Empowering

Refresh page when toggling 'compose' mode on and off to edit.

Recommended Image Size: 1440px wide by 600px tall
(this text will not display with 'compose' mode off or on live site)

Upper School French students in Doug Wortham's class.
A diverse group of Rowland Hall high schoolers gather around a student using a computer between classes.
A group of Rowland Hall high school students laugh during an Upper School class.
Two high school students make observations during chemistry class at Rowland Hall's Upper School.
A group of Rowland Hall high school students sit at a table in their Salt Lake City, Utah classroom.

Upper School: Grades 9–12

Welcome to Rowland Hall's independent private high school, where we encourage students to choose their challenges and become their best selves.

I am honored to be a member of Rowland Hall’s administrative team, as well as a parent of two students. You will discover here, as I have, a supportive community that balances academic excellence with whole-child development and a commitment to inclusion, sustainability, and civic engagement.

Rowland Hall’s outstanding faculty engages students in myriad authentic learning experiences every day. There are many opportunities for individual growth, in-depth study, and learning beyond the classroom through our rigorous, college preparatory curriculum, dynamic electives, and extensive co-curricular offerings. I look forward to working with you and your student to chart an engaging course and a challenging process of personal development, enrichment, and achievement. I invite you to join us today.

Sincerely, 

Ingrid Gustavson signature

Ingrid Gustavson 
Upper School Principal

High school students perform chemistry experiments outdoors
Rowland Hall Upper School Spanish Teacher Matt Burnett stands in front of his class teaching them a lesson.
High school student and teacher in robotics at Rowland Hall, an independent private school in Salt Lake City.
High school girls soccer players at Rowland Hall, an independent private school in Salt Lake City.
A high school students poses for the camera during a class at Rowland Hall
Five Rowland Hall high school students gather around a counter as they conduct a science experiment in their chemistry class.
Rowland Hall Robotics Coach Rob Lingstuyl teaches a student to code during an Upper School class.
A high school students works on programming a robot for Rowland Hall Upper School's robotics team.
Rowland Hall Chemistry Teacher Laura Meyer helps a high school students understand a scientific concept.
A Rowland Hall senior stands in front of his class as they discuss notes taped on to a white board.

Upper School Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Rowland Hall graduate Max Smart, class of 2022, and Dr. Padmashree Rida, who contributed to the IJMS.

Rowland Hall equips students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in a dynamic world. We believe education is active, and that deep, authentic learning experiences engage students in powerful ways, enabling them to view themselves as innovators and creators. Our new vision and strategic priorities are helping to center and formalize this work, but it’s long been a part of the Rowland Hall experience, inspiring generations of students to pursue, create, and share knowledge both in and outside the classroom. In the past year alone, we’ve watched many of our young scientists and engineers, fueled by their personal passions, tackle real-world problems and offer innovative solutions designed to better our shared world. This fall, we’re spotlighting some of their stories. (Be sure to also check out "Ruchi Agarwal Named Runner-up in National Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition," "Three Rowland Hall Students Place Fourth at International Science and Engineering Fair for Aviation Engine Design," and "Research Science: Taking Classroom Discoveries to the International Level.") 

The below text is an abridged version of this story for Fine Print. If you would like to learn more about the science behind the academic paper highlighted in this story, we invite you to view the full version.


With more than 20 years of experience as a molecular and cell biologist—including over a decade as a breast cancer researcher, with a particular interest in racial disparity among breast cancer outcomes in the United States—Upper School science teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida has had plenty of opportunities to support other scientists.

Prior to joining Rowland Hall in 2021, Dr. Rida worked as a university research scientist, a role that offered her regular opportunities to advise graduate students working on original research and academic papers. A natural-born mentor, Dr. Rida has always enjoyed opportunities to help others blossom in their careers. But she’s also seen how disheartening it can be for scientists who, years into their professional journeys, realize that academic research—a field rife with opportunities for failure in everything from choosing the right hypothesis, to uncovering negative or inconclusive results, to the struggle of getting top-notch journals to publish work, to securing grants—isn’t for them. “There are no guaranteed returns in research; it’s always a gamble,” she said. “You can put in so many years to discover you were barking up the wrong tree.”

