We have a lot to be proud of here. And while the strength of our program certainly shows in our college admissions, to us the true measure of a student’s success is much more than that. It’s sustainable and lasting change in the form of accountability and self-advocacy; curiosity about the world and people in it; inspired action; positive connections; and through everything, a desire to discover and be your best self. These are the outcomes we’re after, and this is what makes us McLean.
Heather Alpern ’07 – Aerospace engineer, artist, and animal lover
“McLean sculpted me into who I am and helped me see myself as more than just someone with dyslexia. All the opportunities I had gave me freedom to find my passions and opened up a whole new world to me – literally!”
—Heather Alpern ’07
NASA aerospace engineer
MA, Aerospace Engineering
BA, Mechanical Engineering
Heather arrived at McLean in third grade, shy and self-conscious about her dyslexia. She soon found comfort in the connections she made with teachers and classmates – and in the art room, where she loved experimenting with different materials and media. Math also came naturally to Heather – “it was a puzzle, and I really enjoy puzzles and figuring out how things work” – and her passions led her to Alfred University, where she majored in mechanical engineering with a double minor in art and mathematics.
Her senior year she snagged what she calls her dream job: an internship with NASA, where she continued to work after graduation. At the Goddard Space Flight Center, Heather collaborated with a team to eXplore ways to refuel and repair satellites while in orbit – “the coolest thing I’ve ever worked on” – and continues to design and build new aerospace instruments after completing her Master’s in Aerospace Engineering with a focus on Robotics.
Brandon Royal ’04 – World traveler, musician, and natural born leader
“At McLean, my classmates and teachers instantly made me feel welcome and it made all the difference and opened up doors. I strive to do the same wherever I go.”
–Brandon Royal ’04
Airport ambassador and translator, Dulles International
MA, International Relations
BA, Asian Studies
Ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you: Brandon is always thinking about how he can make life better for those around him. Whether that’s as Vice President of McLean’s second graduating class, when he set up a snack booth for students during exam week, or as a member of jazz band, playing his part to enhance the whole, Brandon gets joy from giving. “At McLean, everybody had my back. I had to make sure I had theirs, too.”
When Brandon arrived in 10th grade, he had experience speaking Mandarin Chinese after taking classes and participating in a foreign exchange program in China. Since McLean didn’t offer Mandarin, Brandon was provided with a private tutor outside of school. “It’s just one example of how McLean is always willing to work with a student to give them what they need.” After graduation, he went on to major in Asian studies and minor in management at Manhattanville College, and later earned a Master’s in International Relations at Central South University in Changsha, China, where he immersed himself in the culture (and the Hunan province’s famous cuisine!).
Today, Brandon uses his skills helping others as an Airport Ambassador Shift Leader at Washington Dulles International Airport, assisting with incoming flights and making sure everything runs according to plan. Whenever a flight from China comes in, Brandon is called in to help with translation – some frequent flyers even specifically request him because they know they’ll be in good hands.
Faiza El-Hibri ’08 – Documentarian, athlete, go-getter, and McLean trustee
“I attribute so much of my professional confidence to the school where I learned to embrace who I am. Thanks to McLean, I took on the unfamiliar and the unknown – and I’ll continue to do so.”
–Faiza El-Hibri ’08
Director of Operations Management, East West Resources Corp.
MBA, American University
BA, Film, UNC-Wilmington
Faiza El-Hibri credits McLean School with giving her the confidence and openness to try new things – and it has served her well personally and professionally, too. Her impressive resume ranges from helping produce high profile TV dramas to supporting the Greater Washington Board of Trade’s bid for Amazon HQ2 to her current role as director of operations for a venture capital firm.
“McLean teaches you that there are no limitations on what you can do, and does an excellent job helping you understand who you are,” says Faiza. “That support has meant that when I walk into a new job or city or college, I feel prepared to succeed.”
That was not the case when a 9-year-old Faiza arrived at McLean, having struggled in public school and unable to match the learning pace of her classmates. “I especially had a hard time articulating my thoughts,” she says, “but small class sizes here encouraged participation and made me more comfortable hearing my own voice, and the issues I had with word retrieval just went away.”
As her confidence grew, so did her involvement and interests. She studied Latin and American Sign Language; sang in school musicals; played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, captaining all three; and sat on student council. Her “up for anything” approach and growth mindset followed her to college at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where she studied film and later landed her dream job in commercial TV production. She later took these skills to the nonprofit world, promoting peace and religious and cultural pluralism through media, and oversaw production of an Emmy-nominated docudrama – and discovered her affinity for the business side of things. While earning an MBA at American University, she was selected to work on several challenging and exciting projects including the Amazon HQ2 bid.