazing resource and mentor for me,” he said.
Recently, Parsons has bridged the gap between community engagement and education through the year-end Intensive course that she coordinates with the Conococheague Institute: Full on Frontier. Co-leader and fellow history teacher Rich Heffron remarked, “The highlight of Full on Frontier has been the many laughs I've shared with Ms. Parsons as we dressed up in 18th-century dress and tried our best to share our passion for history with a bunch of students. What I love about working with Ms. Parsons is that she cares deeply about her work—and it shows—but she never takes it too seriously.”
Matthew Wedd, who directs the Conococheague Institute, said, “What struck me as a partner to the program was the zeal, energy, and communication she put into our relationship to ensure the students had a great experience at the Conococheague Institute. This alone could count as a full-time job in many spheres. [Ms. Parsons] always seems to have an empathetic understanding of the students, and ensures that they push themselves to excel while having a great time.”
Along with her many responsibilities as a teacher and leader at Mercersburg Academy, she is a student at Shippensburg University, where she is working towards her second master's degree, this one in counseling. McDowell said, “The fact that she is doing this particular program is a reflection of her desire to continue to grow professionally, to be able to utilize her strengths as a sought-after resource and counselor of others. She optimizes the lifelong educator/learner model as she has dedicated her life to not only educating but to become more educated.”
In the classroom, Parsons is adored by her students. American Studies student Tiana Lee ’25 said, “Her class is never boring. She always comes up with creative ways to learn and discuss American history.”
Likewise, faculty and staff alike admire Parsons’ value in the Mercersburg community. Heffron said, “It's impossible to overstate her importance to this institution. In sports, there's a term ‘glue guy,’ which is used for a player who isn't the star but who is the one who enables the team to excel. Ms. Parsons is one of those ‘glue’ faculty members at Mercersburg who truly embodies the spirit and mission of this school and lifts up everyone around her, whether that be students, faculty, or staff.”
Fellow history teacher and longtime friend Daniel Walker said, “As one of my closest friends for over two decades, I can tell you that she is always looking out for others (both inside the school and out). She truly defines Mercersburg in terms of service to others and striving to give her students the best learning experience!”
Outside of school and through all of the work she has undertaken, she has also raised a family. Jay Howley ’21, her eldest son, commented, “She really is a person driven by care. She is utterly selfless and has done so much for the Academy. Everyone has a story where she’s been there for them.”
In her time at Mercersburg Academy, Parsons has worn many hats. She has been: the Dorm Dean of Fowle Hall, the founding Director of Springboard, the Steam Camp Program Director, the co-leader of trips to both France and Argentina, along with many other tasks too numerous to mention. She has been recognized with the Ammerman Distinguished Teaching Award and holds the Marilyn and Robert M. Kurtz '52 Chair for American Studies since 2015. Her sons, Jay and Evan Howley, are graduates of the Classes of ’21 and ’22, respectively, and her daughter, Sarah Howley ’26, is a lower-middler.
People to contact:
HR to get a list of her past roles and positions:
Appointed to the Marilyn and Robert M. Kurtz '52 Chair for American Studies in 2015
Recipient of the Ammerman Distinguished Teaching Award
First director of Springboard Capstones
Co-leader for the ABA Symposium trip to Argentina
Co-leader for the French program's trip to Paris
STEAM Camp Program Director
History Faculty (also taught for Quinn-Ferguson)
Dorm Dean in Fowle Hall
Community engagement Director
Heffron - Intensive
Mr Hulse (ask for current list of CE)
"Being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I knew that I wanted to be a part of Community Engagement. The first time I met Ms. Parsons, I could feel her energy and passion. She has a keen understanding of the difference between service and engagement and is working tirelessly to bridge the gap between the two. Watching her work inspires me everyday. Her battery never turns off and she is the first one to get your back or get the back of any student she interacts with. As someone who is considered local, she has been a huge force in building relationships with the outside and ensuring that Mercersburg Academy upholds the values and integrity when we are working with others."
CE PGA Winter Term:
Iseo Yun (Food pantry intensive)
“I have had the great opportunity and pleasure to work with Ms. Parsons over the past three years through community engagement and in my personal service project. She is a diligent leader and is always looking for new opportunities to help the community. She is had also been a an amazing resource and mentor for me.”
Matthew Webb (Connecocheague Institute)
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Emily since August 2021 when she reached out to the Conococheague Institute as part of her new role as Director of Community Engagement. In a short time a thriving partnership had been launched that would have students involved in diverse and rewarding philanthropic activities ranging from cemetery restoration, historic preservation, tree plantings and gardening.
What struck me as a partner to the program was the zeal, energy and communication she put into our relationship to ensure the students had a great experience at the Conococheague Institute. It’s only zooming out from CI and seeing the larger scope of Community Engagement that makes you realize that she puts the same effort and time (with considerable emails and logistics) with a multitude of partner sites (Peckin Thyme, Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity etc) which is quite the endeavor. This alone could count as a full time job in many spheres, and the extra effort (making double trips for students, organizing birthdays or making jam with the grapes that students harvest) is incredible. She always seems to have an empathetic understanding of the students, and ensures that they push themselves to excel while having a great time.
The result though is a program that greatly benefits local non-profits with their workload, and in turn provides Mercersburg students with rich and rewarding experiences that will help shape their own perceptions of community…and perhaps volunteer, intern or work in the non-profit field as a result!
It is also inspiring that Emily undertakes this role in addition to having a family, furthering her academics, being a full time teacher, and leading the 'Can you Live 18th Century' Intensive!
I look forward to continuing to work with Emily with Community Engagement. I’d love to see it expanded so more students can enroll. I hear there is quite the queue!
In delving through CI’s records, I also have photographs of Emily providing student experiences at CI as far back as 2006, and that she maintains such passion and tirelessness is legendary. An ageless determination to be emulated by all.”
Devin Rotz (President of CE counsel)
Ms. Parsons has been a compassionate leader for Community Engagement, always working to bring different people together. One feat this year was bringing together Mercersburg’s community Engagement council and James Buchanan’s NHS and student council—something Mercersburg hasn’t done recently. There is something always brewing with her and community engagement, always looking for ways to advance community relations and develop our program and council.
Willis: South Africa Trip
Coleman: Puerto Rico
McDowell (Masters in Counseling in Shippensburg)
Craig (Masters in Counseling in Shippensburg)
Someone from Baking Club?
Her Kids? (Sarah, Jay)
“She really is a person driven by care. She is utterly selfless and has done so much for the academy. Everyone has a story where’s she’s been there for them.”
Dorm Dean in Fowle
4 year senior girls?