In high school, Andrew Gildea helped raise $1.1 million for pediatric cancer patients and research. His four-year effort in a national student-run philanthropy group (THON) channeled his grief over the loss of his best friend, Michael, who died of cancer their senior year.
At Williamson, Andrew would continue his service to others. He traveled to Puerto Rico in 2019 during Williamson’s Annual Service Week, to help victims of Hurricane Maria. And he still contributes to THON.
“The group was awesome,” says Andrew, who was put in charge of THON Donor Relations his senior year in high school. “Day in and day out, we worked. We had our committees. It was really just a huge effort.”
Andrew believes his aptitude for Service, a college core value, has only grown at Williamson, and that Faith, another core value, has guided him as well.
Andrew came to Williamson from a suburban Philadelphia family that was upended by divorce. His parents, suffering job losses, set aside their differences to focus on what their children needed most to be successful.
Still, the divorce hurt. “When you’re a kid, you don’t see that,” he says, referring to his parents’ efforts. “I was mad at the world.”
Andrew left Catholic school for a public school because of family financial difficulties. “The hardest part was not having many friends when I started off.” A talent and reputation for baseball helped him break the ice with students who asked him to play for their teams. Those friendships, lasting to this day, helped heal the pain of divorce.
Andrew showed a talent and commitment to the high school’s industrial materials program. His carpentry projects grew bigger and more complex. His junior year, he built a six-drawer dresser for his father who, when he received it, saw that Andrew was gifted.
His mother encouraged Andrew to apply to Williamson. At first, he was wary about college and didn’t think he had what it took to succeed. But his parents supported him and Andrew believes his friend Michael would have encouraged him to go. So, he applied and got a spot, which he gratefully accepted.
“When students have suffered a loss, they come in with either anger or humility,” says Sue Moffitt, Williamson’s Assistant Athletic Director. “Andrew had humility when he arrived.” With an open mind and willingness to learn, Andrew embraced the college environment. “He’s always been amicable and genuine, and someone you can trust.”
Williamson helped him correct his biggest shortcoming; in high school, he says, he was chronically late.
Andrew vividly remembers his shop director’s opening address: “We’re Carp Shop. We’re going to do what we have to do.” Andrew was told, “You’re going to come here early, be on time, and get done what you have to get done, because the school depends on it.”
Mike Neville, Director of Carpentry and Instructor John Capuzzi, graduates of 2000 and 2002, respectively, have instilled in Andrew an attention to detail that is integral to his success, both in and outside of shop.
“When you’re doing a project, you only get one piece of wood to complete that project,” Andrew says. “So, you can’t just rush through things – make this cut, make that cut – you’ve got to take your time. Sit down, read over the drawings and understand the end goal.”
That conscientious approach to carpentry and a desire to give back served him well on the relief trip to Puerto Rico. “We were busting our butt, fixing houses, building roofs.” Andrew remembers driving up a mountain searching for someone referred to as “the town mayor.” His small home was completely destroyed by the hurricane. He had used the old parts to rebuild it. Andrew helped to construct a new, more solid house. The day they completed it, the grateful homeowner paid Andrew and the Williamson crew with a loaf of bread and some bottles of water.
“It’s not really about the payment aspect, it’s about how appreciative he was of what we could do.”
Back on campus, Andrew appreciates Williamson’s Chapel Program that he says has helped him grow and mature.
“I love Daily Chapel,” he says. He lights up when he talks about listening to Williamson’s Chaplain, the Reverend Mark Specht, a 1977 Williamson graduate, lead students in prayer, and hearing the Chapel Band play.
Communications Instructor Anne Frantum has seen Andrew develop over the three years he’s been at Williamson. “He is an example of the ‘ripening’ that we hope for here.”
While most seniors are now considering job offers and making post-graduation plans, Andrew is simply doing his work, completing his academic assignments, and finishing projects.
That’s because Hensel-Phelps, a government building contractor, was so impressed with their summer intern from Williamson that, before he left, they offered Andrew a full-time job. He signed on and will be working in the fall as a field engineer.
Andrew is grateful for the full scholarship and other opportunities he has received through Williamson. He says he plans to return the favor in the future, knowing you give back to help those less fortunate.
Ms. Moffitt of the Athletic Department says she has watched Andrew grow up and “become the man Williamson is always hoping to graduate. He represents the best of what we’re trying to do here.”
Your support makes it possible for students like Andrew to attend Williamson College of the Trades with a full scholarship that covers tuition, room, and board. You can help to prepare the next generation of Williamson Men to be respected leaders and productive members of society by Making a Gift Today.