When Dr. Rida was invited to contribute to a special issue of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, she saw an opportunity for a teaching experiment. What if she were to invite one of her Rowland Hall students to assist her? She thought it may be an ideal way to challenge a promising young scientist, exposing them not only to the processes, skills, and risks of real-world research, but also to the nature of scientific collaboration.

So in April, when Dr. Rida was invited to contribute to a special issue of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (IJMS) focusing on hypoxia, a state of oxygen insufficiency in the body, she saw an opportunity for a teaching experiment. What if she were to invite one of her Rowland Hall students to assist her? She thought it may be an ideal way to challenge a promising young scientist, exposing them not only to the processes, skills, and risks of real-world research, but also to the nature of scientific collaboration, as Dr. Rida would be working closely with one of her long-standing collaborators, Dr. Nikita Jinna, and a group of Dr. Jinna’s colleagues from the City of Hope cancer treatment and research center to write the article. She thought the opportunity could be similar to an internship, allowing a student to try out a career option, risk-free, to get a sense of fit. “They could get their feet wet and ask if it’s for them,” she said.

For the student to do well in this project, though, they would have to have a certain set of skills: a strong biology background, of course, as well as the ability to critically read and write, as they would be reviewing dense academic materials, drawing conclusions, distilling insights, and synthesizing information. Dr. Rida saw these traits in Max Smart, then a senior in her Advanced Topics in Biology class.

“Dr. Rida recognized a project like this was perfect for me,” said Max, a Rowland Hall Lifer whose love of the natural world has driven his lifelong interest in the sciences, and who also loves to write. And Max recognized how valuable the experience could be. “I could tell this was a phenomenal opportunity,” he remembered. He said yes and, after completing finals in May, began assisting Dr. Rida, first by helping her and Dr. Jinna look into the role hypoxia may play in patient resistance to androgen receptor inhibition, a treatment option for a subset of patients with a particularly lethal type of cancer: triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). “We knew these treatments often work successfully for a short period, but most patients eventually develop resistance,” explained Dr. Rida. “Consequently, their disease relapses or progresses, and when this happens, we don't have good next-line treatment options for such patients.”

With several lines of evidence supporting their suspicions on hypoxia’s role in therapeutic resistance, the team focused their IJMS article on the topic, hoping their research would help shed light on how and why existing treatments fail, offer a broad view of study results on treatment options, and, because such therapeutic resistance is a problem for some other androgen-signaling-dependent cancers, make progress that could potentially have wide benefits. And though early evidence indicated a promising direction, as they began writing, Dr. Rida, heeding her own experience, made sure to set Max’s expectations. “There’s no guarantee we’ll find anything,” she remembered telling him, “but that’s the gamble with science.” 

That gamble didn’t deter Max, though, who jumped enthusiastically into the project, even, he said, as he faced a series of steep learning curves—beginning with getting acquainted with science writing. After Dr. Rida taught him how to use PubMed, a biomedical literature database, to search for primary literature with clinical trial data, Max remembered initially feeling overwhelmed as he worked to make sense of the jargon, acronyms, and medical terminology within these studies. “These are serious medical publications; it’s no joke,” he said. “It was like hitting a brick wall right out the gate—every sentence is riddled with words that mean nothing to you.” But after Dr. Rida recommended that Max make lists of unfamiliar words, terms, or methods so they could discuss them together, he got better at understanding the complex material. “With Dr. Rida's help, it became second nature,” he remembered. “Her mentorship broke down that brick wall.”

Rowland Hall biology teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida and alum Max Smart '22 on the Lincoln Street Campus in Salt Lake City.

Dr. Rida and Max on the Lincoln Street Campus.


