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Claire Wang at Rowland Hall graduation in 2015.

Rowland Hall alumna and Duke University senior Claire Wang '15 has added a prestigious new title to her already impressive list of achievements: Rhodes Scholar.

Claire Wang holding climate action now sign

The Rhodes Trust on November 17 announced the names of the 32 Americans to win the 2019 scholarship, one of the most famous academic awards available to US college graduates.

Claire emailed some of her former Rowland Hall teachers Sunday, overjoyed to share the news. "I'll be Oxford bound next fall," she wrote. "Thank you all so much for your support over the years."

Claire is the sole Utahn among the 2019 scholars, and one of 21 women—a record for an American Rhodes class. Here's her profile as published by the trust:

"Claire R. Wang, North Salt Lake, is a Duke senior majoring in Environmental Science and Policy. She is a Truman Scholar and a Udall Scholar, and has a perfect GPA. She is President of the Duke Climate Coalition, was appointed by Duke's president to advise on campus sustainability and climate policy, and has led numerous environmental policy campaigns. Claire also has worked at the Rocky Mountain Institute, and for Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. She aspires to a career as a climate-change policy advocate and to work at a global level to develop clean energy alternatives to replace fossil fuels. Claire will do master's degrees at Oxford in Environmental Change and Management, and Global Governance and Diplomacy."

At Rowland Hall, Claire felt supported and encouraged on her quest to make the world a better place.

Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest and best-known award for international study, provide all expenses for up to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Scholars must display academic excellence, good character, leadership skills, and commitment to service.

Claire has previously said she's fortunate to have attended Rowland Hall, where she felt supported and encouraged on her quest to make the world a better place. The valedictorian for the class of 2015 also said she appreciated her alma mater's emphasis on writing, which helped her as a student and an organizer. She credited her middle and upper school debate experience for giving her many of the skills she uses in her advocacy work: "Just like debate, running campaigns involves strategy, negotiation, and analysis," she said. Read our November 2016 Fine Print story about Claire.

More Information

Alumni

Ikwo Frank and peers on National Academy of Medicine stairs

Ikwo Frank '13 and her peers from American University recently took the stage at the National Academy of Medicine to pitch their solution to the sixth-annual DC Public Health Case Challenge. The competition engages teams of students from DC-area universities in an intensive two-week process of researching solutions to a significant public health issue, culminating in the presentation of a proposal to a panel of expert judges at the Academy's annual meeting. This year's challenge was "Reducing Disparities in Cancer and Chronic Disease: Preventing Tobacco Use in African American Adolescents."

Ikwo, who is about six months away from completing her master's degree in health promotion management, joined American's team at the invitation of another program student—she thought it would be a good academic challenge. Plus it's a subject she and her team members are passionate about, which served them well during the strenuous research phase and at the panel presentation on October 14.
 

Left: Ikwo with fellow American University students Liz Fam and Elizabeth Taormina. Right: Ikwo on stage.

Her cohort spent hours working individually and as a team, sharing ideas for the best and most practical ways they could tackle the case. Ikwo, who has been living in Washington DC for almost a year and a half, found herself focusing on what students do after school. "It's a big city," she said. "Where do all these kids go?" Her team devised an idea for an after-school program built around mental health and wellness—the program would help kids become more mindful, teach healthy strategies for coping with stress, and provide a safe space when school lets out.

Ikwo's team devised an idea for an after-school program built around mental health and wellness—the program would help kids become more mindful, teach healthy strategies for coping with stress, and provide a safe space when school lets out.

Even though her team didn't win the competition, Ikwo regards the experience as extremely worthwhile. The conviction they brought to their presentation earned positive reviews from the panel, and the collaborative energy of participants was inspiring. Furthermore, all teams' proposals will be summarized in an upcoming National Academy of Medicine publication.

And there's one more benefit not to be overlooked: the competition requires students to apply a narrow lens—and look for feasible solutions—in a field where the scope and volume of problems often seem daunting. "The health world is so broad, and there's so much work to be done," Ikwo said. "I wish we could save the world, but we have to be realistic. One small thing really does go a long way."

Ikwo is already applying her studies to the greater community. When not in school, she works at the World Bank as a fitness specialist and instructor. Prior to attending American, she earned her bachelor of science from Weber State University in human performance management (the program has since been renamed).

 

Banner photo: 2018 DC Public Health Case Challenge Participants. Photo credit: National Academy of Medicine.

Alumni

New med students in white coats.

The University of Utah School of Medicine welcomed 127 students into its ranks at Friday's annual White Coat Ceremony, and six of of those newly cloaked scholars graduated from Rowland Hall.

