Brian Calnan is the head “Dean of Fun” during the summer session. He started working in the summer session ten years ago as an intern teaching math in the Odyssey of the Mind cluster. Today, he describes to us some of his experiences and answers some of our questions. Transcribed by Emma Jones and Luisa Slomp.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up in Massachusetts, about an hour and a half from here. I still live there with my family. I have lived in Massachusetts my whole life. Just a little town called Douglas. It’s basically where Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut all connect.
Q: Do you live on campus or off campus?
A: For the summer I live on campus in Cilley Hall. I have lived in a lot of different dorms in my time here.
Q: How long have you worked here?
A: This is my 10th summer. I started as a teaching intern in the problem-solving cluster of Access Exeter, and that was my first year. The nine years since I have worked in student activities.
Q: How many years have you been a Dean of Fun?
A: For the last eight years I was an assistant director of student activities, kind of one of the Deans of Fun. This year Ms. Trueman is retiring, and so I am the Head Dean of Fun. This is my first year as Head Dean of Fun.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: What I like most is… can I cheat and answer two things? I like that I get to interact with almost all the students on campus. Teachers might have, say, 40 students in their classes and ten advisees that they to work with and don’t get to have students in class that I get to work with as closely, I get to see everyone because they all come to our office. So that’s one thing. The other thing I like is it’s a big change from my regular year job, for the rest of the year, I am a high school math teacher. I love teaching high school math, but I love it for about 9-10 months a year. I love to switch it up and do something different, in the summer.
Q: What don’t you like about your job?
A: The really big thing I don’t like about my job is when I have to tell students “No.” Either because they didn’t get the ticket on time or they didn’t bring their Lion Card to the bus or they don’t have permission to attend a certain trip, or they didn’t pass their swim test. I don’t like that because although I know that I have 150 students going on a trip, the image I see is the one student who can’t go. Their sadness, their being upset, I don’t like having that. It’s a safety issue, so it’s what we have to do but that’s what I don’t like. I don’t like those times.
Q: What’s your favorite part about Exeter, in general?
A: My favorite part about Exeter is the people. The teachers that I have gotten to work with for the past ten years are incredible, from all over the country, all over the world. They are inspirational; they make me want to be a better teacher. And the students, the students are amazing. The students have always been great with my two children… very interactive with them, making them feel special. The talents that you guys are as a collective group. All the talent that you bring to this campus is amazing. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the summers.
Q: What is it like to be a Dean of Fun?
A: I think it’s a lot more work than some people think. We don’t get days off. We work seven days a week. When our offices are closed on Sundays, we are running trips. There are no days off. There’s a lot of background work that goes into it, but it is a lot of fun! It’s good to have the opportunity to try new things and get students to try new things and encourage students to visit new places. It can be stressful at times, but for the most part, it is really, really, really enjoyable.
Q: What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you as a Dean of Fun?
A: We get some people who come up with some pretty ambitious ideas for trips. One of the cooler things we’ve done, we had a group of students who… they had not passed the swim test, they didn’t know how to swim. We had a really hot summer; This was a few years ago and in that summer we created Exeter Beach. So we got a little pool, those plastic pools and filled it with like three inches of water. We got like inflatable palm trees and different things and put out in that quad right out there (the academic quad) because they couldn’t go to the beach. This was one of the most different activities that we didn’t expect. Nothing too crazy has ever really happened. At least in my experience. One of the most impressive things I think I have seen, my first year, ten years ago I was not officially a Dean of Fun, I was a teaching intern and for Polar Bear Swims they were very different back then. We had buses lined up from Phillips Church all the way down Tan Lane past the science building. We brought 40% of the summer school to the last Polar Bear that day.
Q: Do you love your job?
A: I love my job! It’s a great job. I like the people that I work with; Ms. Lyon is new to our office this year, but she has been great. Mr. Braille, I’ve worked with for several years, and he is fantastic as well. Ms. Trueman was outstanding. I mean, I learned so, so much from her for the last nine years working with her and she is still here a little bit this year. Yeah, I love my job.
Q: What is something that you have learned from your job?
A: Something that I’ve learned is… I have to remember that certain people find different things fun. What I have as an idea of what would be fun for me, or even what I think would be fun for somebody else may not be the case. Or something that I didn’t think would be fun may turn out to be a lot of fun. There are different events that I thought that weren’t going to be particularly successful and all of a sudden we have a lot of people sign up for it, and they come back, and they love it. That’s something that I have learned. Be open to the idea of different people having different ideas of fun.
Q: What is your favorite trip?
A: There are a lot of really good ones, but I really like going to Canobie Lake Park. I love the Polar Bear trips, I think it’s a fun way to bond with people in the morning, just get up early with your friends and do that together. Other than that…it’s a good question, otherwise I think probably my favorite trip would be the trip to Cambridge. I really like the town of Cambridge.
Q: How do you and the other deans of fun decide what trips to go on?
A: We have, over the past decade, had a lot of trips get repeated because we keep track of how popular trips are. For example, there are a lot of trips to Boston Common or to the mall, stuff like that. College counseling books the college trips. You know, Ms. Thompson-Taylor, she books all that. Sometimes students suggest things. Since this year I’m new to the position of director I added a few more trips like the miniature gold trip and the blueberry picking trip, smaller trips that just give students more options. Typically trips stay pretty similar from year to year.
Q: Do you ever have any difficulties booking trips?
A: Sometimes, yes. One of the biggest difficulties we have is predicting how many students will go on a trip. Like, we’ll call up a museum and have to say how many will come to get a rate and we’ll estimate fifty, but only twenty will come. So yeah—sometimes there’s difficulty with the venues. But a lot of the times it’s good, because with something like a mall trip or a beach trip all you really have to do is get transportation.
Q: How do you decide how many students go on each trip?
A: Great question. So, some places put limits on us, like the college trips, miniature golf, blueberry picking…sometimes you can only hold so many. Other trips like beach trips or Boston or things like that, we actually don’t cap it until the very end when we’ve had to order buses. If we have to order tickets for something, we keep track of the numbers from past years and try to kind of get an estimate a little bit ahead of that in case it’s a little bigger. So yeah, to answer your question, some are kind of unlimited and some are based on past estimates.
Q: If you had to recommend one trip for a student to go on, what would it be?
A: I think it really depends, but I think that first of all for students who aren’t from this part of the country, I think visiting one of the colleges is a great idea because you don’t need to fly or drive back out here to see these schools. Otherwise I would recommend Canobie Lake Park, it’s an evening trip for both upper school and access and it’s a great opportunity to just have an evening that’s enjoyable with your friends and just relax.
Q: How old are you? [Scattered laughter]
A: Thirty. I’m thirty.
[“The best questions usually come last,” remarks Mr. Blumenthal.]