That mentorship continued as Max was challenged in other ways. He had to learn, for instance, how to pull from hundreds of pages of information the hard data that can benefit cancer researchers, and leaned on Dr. Rida’s advice to give himself space to process complicated material before looking for gaps or clarity within it. He also learned from Dr. Rida the importance of reading the literature critically, as well as broadly, to avoid scientific siloing. “Reading broadly allows ideas from different domains to network in ways that allow us to see things anew or from different vantage points,” explained Dr. Rida. So, in addition to reviewing studies on androgen-dependent TNBC, Max looked at studies on androgen-dependent prostate cancer, which behaves similarly to androgen-dependent TNBC and, because it has been researched for longer, offers an array of data on drug options and combinations that might be able to help researchers find what he called the “golden treatment” for TNBC patients. 

Getting Max on board with this collaboration taught him team science—and all good science these days is team science.—Dr. Padmashree Rida, science teacher

Additionally, Max learned firsthand the essential, though often tedious, nature of academic collaboration: how a group of researchers narrows a paper’s focus, finds consensus, reviews drafts prior to submission to a journal for peer review, and revises a manuscript to address reviewers’ feedback and concerns. By letting Max participate in the full process, Dr. Rida was helping to prepare him for success in a world in which the best scientists, no matter their fields or roles, need to be able to go beyond the scope of their individual disciplines to solve problems or create change collaboratively. “We teach science in class, but we don’t talk much about how science is really done, how science is disseminated, and the community behind it,” she said. “Getting Max on board with this collaboration taught him team science—and all good science these days is team science.”

It also taught him the joy of team success. After more than two months of collaborative researching, drafting, peer reviewing, revising, and waiting, “Adaptation to Hypoxia May Promote Therapeutic Resistance to Androgen Receptor Inhibition in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer” was published in IJMS on August 9. When asked what it felt like to see his name listed in an international science journal alongside his mentor’s and five City of Hope researchers only two months out of high school, Max said it was gratifying—but was quick to point out that that gratification went far beyond his personal benefits.

“I hope it’s going to play some small role in this field of research so we can get better treatments for people suffering from cancer,” he said. “If we helped just a tiny bit, that’s really gratifying.”

For Max, who will start at Middlebury College in January after taking a gap semester, it’s clear the experience will drive his professional decisions. Though he’s still deciding what he wants to study, working on this paper taught him how much he values using his passion for science and his love of writing—skills he worked on during his time at Rowland Hall—to help people. “I really appreciated being able to put knowledge and skills I’ve spent my entire academic career honing toward something that is actually going to, hopefully, play one tiny, small part in benefiting people who need good treatment,” said Max. “That was a pretty unique and awesome feeling.”

I really appreciated being able to put knowledge and skills I’ve spent my entire academic career honing toward something that is actually going to, hopefully, play one tiny, small part in benefiting people who need good treatment.—Max Smart ’22

For Dr. Rida, her self-described teaching experiment was also gratifying. Even before the rollout of Rowland Hall’s strategic priorities, she had been thinking about how she can harness her experience, resources, and background to give Upper School students opportunities to help find solutions to real-world problems and to participate in the construction of new knowledge. With this project under her belt, she’s even more aware of how she can best support them. “I learned so much about how to teach about clinical issues, to mentor, how students learn, what misconceptions they may have, and how to explain things,” she said of her time working with Max. She also learned how inspiring it can be to watch a high school student step up to a new challenge. “Max was willing to put in hours and hours of reading and writing, painstakingly plowing through literature,” she said. “Not once did he say, ‘I’m done.’”

And while she knows future experiences might not always be such a good fit, seeing how Max blossomed over their months together—his openness to new ideas, willingness to take risks, ability to successfully take feedback, and determination—showed her that offering them is worth the risk. Moreover, she knows such authentic learning experiences can impact young scientists’ identities, sense of belonging, and understanding of science. Thanks to this opportunity, Max took away an essential life lesson he’s grateful for—and one that will continue to give back to him, whether or not he becomes a researcher himself.

“I certainly got a taste of how some research can end up leaving you with very little to show. It can be discouraging. But then again, what isn't discouraging from time to time?” said Max. “It was an experience that helped teach me that anything you invest time and energy into can end up disappointing when it doesn't always pan out how you want. But when you hit those junctures, you just have to keep persevering.”