Congratulations to our young alumni, pictured above. From left: Madeline Foley '13, Hank Shipman '13, Saeed Shihab '13, Kellyn Maves '12, and Sophie Janes '12 don their new coats Friday, August 10. Not pictured: Emma Naatz '12. (Photo by Julie Shipman)

Both Hank and Emma also competed for Rowmark Ski Academy while at Rowland Hall. Hank has an especially inspiring story—a tragic Rowmark car accident and his subsequent recovery spurred him to pursue a medical degree.

According to the U's med school, the White Coat Ceremony makes student-physicians more aware of their professional responsibilities and conveys that doctors should ultimately "care as well as cure." Watch the ceremony video.

It's no small feat that these six Rowland Hall alums have matriculated to the med school just up the street from their alma mater.

It's no small feat that these six alums have matriculated to the med school just up the street from their alma mater. The U is well-known for its robust health-care community, and U.S. News and World Report lists the med school among the nation's best in research and primary care.

During the White Coat Ceremony, Interim Executive Dean Dr. A. Lorris Betz said the med school received 4,227 applications for the class of 2022. After officials review initial applications, they interview approximately 500 candidates each year. In the comprehensive admissions process, evaluators explore applicants' "motivation for seeking a medical degree, awareness and understanding of the medical profession, leadership, problem-solving skills, understanding of medical ethics, and interpersonal skills," according to the school.

Our alumni who have pursued careers in medicine often credit their well-rounded Rowland Hall education for helping them succeed in that field: read our 2014 story on the subject.

Alumni

Johanna 'Pika' Varner '02 Wins Global Award for Citizen-Science Endeavors

Alumna Johanna Varner is an expert on pikas: furry little mountainside-dwelling mammals that, at first glance, couldn't get any cuter. Then, you hear the sound they make, and all bets are off—they're like a squeaky plush toy come to life. Tech news site The Verge even facetiously deemed the pika superior to its cartoon counterpart, Pikachu, the lightning-shooting Pokemon character.

Of course, pikas offer more than a cuddly facade: studying this animal serves as a gateway to understanding complex ecological issues. The hamster-like creatures "are sensitive to rising temperatures and thus threatened by climate change," according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Johanna, now an assistant professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University, has built a career on researching pika survival and teaching students of all ages—including underserved populations—how to do the same. In February, AAAS honored Johanna with the 2018 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. The esteemed nonprofit lauded her for "infusing her public engagement with multi-directional dialogue, reaching diverse audiences and empowering participants to join in the entire process of science."

To put Johanna's achievement in context: the AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the renowned academic journal Science. During the association's annual meeting in February—attended by about 10,000 people—they gave just seven awards to individuals (and one to a research team) in a variety of categories. Johanna was one of those individuals.

Watch the AAAS video on Johanna below, read the award announcement on their website, and read our Q&A with "Pika Jo" below, lightly edited for style and context.

How did it feel to win the AAAS award? What does it mean to you?
I was completely humbled—AAAS is a prestigious society in science, and it was very humbling to be recognized by them. Public engagement in science is really important, but there aren't many venues that recognize work in this area. This is one of the few awards for scientists that doesn't focus on publications, grants, or impact of science, but instead recognizes people who go out of their way to share science with nonscientists. It's pretty cool!

You wrote in an AAAS blog that you "have always been mildly obsessed with pikas (ask my college roommates)..." How did the obsession start?
Honestly, totally by watching David Attenborough documentaries. I think Planet Earth (the first one) was the first time I had seen pikas. I then made my college boyfriend and his family traipse all over Rocky Mountain National Park looking for them.

How did the nickname "Pika Jo" come about?
It was bestowed upon me by middle schoolers I worked with in SLC! I loved it.

A lot of Rowland Hall students are interested in pursuing STEM careers like yours. What advice do you have for them?
Stay curious! A lot of people think that scientists have to put their heads down, work hard, stay inside, and study books, but the real business of science is asking questions about the natural world. Obviously, hard work and studying are important, but don't forget to pay attention to the world around you, make observations, and ask questions.

Why teach the public about what you do?
By sharing our extensive knowledge of Earth's natural systems, scientists help the public make sound choices about complicated issues. However, I believe public input can also enrich our science by offering new perspectives, refining the relevance of our research, and stimulating new inquiries. Citizen science is an excellent example of these dual benefits. Volunteers who have participated in my research have reported feeling a sense of community and a closer connection to scientists in general. I've also become a better scientist as a result of participating in and directing these programs. Citizen observations have led to new investigations in my research (e.g., unusual behaviors or animals in unusual habitats). Perhaps most importantly, participating in these projects has dramatically improved my communication skills. Working with public groups forces me to conceptualize my research as compelling stories and to distill the most important and interesting points. Finally, public engagement is incredibly gratifying on a personal level. Discussing my research with public audiences reminds me why it's important and why I love ecology.

