Seniors Matt Rooney and Ellie Grabow in University of Richmond's Garden of Five Lions

Young leaders pay it forward with the next generation

January 8, 2024


Playing and working well with others is critical to children’s growth and learning. Two recent Jepson School graduates have done their part to foster this growth through their internships. Matt Rooney worked as a lead instructor in a summer school program for high-need middle school students in Denver and Ellie Grabow served as a head counselor at a summer camp in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Both Grabow and Rooney graduated in December, a semester early.

Rooney came to the University of Richmond thinking he would pursue a legal career, but changed his plans after taking several leadership studies classes where he learned about education inequities.

“These classes taught me to think outside the box — or even destroy the box,” Rooney said. He became a leadership studies and history major with a minor in religious studies. “I decided that if I could be part of the process of making education more equitable, I’d like to get started.”

This past summer, he interned with Generation Teach, a nonprofit that recruits and trains diverse cohorts of aspiring teachers to work in high-need schools. He taught at a Denver middle school, working with 18 eighth graders to improve their reading, writing, and math. The supportive community created by Generation Teach, including daily check-ins with his mentor and his cohort of 40 teachers-in-training, proved invaluable, he said.

“Improving my students’ social-emotional skills, the way they talked to each other and to their teachers was very important,” he said. “I realized that while I might not be everyone’s favorite teacher, I would do my best to give them what they needed to succeed.”

Grabow faced her own set of challenges as a head counselor at Camp Echo, her family’s summer camp for boys and girls ages 7 to 15. She grew up spending summers at the camp, located 90 minutes from New York City on 200 acres of rolling hills. For the last few years, she has worked at Camp Echo in roles of increasing responsibility.

As a head counselor, she oversaw 150 girl campers and 50 staff members this summer. Her days started at 7 a.m. and ended at midnight, with only four days off in nine weeks.

“What makes it special is the community, the people,” said Grabow, who majored in leadership studies and health studies. “It is so rewarding to see the kids’ growth.”

That growth comes in the form of the children’s social skills, something Grabow attributes to the guidance of trained staff and the camp’s technology ban.

"Without access to their cellphones, campers learn to speak to each other and resolve conflicts,” she said. “They form deep friendships. Most come from busy towns and cities and love spending time in nature. It’s a very tranquil setting, except,” she added with a laugh, “when all the kids are dancing and screaming!”

Following graduation, Grabow lined up an internship in the human resources department of a technology company. Come summer, she will be back at Camp Echo. Afterward, she said she will look for a job working with children.

Meanwhile, Rooney started as a long-term substitute, teaching AP Government and Honors History at Glen Allen High School, his alma mater, located just north of Richmond. Next, he said he plans to get a master’s degree in education, become a full-time high school history and government teacher, and work to ensure more students receive the kind of quality education he received.