Authentic Learning

Rowland Hall senior Arden Louchheim to play golf for NCAA I University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

For most of her life, Arden Louchheim was a dual-sport athlete in golf and ski racing.

Arden first discovered an interest in golf at just three years old after her family moved to Park City and rented a house on a golf course, which gave the preschooler plenty of chances to hit golf balls, a skill she quickly discovered she was not only good at, but enjoyed. “When you’re a little kid you don’t get to hit stuff very often, so I thought that was fun,” she said.

Ski racing came just a couple years later, in kindergarten, and by the time Arden was in elementary school, she was succeeding in both sports. Thanks to the support of club pros and coaches on the golf course, Rowmark Ski Academy coaches on the mountain, and her parents—whom she credits with a no-pressure approach that drove her interest in both sports—Arden excelled. By the time she was an upper schooler, she was regularly playing in tournaments against the nation’s top young golfers, had joined the Rowland Hall’s girls golf team, and was competing for Rowmark. And though Arden was successfully juggling both sports, alongside her academic responsibilities, over time it started becoming clear that her long-term interest lay in golf. “I knew golf was what I should be doing and what I love the most,” she said. And because Arden wanted to play golf at the college level, she didn’t want to risk a racing injury derailing that goal. “I didn’t want to do anything that could mess up the rest of my golf career,” she said. 

Arden Louchheim, class of 2023, with her parents on the University of Nebraska campus.

Arden on the University of Nebraska campus with dad David and mom Akemi.

 

Arden has been the player every coach dreams to have on their team. She is dedicated to the game, dedicated to the sport, and inspires everyone else around her.—Brianna Coopman, coach

So Arden made the difficult decision to quit Rowmark after her sophomore year to focus on her golf game, using the time previously spent on the slopes for golf-specific workouts, which target different muscles than ski conditioning does, and golf practices. As she worked, Arden dropped her score significantly—a welcome result as she began contacting schools of interest. With her parents’ help, said Arden, she made a list of schools she’d like to attend, narrowing them down not only based on their women’s golf programs, but also on their size and school pride. Though her family helped her make sure her choices were achievable, said Arden, some of them still felt like a reach, including the NCAA Division I University of Nebraska–Lincoln, which remained in the golfer’s top-three schools during nearly the entire recruiting process. “It felt for a long time that Nebraska was a dream,” she said.

But over time, by highlighting her achievements, determination, and team-positive attitude, Arden built a relationship with Jeanne Sutherland, head coach of Nebraska’s women’s golf team. They first emailed and talked on the phone, then Coach Sutherland came to watch Arden compete in a tournament and ended up offering her a spot on the team. In July, Arden headed to Lincoln for her first visit and immediately felt a connection to the golf team and coaches, and—necessary for the aspiring journalist—Nebraska’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. At the conclusion of their trip, her parents asked her an important question: Would you want to be here with a broken leg?—meaning, if you couldn’t golf, would you still want to attend the school? For Arden, the answer was an enthusiastic yes. Later that month, she verbally committed to Nebraska, and this week she signed her National Letter of Intent, making her an official Husker.

Rowland Hall senior Arden Louchheim signs her National Letter of Intent, committing to Nebraska.

Arden signing the National Letter of Intent in November 2022.


“Arden has been the player every coach dreams to have on their team,” said Brianna Coopman, head coach of Rowland Hall’s girls golf team. “She is dedicated to the game, dedicated to the sport, and inspires everyone else around her. When I heard the news she was signing with Nebraska and the Big Ten Conference, I could not have been a prouder coach. Nebraska will be lucky to have her, and I have full confidence she will excel at both golf and academics during her time there. Congrats! Go, Cornhuskers!”

To celebrate Arden’s decision to golf for Nebraska, we asked her a few questions about her athletic journey. The following interview has been lightly edited.


Congratulations on signing with Nebraska! You’ve long wanted to play golf for a large university; in 2020, you even told HER Fairways, “I would love to play for a D1 women’s golf team at a school with a lot of school spirit and a football team.” How does it feel to know you’ll be attending and competing for a Big Ten school next fall?

