Getting to Know Bennett's Consultants: Meet Trudy Borenstein–Sugiura
Updated: May 11
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Trudy, a friend, colleague, & gem.
We know that you bring an exceptionally varied range of expertise to your role as senior education consultant. Please tell us about your professional and educational backgrounds.
I come from a family that stressed the quality of education, with a mathematician father who stressed logic and probability. I have a degree in Fine Arts in Goldsmithing and have worked in the jewelry industry for the last four decades, selling and exhibiting my work internationally. I have two pieces included in the permanent collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. With two young athletic sons, I became a Little League coach, and soon thereafter I was asked to be a tennis coach at a competitive local private school in Princeton. I really loved working with those young, avid minds and learned, through 8 years of coaching two separate teams a year, how to help guide the parents into understanding and supporting their children. During that time, I visited many other schools and gained a lot of insight into their different programs, both academic and athletic. I received an international accreditation as a tennis coach as well as attended youth sports policy programs. Continually developing my interests in art, I was asked to serve on the Board of the Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum, which I did for 5 years. I began, once again, to exhibit my own artwork, this time my collages, which have been included in 48 shows nationally over the past 6 years. I have always believed that ‘everything informs everything’ and looking at a situation from many perspectives helps to refine it. I bring these sensibilities into my consulting work as I find the best solutions for my families.
Your association with Bennett started in 2010, we believe. How did you come to join Bennett, and what is it about this community of colleagues that resonates with you?
Quite by chance, while I was coaching tennis at a local private school, I had a conversation with a new friend about the issues confronting my students, interactions with their parents, and observations about the school’s administration. Unbeknownst to me, my friend was a seasoned educator who responded to my observations by saying, "You would be a natural educational consultant." She introduced me to Elizabeth Sawyer (Bennett’s CEO), who thankfully agreed and mentored me through my first several cases. I found the work aligned with some of my strongest skill sets: solving problems with persistence and creativity, working for the benefit of young students, and interacting with people from all over the world. I found my fellow Bennett consultants to be among the most collegial, caring, and knowledgeable people I have ever had the pleasure to work with!
Do the relocating families you work with come from all over the world?
Yes, one of the great pleasures of this work for me is getting to speak with people from all over the world! I have worked with families from every continent and what feels like every time zone! Most of the families are coming into the U.S., and I really enjoy talking with them about the many cultural differences they may encounter and how to navigate the American school system.
Are there particular parts of the US and/or the world where you focus most of your work with families?
I have a particular familiarity with the New York City metro area, Southern California, and Southern Florida, although I have successfully placed families in 18 states as well as Canada, Japan, Germany, and Switzerland.
What is your particular area of expertise? For example, do you work with families considering public and private schools, day and boarding schools?
I work with families that have preschoolers through high school seniors in public and private day and boarding schools.
Given your experience with boarding schools, can you tell us a little about those communities? What aspects of boarding schools most appeal to families?
Boarding schools are truly a home away from home for their students, and it is so important that the school’s values align with the families. There is such a wonderful variety of boarding school options, and families most appreciate the research that goes into finding the schools that offer programs and facilities that offer the greatest chance of a successful and happy experience for their student. Helping to guide them through the process of admissions, including mock preps for their interviews, looking over essays, and keeping the whole timeline of the process on track, is of great help and relief to families. Visiting so many campuses helps me advise them about things they cannot find on a website, such as campus culture (academically stressful or more laid-back, urban or rural in feel, cliquey or welcoming), or even what kind of food is served. I urge them to reinforce the notion of trying new things with their students and taking advantage of the many interesting opportunities boarding schools offer in a safe and structured environment.
Based on your experience, what should families keep in mind when they are relocating with school-age children?
Success comes from finding the right fit. We never rate schools in general, only the top schools for their particular student. My job is to help them find the best-fit school options for their children in their new location, while keeping in mind options for the communities that are the right fit for the whole family.
When a family visits the schools that are under consideration in the community to which they are relocating, what should they be particularly mindful of as they assess whether it’s a good fit - both for the child and the family?
I always advise my families to ask as many questions as they want; after all, we are not trying to ‘sell’ their children to a school but rather determine if it is the right fit for the child. I often send the family a checklist of things to consider when visiting a school—everything from how safe, clean, and well-lit the buildings are to whether or not there are examples of children’s art and achievements displayed in the classrooms and hallways, or how often and in what ways the schools communicate with parents about their children’s progress or any issues.
What’s your favorite aspect of the work you do with relocating families?
Moving is always hard and a little scary, and there is nothing more rewarding than hearing the relief of a family who feels that they have found a new community and schools where their children and the family can thrive.
We know that you are a very talented jewelry designer, and that, in addition to educational consulting, you run your own business. Tell us a little about that work, and what inspires your creativity.
I am a bit of a polymath and am endlessly curious. In everything that I do, I like to solve problems, whether visual or technical. After many years as a goldsmith, I now work mostly with clients who want to redesign jewelry they no longer like into something they will treasure. I am a collage portraitist who depicts my subjects using their own papers, composing their likeness from fragments of papers that tell their story. It’s all about the right fit!
And finally, this is a question we like to ask all of our colleagues: If you had a year’s sabbatical and could go anywhere in the world, where would you go, and why?
I would pack up my art supplies and travel, travel, travel. There is so much beauty and wonder in this world of ours! I love big, busy cities, and I love wide, open skies, particularly at night. Just before college, I happened to be on the Mediterranean Sea during the Perseid meteor showers. It’s still one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I hope to experience the Aurora Borealis one day with the same amount of wonder.
By Annemiek Young
To read more about our top-flight team of consultants, please see here.
Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.