Part of Something Bigger

Beth Spadaccini ’11

In August 2015, a hard challenge on a 50-50 ball during a preseason men’s soccer game at Cornell University resulted in a broken leg for the Saints’ then-junior midfielder Rob Brandell, altering his plans for not only the season, but also the remainder of his junior year at St. Lawrence as well. 

In the hours, days, and months that followed his injury, Brandell made a new Laurentian connection and relied on some old ones to turn his adversity into a learning experience by taking important lessons from Ben von Reyn ’10, Brendan Murphy ’02, and Neil Patel ’99.

Though Brandell remained on the sidelines for the 2015 men’s soccer season and watched his team win their third straight Liberty League regular season and tournament championships, he took the spring semester off to enter the workforce, thus ensuring that the completion of his St. Lawrence coursework would align with his final season of NCAA eligibility. 

“I was fortunate to land a job in my hometown in New Jersey, working for the Borough of Glen Ridge,” he said. “I was tasked with analyzing and enhancing all efforts by the borough to create a more sustainable community. I also worked on the borough’s behalf within a statewide program called Sustainable Jersey, a certification program for municipalities. The program outlines a number of active measures that municipalities can take towards building a safer, healthier community.”

It was through his job with the borough that Brandell connected with von Reyn who, at the time, was working for NRG Energy, a utility company providing electricity services to homes and businesses in Texas and the Northeast. 

“Ben taught me the importance of short- and long-term planning. By taking time out of his day to listen to my interests, he guided me on how to prioritize my job search around renewable energy.” Brandell said. “By sharing his five-year goals, he provided me insight on the importance of long-term planning. In choosing a career, it’s crucial to think about personal growth and development moving forward.”

While von Reyn’s guidance offered Brandell insight into being a young alum in the job hunt, his interactions with Murphy and Patel, who were both alumni of the Saints’ men’s soccer program, were more personal and made him realize the impact of the Laurentian network. 

That realization came as early as the bus ride back to campus the night he broke his leg, as he received the first piece of advice from Murphy, who had coached him with FC Buffalo, a semi-professional soccer team, that summer. 

“He didn’t sugarcoat the situation,” Brandell explained. “He told me this would be a massive uphill battle, but encouraged me to continue on in the professional mindset that I showed while playing for him throughout the summer and reminded me that this would not be the last challenge I’d face.”

Murphy’s mentorship of Brandell continues to this day, as does Patel’s. 

Brandell describes Patel as a true example of the power of the St. Lawrence community. After they reconnected over social media following his injury, Patel reached out with a remote sales opportunity during Brandell’s spring off campus. 

“Neil took the time to stay in touch with the current program and shared an opportunity with a player he knew was struggling for a plan,” Brandell explained. “Connecting with him made me feel a part of something larger than myself, and reminded me that I was a member of the Saints’ family that extends across multiple generations.”

Through his own meaningful interactions with alumni, Brandell developed a “pay it forward” mentality as he plans to serve as a mentor to students and players in the men’s soccer program as his career advances.

“The Laurentian network serves a crucial purpose that often goes unseen. The lessons I learned in my four years in Canton extend throughout all aspects of life,” he says. “Among these are the importance of honesty and integrity, humility, and remembering where you come from.”