It still doesn’t totally feel real. If you compare Nebraska to what I said in the HER Fairways article, it literally checks every box that I had for a college and more. Not only does it have a strong golf program, a football team, and school spirit (for all sports, not just football), it also has one of the best journalism schools in the country, which is what I want to major in. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to go to Nebraska next year because it truly feels like it is the perfect place for me.

There have been so many people who have put in time and effort to help me achieve this goal.—Arden Louchheim

The recruitment process is a long journey. How did you feel when you received the offer from Nebraska?

Overall, I felt so extremely grateful. Grateful to the Nebraska coaches, Coach Sutherland and Coach Zedrick, for their belief in me; grateful to my parents for their undying love and support; grateful to my coach for all of his guidance with my swing; and grateful to everyone else who supported me on this journey. There have been so many people who have put in time and effort to help me achieve this goal, so it was really amazing to see not only my hard work, but also everyone else’s effort, come to fruition. I also definitely felt some relief. I learned and grew so much from the recruiting process, but it was long and stressful, so it was nice knowing that I had finally reached the end of it.

You've had a successful golf career at Rowland Hall, including helping to lead your team to back-to-back 2A state championships, earning top 2A medalist honors for three consecutive seasons, and being named team MVP twice. What moment as a Winged Lion are you most proud of so far?

I am most proud of the team’s back-to-back state wins. It is really fun to win individually, but it is even more rewarding to come together as a team and achieve our goals as a unit. In the 2021 season I believe we only won state by three strokes, so we knew going into the 2022 season that we needed to practice hard to make sure we defended our state title. Watching all of my teammates come to practice motivated me every day, and seeing all of our hard work pay off with a large margin of victory at state in 2022 is a moment I am very proud of.

Arden with her parents and grandparents after committing to play for NCAA I University of Nebraska.

Arden celebrating with her parents and grandparents.


As previously mentioned, you’ve achieved so much already as a Rowland Hall golfer, but because girls golf is a spring sport for the UHSAA, you still have one more season to play before graduating. What are your hopes and/or goals for your final season as a Winged Lion?

My two main goals for the season are for the team to defend our back-to-back team state titles and for me individually to gain my fourth state title. My goal going into high school was to be a four-time state champion, so it would be really cool to achieve that goal with a win this year. Other goals I have include setting a new personal best for 18 holes, and maybe even trying to set a 2A record. My 67 in state last year was my personal best and set a Rowland Hall record, and I would love to try to lower that even further.

Tell us about the skills—both academic and athletic—you built at Rowland Hall that you'll be taking with you to Nebraska.

Rowland Hall played a massive part in achieving my goal of playing D1 college golf. Academically, Rowland Hall is a very challenging school, and while balancing golf and school was difficult, it taught me to be disciplined and to manage my time well. I learned to budget the time I had each day for practice, homework, workouts, and social events so that I could excel in academics and athletics while still enjoying time with friends and family. Additionally, the discussions that we have in classes like history and English helped me gain comfort expressing myself clearly and concisely. A lot of the recruiting process is emails and phone calls with coaches, and the speaking skills that Rowland Hall taught me benefited me greatly in these conversations with coaches.

Rowland Hall provided me with a place to grow as an athlete.—Arden Louchheim

Athletically, Rowland Hall provided me with a place to grow as an athlete and to experience team golf for one of the first times. Golf is largely an individual sport, and there are only a couple of team tournaments per year, so getting the chance to play with my classmates representing my school every year has been an incredible experience for me. Additionally, our school’s ski academy, Rowmark, is a very competitive program and the athletes are expected to hold themselves to the team’s high standards. These expectations instilled in me at a young age the responsibility, work ethic, and focus needed to be a member of the team. Once I built these habits, I was able to apply them outside of ski racing, and they have served extremely useful in my golf career, and my life as a whole. I have been at Rowland Hall since kindergarten and I take a lot of pride in this school, so getting a chance to use my athletic skills to represent the school is an opportunity I am very thankful for.

