Empowering

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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 an alum and a current student. 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 cocurricular 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

Upper School Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Students Reflect on Creation of AI-Inspired Dance Concert, ‘Integrated’

In preparation for this year’s dance concert, Integrated, middle and upper school students researched topics related to technology, AI, and how we as humans relate to these machines in our everyday lives. Students thought critically about their personal experiences with tech and created pieces inspired by their findings and curiosities. Their works explore how we can utilize AI as a resource moving forward, while also giving space to the many moral and existential questions that come along with developing non-human intelligence. Two Upper School students, Hayley Trockman and Mattie Sulivan, reflected on their own processes and interviewed peers to give the audience an inside look into the complex questions underlying this year’s concert.


Reflecting on Process: Dance Students’ Voices on Integrated

By Hayley Trockman, Class of 2024, and Mattie Sullivan, Class of 2025

During the summer workshop our dance teachers, Sophia Cutrubus ’18 and Grace Riter ’18, presented us with the question: how can we express our thoughts about the advancement of technology through dance? At first, we were unaware of just how many different paths we could take to explore this growing industry. But as we dove deeper, we discovered that this topic left us with endless questions and conversations to have. Both our Intermediate and Advanced Dance Ensembles classes endeavored to answer these questions with open minds and a willingness to delve into our movement explorations.

How can we express our thoughts about the advancement of technology through dance?

Junior Mattie Sullivan decided to ruminate on their individual relationship to transforming technologies, using their piece to uncover a duality that often comes with spending huge amounts of time online.

“When I was presented with the theme of this year's dance concert I felt excited, overwhelmed, and honestly scared,” said Mattie. “Walking into dance class this year, I was full of ideas but really struggling to articulate them. Even a couple of days ago I was reminded of our initial question: can you really express all of these feelings through dance? But in the few weeks leading up to the concert, I feel confident that our relationships with AI and technology have and will continue to be voiced.”

They continued, “The Internet has been my primary form of communication with those I care about and my main source of entertainment. On the flip side, I have observed the detrimental effects an Internet addiction can have on a person. For my piece, I focused on both of these aspects of Internet usage. By manipulating the energy qualities of my movement I was able to portray both loneliness and connection. In our creative processes, we dove into the complexities of using the Internet and AI, and through movement we have been able to tell our unique stories.”

In Mattie’s work with the Iron Lions robotics team captain, junior Evan Weinstein, they discussed how technology has a different kind of intelligence than humans do. Evan highlighted that we don’t need to fear AI; rather, we should focus on how we set boundaries around its use.

He said, “AI is incredibly important because as we learn to harness the power of computing, technological strides become more accessible. When we don’t need to worry about spending time regulating budgets and doing mundane tasks, the future workforce will be able to put our collective energy towards doing new things while AI can maintain what we already know. Additionally, AI will be able to pick up on patterns that humans can’t. This level of pattern recognition can also help us predict and regulate our response to relevant social and environmental issues.”

While neural networks and AI are incredible tools, they are just that—tools. We can learn to use them as innovators and problem solvers, but at the end of the day they can only perform as well as we teach them.

Evan also pointed out, “While neural networks and AI are incredible tools, they are just that—tools. We can learn to use them as innovators and problem solvers, but at the end of the day they can only perform as well as we teach them. AI is an advancement that we need to understand and accept. I urge the support of AI and hope that we can help learn within our communities to set our generation up for success.”

Senior Hayley Trockman gave a look into what her process looked like as she learned about how AI-generated images are created.

“I believe in integrating technology into our lives with human intelligence guiding its role,” said Hayley. “I began the process of choreographing a piece that specifically looked into the ways that AI-produced images are created from our insecurities and unrealistic beauty standards. However, after speaking with Rowland Hall staff member Ashley Atwood, her advice of ‘accepting the new and upcoming’ resonated with me. I realized that we can’t put all of the blame on technology—because we are actually the ones feeding it the ideal body image through our engagement with social media. Whether it be likes and positive reactions, or critical comments, AI recognizes this trend in data and takes that information to generate its own images. My piece is a commentary on that process. The use of mirrors as props represents how AI-generated images become both reflections and distortions of our own insecurities.”

Senior Lauren Bates pivoted the conversation in a new direction, with her inspiration coming from the increase in the use of AI to help process grief.

