Nolen Riedel is an Exam Prep English teacher at MEK Review who is currently teaching Exam Prep 8, Exam Prep 7, and (P)SAT Core -Writing.
The following is an interview between him and our marketing coordinator:
Working at MEK
Interviewer: What’s your favorite part of working at MEK?
Riedel: I find it really refreshing to work with our students. I know it’s a bit of an old platitude that kids speak the truth, but they do. They are honest and direct about their feelings. And they are very receptive and open to learning, especially MEK students. They are very easy to teach because they are highly engaged and motivated. And it’s nice to see the progress and growth that comes out of that motivation.
Interviewer: Many of your Exam Prep 8 students will be applying to Bergen County Academies in the fall. Any advice?
Riedel: I did not attend BCA, but several of my friends did growing up. And I had friends who really enjoyed the experience and those who did not. For instance, I had a friend who attended the business academy, found out he didn’t like business, and consequently, struggled throughout high school. Then I had a friend who attended the theatre academy and loved it.
So my biggest advice to 8th graders would be to really stick to your gut and pick an academy that you truly believe you will be interested in studying for the next four years. BCA is a challenging school; they put their students through the ringer. So no matter what academy you choose, you’ll get a first rate education. But if you pick an academy that really speaks to your interest, you’ll have a much easier and enjoyable time.
Interviewer: Speaking of ‘going with your gut’, you were actually brave enough to change your major pretty late into your undergraduate career. What prompted you to make that decision?
Riedel: Yeah, I earned my B.A. in English from Rutgers University, but I started out as a biology major and switched my junior year. I realized that I didn’t enjoy the large class settings of the STEM program; I was often in classes with 400 people. I kept finding myself drawn to the humanities. Eventually I realized I needed to change my major to really focus on studying something I truly found appealing and that would allow me to see personal growth.
So again, I speak from experience when I say that Exam 8 students should give their academy choice some serious reflection.
Interviewer: As a graduate from Rutgers, any advice to seniors who may apply this year?
Riedel: I’m from Bergen County. So when I went to Rutgers, I, along with many of my friends, had this stigma attached to it. It’s a very large state school that’s really well-known in this area. So if you’re from here, sometimes you have the impression that it’s not that exciting or even great of a school to attend. So I felt that sort of stigma for the first year-and-a-half. But the more I meant students who came from out of state and saw how excited they were to attend here, I realized how wrong that was. Rutgers is a great school. There are so many opportunities to explore your interests, they have every club you could possibly think of, and it’s an overall great place to study.
Interviewer: Yeah, I’m not from here, and I always think it’s funny when locals have that impression. It’s ranked as the 62nd best college out of the entire country, out of thousands of colleges!
Riedel: Exactly. So I guess my advice would be to really consider it as a great option if you are planning to apply.
Interviewer: What was your favorite part of attending Rutgers?
Riedel: One of my favorite things was the actual area of New Brunswick. It’s this small pocket of New Jersey, a city that has a lot of character. There’s a thriving music scene and artistic community. When I went there I attended a lot of shows, sometimes basement shows. I even got to work at our college’s radio station, WRSU and do album reviews. But even if that’s not your thing, I loved that there was something for everyone’s interests.
What’s more, it’s a very diverse and inclusive campus. You meet people from all walks of life, many of whom – like I was – are working their way through college, waiting tables in between their classes to pay the bills. So it feels very connected to the real world, a slice of real life, rather than an enclave of the privileged and elite. I really enjoyed that. And because Bergen County is also a very diverse area, I felt familiar and comfortable with it. But it was interesting to see some of my roommates, who came from less diverse areas, feel a bit of culture shock.
Interviewer: Is music a big passion of yours as well?
Riedel: I do play the drums and enjoy music. But my biggest hobby outside of work is biking. I like to go on 40 mile bikes rides pretty often. In fact, during the spring semester when MEK started later in the day, I would do 30 miles rides almost daily. It’s a great activity to just hit the road, free up your mind, almost meditative.
Learning during COVID-19
Interviewer: Wow! Super impressive. I bet it’s also a great activity to do right now with COVID-19, since it’s pretty safe. Speaking of which, what advice do you have for students when it comes to dealing with the current pandemic?
Riedel: When you’re stuck inside more and maybe don’t get to see your friends as often, I think it helps you stay motivated and happy if you keep the bigger picture in mind. We have a tendency to forget that social distancing really is for the greater good. And we learn an important lesson from it: that we are not just an individual in our own little world. We are part of a community. And this is an opportunity to contribute to that community through being socially responsible.