Arden Louchheim, class of 2023, with her parents on the University of Nebraska football field in Lincoln.


What do you think golf has taught you about yourself?

In my opinion, golf is one of the sports that most closely resembles life, so it has taught me so much about myself as an athlete but also just as a person. First and foremost, golf has taught me that I am a competitor. I love the feeling of adrenaline that comes with a must-make putt or a drive on a tight hole where I have to hit the fairway. The opportunity that competition provides to showcase every skill that I have worked so hard on is my favorite part of the sport. Golf has also taught me to be very, very resilient. In golf, progress is not always linear, and learning to fight through a single tough round or a couple weeks of rough play has made me a stronger golfer and person who is more prepared to face adversity.

Is there anything else you want our community to know about your athletic and/or academic journey?

I am so thankful for the support that Rowland Hall has provided me. Golf tournaments, as well as Rowmark events, required me to miss a lot of class, but my teachers were always so understanding and supportive. I have had math teachers take time out of their lunch breaks or free periods to go over material I missed, and history teachers who allowed me to sit in on class periods other than my own to hear lectures that I was not at school for. The faculty and staff’s willingness to be flexible in order to allow every student to achieve their full potential is not something that I take for granted, and my success is a direct result of the support that I have received from Rowland Hall. I am very proud to be a Winged Lion.

Congratulations, Arden!

Athletics

Rowland Hall high school seniors and teachers at the 2022 Materials Research Society meeting in Honolulu, HI.

Rowland Hall equips students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in a dynamic world. We believe education is active, and that deep, authentic learning experiences engage students in powerful ways, enabling them to view themselves as innovators and creators. Our new vision and strategic priorities are helping to center and formalize this work, but it’s long been a part of the Rowland Hall experience, inspiring generations of students to pursue, create, and share knowledge both in and outside the classroom. In the past year alone, we’ve watched many of our young scientists and engineers, fueled by their personal passions, tackle real-world problems and offer innovative solutions designed to better our shared world. This fall, we’re spotlighting some of their stories. (Be sure to also check out "Ruchi Agarwal Named Runner-up in National Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition," "Three Rowland Hall Students Place Fourth at International Science and Engineering Fair for Aviation Engine Design," and "Max Smart ’22 and Science Teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida Published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.")

This piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 Annual Report.


There was a lot of buzz surrounding a poster presented this spring at the Materials Research Society (MRS) meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

“Discovery of Structure-Property Relationships of Intercalated Graphite Compounds Using Machine Learning” had the potential to lead to major discoveries in the field. But that isn’t what had people talking. It was that those presenting the poster weren’t researchers or professors, but four teenagers from Salt Lake City, Utah.

They were the only high school students there. People were very confused and very impressed.—Tascha Knowlton, Upper School science teacher

Rowland Hall seniors Tyler Gerstein, Ford Hodgkins, Samantha Lehman, and Olive Milavetz, along with science teacher Tascha Knowlton and University of Utah associate professor (and former Rowland Hall teacher) Dr. Kaci Kuntz, traveled to the conference to present findings from the school’s research science class, now in its second year.

“They were the only high school students there,” said Tascha. “People were very confused and very impressed. They were taken aback—some of them literally stepped back when they found out how old they were.”

The students’ work isn’t typical for high schoolers. They started their journey with document reviews, an undertaking that isn’t very exciting but is the bedrock of most scientific discoveries. They went through thousands of pages of research on the properties of graphite sheets—or graphene—to learn all they could about how they react with other compounds. “It was a lot of data mining and very time-consuming,” said Tascha. “They might go through multiple papers and only find one small piece of data worth using.”

Four Rowland Hall high school seniors presenting at the 2022 Materials Research Society meeting in Honolulu.

From left: Ford Hodgkins, Olive Milavetz, Samantha Lehman, and Tyler Gerstein.


The document reviews were just the tip of the iceberg. The students then took that data and dove into code writing and machine learning software to predict how the graphene would react to other unknown compounds. Would it take electrons from them or donate electrons to them? And what would the movement of those electrons do? The more they worked with the software, the more accurate the predictions became.

