Student spotlight: OCDE alum goes from college basketball coach to tenure-track professor

Here at the OCDE Newsroom, we like to hear what notable alumni from OCDE programs are up to. So we naturally took notice of this news release out of Washington, D.C.-based Gallaudet University.

The subject is Brendan Stern, who is a former student of OCDE’s Regional Deaf and Hard of Hearing program located on the campus of University High School in Irvine. He’s also a Uni High graduate. Turns out he recently resigned as Gallaudet University’s head basketball coach, but for a very good reason: He’s accepted a tenure-track position with Gallaudet’s Department of Government and Public Affairs.

10264484_10153092738434634_268968843688214202_nWe reached out to Stern, 32, to talk about his work at Gallaudet, as well as his early days as a student in Orange County, and he was gracious enough to share his story with us through an interpreter.

Let’s jump back a few years. Though Stern was mainstreamed part-time in elementary school, he received the bulk of his K-12 education at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, Calif.

Then, right before his senior year of high school, his father accepted a job as superintendent of a school for the deaf in New Mexico.

Stern said he had two goals that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to pursue if he moved — he wanted to take courses with rigorous academic expectations, and he wanted to play basketball at the 5A level.

He would be able to do both at high-performing University High School, where his godfather, Scott Kramer, was a longtime teacher.

“I could stay with Scott for a year,” he said. “The opportunity was too good to pass up.”

Stern had much in common with his classmates back in Fremont, but in Irvine in the fall of 2000, he was the only deaf student in his AP courses. As expected, his teachers at Uni pushed him to reach his potential.

Stern recalls one in particular, English teacher Jeanne Jelnick, who pulled no punches in telling him his first paper wasn’t up to par. He tried harder with subsequent assignments, and it paid off.

“That was actually the best thing to happen to me,” he said.

Jelnick, who would later earn county and state teacher of the year honors, said she remembers having Stern in an AP literature class.

“I knew he was very gifted,” she said, “and I wasn’t about to let him get away with less than I knew he was capable of doing.”

Meanwhile, Stern also found success on the basketball court. Though his Uni team had no players taller than 6-foot-3, he said Coach Michael Dinneen played to the squad’s strengths by giving his long-distance shooters the green light to launch three-pointers, he said.

Stern recalled a tournament in Washington, D.C. that pitted Uni against a team with much bigger players. The crowd consensus was the game wouldn’t be close — and it wasn’t. Uni won by about 40 on the strength of its outside shooting.

“We ran them out of the gym,” he said proudly.

After graduation, Stern enrolled at Gallaudet and played four years of college basketball before joining the coaching staff. He served as an assistant coach for three years before being tapped as head coach of the women’s team — and then head coach of the men’s team.

This year marked his third season as the men’s head coach, and it was his most successful. Not only did the team set a new school record for victories, as well as conference wins, but the school broke a 98-year-old record for consecutive wins in a season with 10. He was named the 2014-15 North Eastern Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year after leading the Bison to an 18-7 record, including a conference mark of 14-4.

Nevertheless, Stern cited career aspirations and his family, which includes two young children, in announcing his decision to accept a full-time tenure-track position with the Department of Government and Public Affairs at Gallaudet.

“Because of my cherished relationships with my players, our record-breaking 2014-15 season and the tremendous anticipation of the upcoming season, it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he said in a news release. “However, with a two-year-old daughter and a newborn son, the time is right to pursue my personal and professional interests outside of basketball and give my loved ones my full attention and energy.”

“I have mixed feelings about it,” he told the OCDE Newsroom. “My heart was, and is still, in basketball. I will really miss coaching basketball and working with the players. That being said, intellectually, I’m excited about teaching because it will give me an opportunity to complete my dissertation and to expand my understanding of the shared world with the students here at Gallaudet.”

Does Stern have any advice for younger students?

“My advice would be for them to challenge themselves, to take themselves out of their comfort zones and to try new things,” he said.

Not a bad strategy from a guy who knows a thing or two about Xs and Os.