“My initial idea dealt with how AI does not feel or process grief the same way that we do,” said Lauren. “However, as I did more research, I found a number of articles talking about ‘Grief Tech.’ I learned that there is already technology that allows people to feed information from their loved ones who have passed into AI chatbots. Subsequently, the software can recreate their personality and identity. This has brought up a lot of ethical and psychological concerns, along with questions about if this is a healthy way to process grief. I was initially inspired to create this piece after listening to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘United In Grief’ and applying its meaning to dance. For me, dance has always been a way to express ideas that are too difficult to express with words.”

I hope that our audience will resonate with both our fear and love of technology, and spend a minute thinking about their own relationships, both on and off the screens.

As we have reflected on the past months of choreographing, researching, and critically evaluating our relationship with tech and AI, we hope that the concert encourages our audience to turn inward and think about how they relate to technology in their own lives. As Mattie Sullivan said, “I hope that our audience will resonate with both our fear and love of technology, and spend a minute thinking about their own relationships, both on and off the screens.”  We want this moment in time to allow viewers to take pause and evaluate where we are and how we want to move forward.

Student Voices

Rowland Hall eleventh and fourth graders visit the Great Salt Lake in September 2023.

How can Utahns lead out on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? That was the question posed to students by the Utah chapter of the United Nations Association for their 2023 essay contest, held in honor of the 75th United Nations Day. And it was a question that appealed to junior Spencer Brady, who late last year took first place in the competition.

Spencer’s essay journey kicked off in October, when he was thinking about an upcoming AP US History assignment. Designed to build on Beyond the Classroom, when juniors traveled with fourth graders to the Great Salt Lake, the assignment asked students to explore a contemporary issue they feel strongly about, conduct historical research on the topic, and write an essay that explains and situates the issue in a longer historical lens. And though students could adhere to Dr. Nate Kogan’s essay parameters and submit their work directly to him, they were also allowed to submit their topics to essay contests of their choice instead, if desired.

When Spencer read the United Nations Association-Utah essay prompt, he saw an opportunity to connect ongoing conversations about the future of the Great Salt Lake with two of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs: SDG 11 (make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) and SDG 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development). Through that lens, he began studying declining saline lakes and learned that one, Mono Lake, had been successfully restored thanks to community involvement. Spencer thought the same approach could benefit Great Salt Lake.

“The community has to be involved. You can’t put a problem like this to government and just expect it to magic it away,” Spencer explained. “We’ve all got to help.”

Spencer wrote a clear, well-researched, and artfully crafted essay [that] captured an optimistic and forward-looking outlook on the future of the lake and grounded that positive perspective in a strong comparative study of Owens and Mono Lake, respectively. He fused compelling argumentation with a strong call to community action that clearly resonated with the judging panel.—Dr. Nate Kogan ’00, Upper School history teacher

By the end of October, Spencer had put together a thoughtful 463-word essay covering the history of two other terminal saline lakes and sharing how Utahns can learn from these stories to come together and lead on water-related SDGs to save our own lake. On November 21, he learned he had won first place, including a $500 prize, for this work. “We appreciated your connection between the SDGs and Utah’s Great Salt Lake,” wrote judge Peter Corroon about the committee’s choice to declare Spencer’s essay the winner.

Spencer, who called the experience fun and exciting, said this research helped him feel optimistic about Utahns’ ability to protect Great Salt Lake, and he hopes those who read his essay will take away an understanding of the importance of coming together in pursuit of this goal. Thanks to his choice to share his essay more widely, it’s much more likely that Spencer’s words will indeed inspire others to play a role in saving the lake—an outcome that illustrates why Dr. Kogan likes to offer students the chance to share their writing outside of school.

“I think our students and their perspectives deserve to be heard by a wider audience,” said Dr. Kogan. “They have outstanding insights and sophisticated understandings of both historical and contemporary dilemmas. I have the good fortune of hearing these in the classroom on a daily basis, but I'm always thrilled when our students put themselves out there and share their strong voices and well-researched perspectives in the editorial pages of the Salt Lake Tribune or other publications or contests.”

Furthermore, said Dr. Kogan, sharing their work more broadly is a great way to build students’ confidence in their writing skills and individual voices.

“I think writing for an authentic audience is crucial and the feedback one receives from people beyond the classroom gives vital insight into how strong our students’ writing is when read by outside evaluators,” he said. “I think it's so valuable for them to get this type of authentic feedback from experts outside of our school community and, in many cases, gain the validation that their work is exceptional on both local and national levels.”

Congratulations, Spencer, on your deserved recognition.

With Spencer’s permission, we’ve shared his award-winning essay below.