“We were able to predict color changes in the graphene depending on the compound placed between the sheets,” said Samantha. “It’s cool because color is an electric optical property.”

We got a lot of experience doing scientific writing. I got some coding experience, and we had to figure out machine learning. Then on top of all that, we had to navigate presenting our work to professionals in the field. We got to experience a range of activities in the scientific spectrum.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

There is still more work to do, though, and it will be carried on by students at Rowland Hall in 2022–2023. They will take the data gathered and the predictions made this year and begin to look at how these compounds may be useful and how to engineer them for various purposes. “Graphite is the most stable form of carbon and very lightweight,” said Tascha. “It could be used in building batteries, or in touch screens. There are some possible medical applications. Lots of possibilities.”

While the students who presented at the MRS conference won’t be actively working on the project full time anymore, that doesn’t mean they are completely walking away. “We can come back in to help in any way we can, or be a mentor to younger students,” said Samantha. “It’s cool because the involvement is whatever I want it to be.”

Beyond the scope of the project, the students can take the lessons they learned into new educational and career opportunities. They left high school with many skills most don’t acquire until college, or even graduate school. “We got a lot of experience doing scientific writing. I got some coding experience, and we had to figure out machine learning,” said Samantha. “Then on top of all that, we had to navigate presenting our work to professionals in the field. We got to experience a range of activities in the scientific spectrum.”

It wouldn’t be unlikely to see some, if not all, of these amazing budding scientists presenting at many conferences to come.

Authentic Learning

Rowland Hall Upper School student Ruchi Agarwal,a runner-up in the 2022 Stockholm Junior Water Prize national competition.

Rowland Hall equips students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in a dynamic world. We believe education is active, and that deep, authentic learning experiences engage students in powerful ways, enabling them to view themselves as innovators and creators. Our new vision and strategic priorities are helping to center and formalize this work, but it’s long been a part of the Rowland Hall experience, inspiring generations of students to pursue, create, and share knowledge both in and outside the classroom. In the past year alone, we’ve watched many of our young scientists and engineers, fueled by their personal passions, tackle real-world problems and offer innovative solutions designed to better our shared world. This fall, we’re spotlighting some of their stories. (Be sure to also check out "Three Rowland Hall Students Place Fourth at International Science and Engineering Fair for Aviation Engine Design," "Research Science: Taking Classroom Discoveries to the International Level," and "Max Smart ’22 and Science Teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida Published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.")


Last year, while on the lookout for a science fair research subject, upper school debater Ruchi Agarwal found inspiration in a topic that was being examined by policy debaters across the country: The United States federal government should substantially increase its protection of water resources in the United States.

"It’s a prominent issue right now,” Ruchi said, and one she became personally passionate about while researching water resources for debate competitions. She decided to focus her science fair project on the study of toxic cyanobacteria—algae mats that produce neuro and liver toxins poisonous to humans and animals—in streams and rivers. Though much research has been done on algal blooms in lakes, Ruchi explained, little has been done on their presence in flowing waterways, despite cyanobacteria’s threat to lives around the globe.

Though much research has been done on algal blooms in lakes, little has been done on their presence in flowing waterways, despite cyanobacteria’s threat to lives around the globe.“Once I realized that the toxic mat formation is not just a local issue, but a global one, I immediately embarked on researching more about this scientific issue,” Ruchi later wrote about her decision.

Ruchi hypothesized that because toxin-producing cyanobacteria co-exist with non-toxic producers, they can synergize with non-toxic bacteria nutrients, as well as other resources—a theory she wanted to test at the Virgin River in Utah’s Zion National Park. With the help of park employees, Ruchi collected samples at four sites over a period of four months, which, with the support of University of Utah professor Dr. Ramesh Goel and graduate research assistant Shadman Kaiser, she tested for certain water quality parameters, cyanobacteria genomic content, and the ability of toxic cyanobacteria to synergize with other bacteria. Her research, Ruchi wrote, confirmed that Microcoleus, the most common cyanobacteria worldwide, is “dominant in nutrient-deficient environments and exhibits strange metabolic behavior which makes this genus very competitive in terms of flourishing with respect to other toxin producers.”

