13 May 2024 Touching the Future By Colin Spencer '19

Coach, educator make memorable impacts on graduating seniors. 

For their impact on the lives of Hobart and William Smith students, a former rowing coach and a high school English teacher have been selected as this year’s Touching the Future Award recipients.

Ricky Bourke, who previously worked as a rowing coach at the Row New York club in New York City and Julia Maxey, an English teacher at Severn School in Severna Park, Md., have been chosen for their impact on the lives of Griffin Reiner ’24 and Madeleine Meyer ’24, respectively, as they transitioned from high school to college. 

Inspired by Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher selected to participate in the Space Shuttle program and who died in the explosion of the Challenger, the Award honors educators and mentors who have “touched the future,” empowering students and their paths to Hobart and William Smith. The Award has been presented annually since it was established in 2004 by the HWS Board of Trustees.

Griffin Reiner '24 and Ricky Bourke 

Reiner, who nominated Bourke, said he met the coach the summer before his senior year of high school. Through Bourke’s coaching and mentorship, Reiner gained direction heading into his senior year and became determined to row on a college’s crew team. 

“Ricky was tough, he trained me harder than I had ever done before, he was there early every single day and set an example of what a rower is,” says Reiner, who is graduating cum laude in environmental studies.

Bourke’s leadership and work ethic led Reiner to get his grades up and excel in his final year of high school and explore various college crew teams and talk to college coaches.

“If it weren’t for Ricky, I wouldn’t be here writing this letter in the Warren Hunting Smith Library of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, graduating with high marks and a degree in environmental studies, looking to move my life to Washington, D.C. to make the change in the world I have always wanted to see,” says Reiner, who will serve as a government relations fellow at Lot Sixteen, a bipartisan lobbying and communications firm.

Bourke is currently earning his Master of Science in Sustainable Environmental Systems from the Pratt Institute.

Madeleine Meyer '24 and Julia Maxey

In nominating her high school English teacher, Meyer says Maxey always broadened topics outside of their context in class, allowing students to expand their thinking. 

“Even in our AP English class, with its stricter curriculum requirements, Ms. Maxey placed the growth of her students above the prescribed AP curriculum,” says Meyer, who will graduate summa cum laude in economics. “She would also incorporate different teaching styles and we would often have debates about current events to further our civil discourse abilities.” 

Meyer also notes how rewarding Maxey’s class was in developing her writing skills.

“As a high-performing student, I was used to good grades and glowing feedback from my teachers,” says Meyer. “So, when I received my first-ever lower grade on an essay, I was taken aback. Since I knew and trusted Ms. Maxey and her ability to extend us beyond our perceived capabilities, I took the grade not as a punishment but as a challenge. I worked to become more concise, but my most important change was becoming confident in my writing.” 

Meyer plans to work as a staffer on Capitol Hill with a special interest in environmental and women's rights policy after graduation. 

On campus, Reiner serves as the Hobart Student Government treasurer and has been named to the Dean’s List. He studied abroad in Galway, Ireland during the spring of 2023. He was on the Hobart rowing team as a first-year and sophomore. 

Meyer is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Hai Timiai, the Laurel Society and the Omicron Delta Epsilon honor societies. She has received the Blair C. Currie Prize in Economics, the William Smith 75th Anniversary Prize and the Welker Memorial Prize. Meyer is a member of the Public Leadership Education Network and serves as the PLEN House manager. She studied abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand in the spring of 2023.

Bourke and Maxey will be recognized during Commencement on Sunday, May 19. Information can be found here