Up until the second grade, Meghan Brett was pretty sure that she wanted to be a hairdresser. She loved playing with her friends’ hair, and she was “fairly good” at it for a kindergartener and first grader. Then Elena Bruno M.A. ’97 came along.

“Her dynamic, innovative, enthusiastic approach to teaching ignited a spark in me that has grown into a blazing fire of passion for teaching,” said Brett about her second-grade teacher at University Heights Elementary School in Hamilton, N.J. “She was so passionate about her teaching. Even as a second grader, I knew that. She left a big impression on me. She’s the person who inspired me to become a teacher.”

Today, Brett, a senior Elementary Education and Psychology major, is student-teaching in a kindergarten-inclusion class at Mercerville Elementary School. Brett realizes that she could not be where she is today without her talents as a scholar and the supportive guidance of mentors like Bruno.

Brett, a third-year Andrew J. Rider Scholar, gave the student address during the Founder’s Day program on Saturday, November 7, as part of Family Weekend on the Lawrenceville campus. The Rider Scholar award, named for the founder and first president of the institution, honors the top one percent, according to grade point average, of sophomores, juniors and seniors from Rider’s six colleges and schools.

“Today is a very special day as we all gather here to honor the perseverance, creativity, balance and excellence of the finest students who are currently attending Rider,” Brett said.

Through perseverance, Brett and her fellow students are able to successfully overcome challenges and reach goals. As creative thinkers, they do not settle for expectations, but come up with their own ideas and take risks, and they also know the importance of balance and time management, she said. Finally, scholars strive for excellence by valuing education, taking pride in their work and building relationships with professors and potential employers, Brett added.

While Brett recognized her fellow students for their achievements and unique gifts, she also recognized the role that mentors, teachers and parents play in the lives of scholars. For Brett, her support system not only included Bruno, but Andrew Sinkleris, her ninth-grade Gifted and Talented/English teacher at Nottingham High School, as well as supporters who are no longer with her, including her grandparents and Ludmila Kapschutschenko-Schmitt, professor of Spanish at Rider, who passed away in July. Brett also recognized her parents, Sean and Diane Williams Brett ’80. Brett's mom was also an Andrew J. Rider Scholar when she was a student.

“We obviously have some kind of support system as evidenced today by having all of you in attendance to witness this special moment in our lives,” she added. “Yes, some of our ability is due to genetics, but the environmental component is also vital for success. I have learned extensively about the impact environment can have on children’s development in my Education and Psychology courses.”

As a freshman, Brett played on the women’s soccer team. Later she became involved in numerous activities at Rider. She tutored Spanish at the Student Success Center on the Lawrenceville campus, is a member on the Council for Exceptional Children and is also a member of several honor societies. Brett has also worked at the Mercer Catering Company for the past five years.

In the future, Brett hopes to have an elementary autistic or inclusion class of her own, and she plans to pursue her master’s degree in either school psychology or counseling.

“I loved being a kid. It was a care-free time. Even working with kids, I just thrive off of their energy. It’s just contagious,” she said. “I hope to connect to students, especially those who lack self-confidence. I hope to help let them see that they have potential.”

Brett concluded her Founder’s Day address by telling her fellow scholars that they are all educators.

“We may not have our own classroom and we may not know all of the strategies to employ to reach every learner and foster every child’s intellectual, social and emotional development,” she said. “But we do know how to act humanely and have the perseverance, creativity, balance and excellence needed to not only pursue our goals but also to educate others on how to pursue theirs.”