To say Ruchi’s findings were well received would be an understatement. As planned, Ruchi first presented her project at the regional University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair (USEF), where she qualified to compete at the state USEF. At state, she received further accolades: first place in the Civil and Environmental Engineering division, as well as the Salt Lake City Public Utilities prize. She also received an unexpected but exciting opportunity: a nomination to apply to compete for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP), the most prestigious youth competition for water-related research.

Rowland Hall junior Ruchi Agarwal at the March 2022 University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair in Salt Lake City.

Ruchi at the March 2022 University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair.


When asked how it felt to be nominated for the SJWP, Ruchi remembered, “It was a mix of exciting and daunting … more the second emotion, primarily because receiving the nomination is just one step of many.”

Indeed, competing for the SJWP isn’t for the faint of heart: nominees (students in grades nine through twelve) must be working on projects “aimed at enhancing the quality of life through improvement of water quality, water resources management, or water and wastewater treatment,” and are required to write scientific research papers that are first submitted for state-level competitions, then—for the 50 young scientists chosen from each state—for national competition. The national winner then goes on to compete with scientists from 30 countries at the international competition in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I definitely hadn’t written a paper to this scale,” Ruchi said. And though the process came during the Upper School’s AP test season, she devoted time each day for three weeks to putting together her submission, leaning heavily on the knowledge she built in Upper School classes like biology, English, and debate—knowledge, Ruchi said, that equipped her with “the critical thinking skills that go into writing a 20-page paper.” In May she learned that her entry, “Water Scarcity in the Arid West: What is the Role of Harmful Algal Blooms?”, had earned the top prize for the state of Utah, and that she was headed to the national competition at the Colorado School of Mines in June.

“It was really nice to know it had paid off, and I was excited,” said Ruchi. That excitement grew once she arrived in Colorado, where she was able to learn more about water conservation and connect with students from across the nation. “It was inspiring talking to other people who are passionate about this,” she said.

Rowland Hall student Ruchi Agarwal was named a runner-up in the 2022 Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition.

Ruchi poses with SJWP judges after being named a runner-up in the national competition.


And though Ruchi’s research already had a track record of excellence, she remained modest about her paper’s chance at the national level. “I thought maybe I had a chance to win one of the special awards,” she said, referring to prizes awarded to two top competitors who are not named either the national winner or one of two runners-up. You can, therefore, imagine Ruchi’s reaction when she was announced as a runner-up. “I was literally shocked,” she said.

Doing work that is so fundamental to our health and daily lives is incredibly fulfilling. It helped me realize that I could use my passion for research as a way to create change and find solutions to pressing issues in the scientific community.—Ruchi Agarwal, class of 2023

Ruchi may have been, but her teachers, including debate coach Mike Shackelford, weren't. “Ruchi is one of our top debaters, and, while I was thrilled, I wasn't surprised by her success at the SJWP,” said Mike. “She's always been driven, creative, articulate, and bright, and has honed her critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills over many years of competitive debate. As a coach, I've always believed that debate is a means to end, not an end in itself. And while I'm certainly happy when debaters win trophies, I'm especially proud when they apply their skills and knowledge to real-world experiences.”

With a boost of confidence as a scientist, Ruchi has started her senior year ready to build on her SJWP experience. She’s looking forward to tackling new challenges in classes like AP Biology, reworking her SJWP paper for submission to other science competitions, and growing her research skills. As an aspiring biology major, she said, she now better understands how the research she’s already interested in can make a difference in quality of life for people around the globe, and she hopes to play a role in effecting policy solutions through her work.

“Doing work that is so fundamental to our health and daily lives is incredibly fulfilling,” Ruchi reflected. “It helped me realize that I could use my passion for research as a way to create change and find solutions to pressing issues in the scientific community.”

Authentic Learning

You Belong at Rowland Hall