Evaporating Opportunities: Water Management and the Great Salt Lake

By Spencer Brady, Class of 2025

As an international organization, the United Nations is committed to making the world a better place. Among the UN’s goals are the desire for water conservation to promote water availability, the management of marine resources, and the management of terrestrial ecosystems. In Utah, one of the main environmental issues confronting us today is the impending disappearance of the Great Salt Lake, the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere. Lately, the water level in the lake has been declining due to excessive water use, reaching successive all-time lows.1 The issue of the consequences of disappearing lakes, however, has caused problems around the world for years and lends lessons Utahns can use as we attempt to lead the world in the conservation of our aquatic resources. An early example of human-caused lake evaporation is the fate of Owens Lake in California. This lake was almost completely dry a mere fourteen years after water began to be diverted from its tributaries. The typical use of Owens Lake when discussing lake disappearance is as an example of the enormous financial burden of maintaining a dry lake. Alyse Bertenthal, an Associate Professor of Law who studies the production and uses of evidence in science and law, explains that Owens Lake also demonstrates the regulatory challenges of managing lakes. Bertenthal states that purely legislative solutions for lake conservation are largely ineffective due to the difficulty of determining the optimal and thus regulated state of the lake.2 Another lake in California seems to hold the solution to these regulatory difficulties. Mono Lake was at risk of drying up in the 1970s, but community activism led to the lake being successfully protected.3 Randal Orton, a former California resource conservation manager, states that one of the driving factors behind this success was the recognition that Mono Lake is a resource that belongs to the community.4 The successful management of the lake depended on cooperation and communication between the community and government officials.5 The continual increase in Salt Lake City’s population and the accompanying increase in demand for water indicates that the drying lake is a problem that will have to be reckoned with. As our legislators grapple with laws that attempt to maintain the Great Salt Lake the past seems to indicate that there is another way. By looking to the community for advice and assistance we can create the lake that everyone wants through everyone’s cooperation. The conservation of the Great Salt Lake does not merely fulfill one of the United Nations’ goals, it bridges the gap between them. To truly lead out on these sustainable development goals, it is not enough for Utah to simply try to fulfill them individually. We must look beyond these boundaries and into the future of a better world.

1 Nate Seltenrich, “A Terminal Case? Shrinking Inland Seas Expose Salty Particulates and More,” Environmental Health Perspectives 131, no. 6 (2023), https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP12835.
2 Alyse Bertenthal, “Scaling the Baseline: Technicalities and Environmental Regulation in Owens Valley, California,” Law and Policy 43, no. 1 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1111/lapo.12162.
3 Seltenrich, “A Terminal.”
4 Randal David Orton, “INVENTING THE PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE: California Water Law and the Mono Lake Controversy,” California Legal History 16 (January 2021): passim.
5 Orton, passim.

Student Voices

Photo Gallery: Weavers and Dreamers 2024, A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year, the Rowland Hall community honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy with Weavers and Dreamers: Leading the Beloved Community, a time to imagine a beloved community where everyone can be themselves in multifaceted ways alongside local Black storytellers, artists, and musicians.

Weavers and Dreamers - Leading the Beloved Community

This year’s event kicked off on Thursday, January 11, with a tribute to Reverend France A. Davis, a longstanding Rowland Hall board member, community trailblazer, and civil rights activist. Rev. Davis’ tribute was followed by a performance by alum Micah Willis ’14 and his band and a storytelling program presented by Charlotte Starks and Ashley Finley, members of the Nubian Storytellers of Utah Leadership (NSOUL).

On Friday, January 12, middle and upper school faculty and staff gathered for a professional learning opportunity, and then a special daylong program was held for students in grades 6–12. Students engaged in conversations about building a beloved community; participated in activities featuring musicians, poetry, and storytelling; and reflected on the connection between our imaginations and questions of belonging and inclusion, as well as storytelling as a crucial leadership skill that can help us imagine different and better futures. Alum Micah Willis and NSOUL storytellers also joined this gathering.

On Monday, January 15, Rowland Hall students and their families honored the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by coming together for a day of community engagement. Volunteers planted wildflower seeds and built greenhouse benches with the Jordan River Nature Center in the morning, and then community members were invited to join an afternoon march, organized by the University of Utah’s MLK Week Committee, from East High School to the University of Utah.

The celebration continued on Tuesday, January 16, when Charlotte Starks of NSOUL gathered with Beginning School students to read a story and speak about Dr. King. The Lower School then came together for a Changemaker Chapel, where students heard from two guest speakers, Micah Willis and Charlotte Starks, and engaged in the division’s annual tradition of creating an artifact and marching around the quad to demonstrate how they can see themselves as future changemakers. This gathering allows our younger students to express what they need to feel belonging and how they might imagine a world where everyone feels included and valued.
 
We invite you to enjoy the linked Weavers and Dreamers photo gallery.

Community

Two Rowland Hall Upper School students show a heat mapping probe in July 2023.

Sophomore Fanni Ventilla used to have a stream in her backyard.

It was a place in which she and her siblings could splash on summer days, the flowing water nourishing the trees along the bank that provided refuge both for children who needed a break from the sun as well as for the owls that roosted in their branches. As the sun lowered, the family could hear the owls hooting into the cooling air.

But over the years, as global temperatures have continued to rise, Fanni watched her beloved stream slowly shrink, then fully dry out.

“As the temperature increased, the stream stopped flowing,” she shared, and the losses cascaded from there. “This caused many of the nearby trees to dry out. Some of these trees were recently cut down, and, as a result, the owls that used to come to our yard were forced to find a new home. It’s sad to not hear the hooting.”

Extreme heat has been the number-one weather-related cause of death in the United States for the last three decades, and future heat waves will continue to threaten lives around the globe. By identifying urban heat islands, we can better pinpoint where life-saving heat mitigation resources should be prioritized.

In today’s changing climate, stories like these are not uncommon. Rising temperatures are affecting environments as small as individual backyards and as massive as polar ice caps. They’re also wreaking havoc on human bodies: extreme heat has been the number-one weather-related cause of death in the United States for the last three decades, and future heat waves will continue to threaten lives around the globe.

And even though extreme heat is here to stay for the foreseeable future, Rowland Hall Coordinator of Climate Studies Rob Wilson hasn’t lost hope in our ability to protect one another from its impact—and he doesn’t want his students to either. That’s why, in early 2023, Rob jumped on an opportunity for his climate science class to get involved in a community project to map extreme heat, to better safeguard lives.

In partnership with representatives from Utah State University's Utah Climate Center, Salt Lake City, and the Natural History Museum of Utah, the class helped to apply Salt Lake City for participation in the annual urban heat island mapping campaign, a citizen scientist program funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Cities chosen for this program (more than 60 to date) are provided support from CAPA Strategies, an organization that helps map heat distribution within communities. The goal of this work is to identify urban heat islands—hotspots that can measure up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than areas with more trees, more grass, and less pavement that absorbs heat—so that local decision-makers can better pinpoint where life-saving heat mitigation resources should be prioritized. This work is necessary because urban heat islands are often home to those most vulnerable to the health impacts of extreme heat, which are exacerbated in environments that are unable to cool to under 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature bodies need for recovery. And when people don’t have access to cooler environments, Rob explained, damage can happen quickly.

Being able to collect the data, view the data afterward, and see how people are going to use that information to better our community makes me feel proactive rather than a bystander.—Maddie Mulford, class of 2024

“When experiencing extreme heat, the body responds by dilating the peripheral blood vessels to release heat through the skin. This causes a drop in blood pressure and leads to reduced blood flow to internal organs, and can lead to chronic heat-related illness such as kidney failure,” he said. “In acute cases, when body temperature gets too hot—such as when you live in a space without air conditioning in a city hotspot, over multiple days of a heat wave—the body experiences heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and develops when body temperature exceeds the range of tolerance of the cells and organs begin to fail.”

Rob and his students knew that mapping Salt Lake’s hotspots would make a real difference in saving lives during heat waves, so when it was announced that the city was one of 18 communities in 14 US states and one international city chosen for the 2023 campaign, they were ready jump into action—both to help map data and to use that information to make a difference to others.

“I think there's not enough opportunities for people to feel like they're doing something hands-on to help people, especially when it comes to issues like extreme heat or climate change,” said senior Maddie Mulford, who was integral to the early project proposals to the city and who, along with classmate Max Jansen, drove a route for the Salt Lake City campaign. “Being able to collect the data, view the data afterward, and see how people are going to use that information to better our community makes me feel proactive rather than a bystander. I think programs like these are a good way of showing that people don't need to be a huge political figure or start a super new and innovative organization to fight climate change. Helping can look as simple as driving around on a Saturday afternoon.”

Left: Students map heat data in Salt Lake City. Right: Student Maddie Mulford visits RadioACTive.

Left: Maddie and Max gather heat data. Right: Maddie sharing her experience on RadioACTive.


Maddie’s observation is what Rob always hopes his climate science students take away from class.

“I want students to feel empowered,” he said, and this goal has played a major role in how he’s structured climate science, now in its fourth year. “This subject feels alarmist—and you’re going to get the alarmist message for your entire life. I want to avoid that. Part of helping students to not give in to alarmist messages is to offer them opportunities to take real action against some of the hardest problems our planet is facing. Action is incredibly empowering, and it helps you realize that you can make a difference. We saw this as we worked on this campaign: the mapping project gave us agency. We could address something that’s important to ourselves, our neighbors, and our city, that will help us cope with changes that are happening in our city.”

Part of helping students to not give in to alarmist messages is to offer them opportunities to take real action against some of the hardest problems our planet is facing. Action is incredibly empowering, and it helps you realize that you can make a difference.—Rob Wilson, coordinator of climate studies

Many members of the community also felt that empowerment as they came together for Salt Lake’s heat mapping campaign on July 15. That day, 42 volunteers, including Rowland Hall students and community members, mounted sensors on their cars and drove 10 routes around the city in the early morning, afternoon, and evening, recording the temperature and humidity data that CAPA Strategies would use to create the city’s heat map. This work, which took place over a weekend in which tens of millions of US citizens were under heat advisories, captivated more than just those who were there. Multiple news outlets covered the project between July 13 and 19, and Maddie and Max, along with classmate Angus Hickman, joined Rob on RadioACTive, a local program that highlights grassroots activists and community builders, to share their experiences and talk about why heat mapping is necessary.

Fanni was among those watching the coverage on the news and via the school's Instagram account, and she was inspired by what she saw. Since taking AP Environmental Science at her last school (Fanni transferred to Rowland Hall for sophomore year), she’s spent a lot of time thinking about how pollution contributes to the heat waves that have affected not only her backyard trees, but also her grandmother, who lives in Europe. “My grandma is worried about going outside due to the extreme heat because she has heart issues,” said Fanni. “She has no access to AC, and if homes don’t cool down it causes health problems. That really worries me.”

As she watched some of her new peers contribute to a project that will provide real solutions to local residents, Fanni realized she, too, could do something that would both ease her worries and help support ongoing heat mitigation efforts. This fall, she took action by starting the Upper School’s Climate Action Club, which has set a goal to collaborate with TreeUtah to help plant trees in the hotspots identified in Salt Lake City’s Heat Watch Report and to create a website that will teach others how they can help.

Members of Rowland Hall's Upper School Climate Action Club gather for a meeting.

Members of the Climate Action Club gather for a meeting on November 10.


“The heat mapping data makes it clear that we need to take action and we need to take it now,” said Fanni, who joined junior CJ Wujkowska on an October 30 follow-up episode of RadioACTive to discuss next steps that will be taken in Salt Lake’s heat mitigation efforts. “I want to help the city stop the urban heat island effect by planting trees and educating the population in this area about the importance of taking responsibility for the environment.”

I felt like I could do nothing, but now I know I can, and I want people to know they can do something. Everyone can take small steps that will make a better future—and even help now.—Fanni Ventilla, class of 2026

And Fanni isn't the only student applying the data. This year’s climate science students have been hard at work studying the Heat Watch Report findings, and each has picked an area that speaks to them and that they want to explore further: long- and short-term heat-related illness (Ani Agarwal), heat and mental health (Brooke Brown), heat and topography (Hayden Kaufman Schiller), heat and outdoor work (Kiri Mannelin), urban heat and sports training (Bea Martin), heat and air quality (Lulu Murphy), urban heat and redlining (Cam Prichard), and heat and invasive insects (CJ Wujkowska). In addition to writing articles about their chosen subjects for submission to The Gazette, the Upper School newspaper, each student created a poster about their subject that was shared with community members who attended Making the Invisible Visible, a November 5 community event that brought together members of the Salt Lake City heat mapping team, scientists, policy makers, and community members to discuss the Heat Watch Report and solutions that will help the community be more resilient to future heat waves.

It is just the start of what’s to come of this important work, and a promising glimpse of how Rowland Hall students will continue to tackle climate concerns.

Left: Rob Wilson explains the urban heat island effect. Right: A student poster on heat and redlining.

Left: Rob Wilson presenting at Making the Invisible Visible. Right: Senior Cam Prichard's poster.


“I felt like I could do nothing, but now I know I can,” said Fanni, “and I want people to know they can do something. It’s not just a problem that only scientists and professionals can solve. Everyone can take small steps that will make a better future—and even help now."


Banner photo: Upper schoolers Maddie Mulford and Max Jansen show one of the heat mapping probes that was used to gather temperature and humidity data in Salt Lake City on July 15, 2023.

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