Pika in the wild
American pika, photo by the National Park Service

Why teach underserved populations?
So much of science outreach relies on voluntary participation, but if you think about who is likely to come to a science talk or presentation, it's most likely going to be the people who already know about science, already think it's important and relevant to their lives, and may already know a little bit about your topic. In contrast, we often overlook SO many populations who could be really interested in science, but don't have the opportunity to engage with it. I think it's important to meet people where they are, make science relevant to their lives/interests/values, and make it accessible so that they can not only understand, but also participate in constructing new knowledge.

What was it like to lecture about pika ecology and ecology to inmates in Utah's Salt Lake County Jail System?
The inmates were really interested, very engaged in the presentation, and asked insightful follow-up questions. It challenged a lot of our preconceived, culturally held notions about what inmates are like.

How did Rowland Hall shape you? What specific teachers, classes, experiences, etc. helped to steer you toward your current professional endeavors, from pikas to public outreach?
Peter Hayes was probably the biggest influence on my career path—he taught us to identify plants and animals and to ask questions about the natural world. I didn't take a straight path to ecology, but I think his class gave me a really important foundation. I'm always learning new things, especially now as a teacher, and I occasionally stumble on something I learned in ninth grade and remember a corresponding mnemonic device Mr. Hayes taught us—it's a nice moment when that happens!

What's next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?
I'm really enjoying my teaching job at Colorado Mesa University, but I'm still very active in both pika research and citizen science. This summer, we're working hard to be able to engage folks from the Portland area in conducting pika surveys to see how pikas in the Columbia River Gorge are faring after the Eagle Creek Fire last fall. It's an adventure, but I am really excited about both the science and the public engagement aspects of the project.

 

Alumni

Chef Ed Heath '00 Returns to Salt Lake Food Scene with James Beard Nods on His Résumé

"Eat It!"—Eric "Ed" Heath's cheeky senior yearbook quote was a career harbinger. The 2000 Rowland Hall alumnus is a two-time semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation (JBF) Restaurant and Chef Awards—the Oscars of the culinary world.

To put Ed's accomplishment in perspective: the foundation receives over 20,000 entries for these awards every year. From there, JBF names 20 best-chef semifinalists for each of their 10 regions across the country. Ed made that list for the Great Lakes region in 2015 and 2016 for his work at Cleveland-Heath (CH), a restaurant he and longtime partner Jenny Cleveland opened in 2011 in Edwardsville, Illinois, 20 miles northeast of St. Louis.

It's about building relationships and being friends with people, and that's when the food's the best—when you have a happy kitchen.—Ed Heath, Class of 2000

"It was surreal," Ed said of his first semifinalist nod. "The second time was even more surprising. To this day, it feels like it was a mistake and they meant to nominate someone else."

Ed may be incredulous about his own achievements, but he doesn't hesitate to give his CH team credit for their role. "Our staff was so amazing," he said. Running a restaurant, he stressed, is no selfish undertaking: "It's about building relationships and being friends with people, and that's when the food's the best—when you have a happy kitchen."

After a decade away from home honing his skills at culinary school and picking up experience and accolades in kitchens around the country, Ed has brought his talents back to Salt Lake. He and Jenny are part owners of the Pub Group, which runs four familiar names in town—Martine, Stella Grill, Desert Edge Pub, and Red Butte Cafe—and the pair looks forward to putting their stamp on these local institutions.

Finding His Path

As suggested by his senior quote, Ed has always been a bit of a revolutionary. He started at Rowland Hall his freshman year after bouncing around middle schools. His older brother, Cody Skarning '97, advised Ed that attending Rowland Hall might help. It did.

"This really turned me around," Ed said of his alma mater. "I learned more about life here than I've ever learned in a four-year period." Rowland Hall inspired him to be respectful, tolerant, patient, and accepting, he said. "Teachers let me be who I was without taking any bull from me," he said. "There was discipline, but not over discipline. They gave me a way to behave."

That atmosphere paralleled Ed's experience in school at the elite Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in California's Napa Valley—a food and wine mecca. At Greystone, Ed adhered to a demanding schedule and strict rules, including keeping up appearances with pristine fingernails, pressed jackets, and spotless toques.

"It was almost militaristic," he reminisced, adding that he spent 40 hours a week in culinary school and another 50 to 60 hours working—and he loved it. Like Rowland Hall, he said, "it was very detailed and disciplined, but they also accept people for who they are and help them find their path."

Prior to culinary school, Ed earned a BA from the University of Utah in natural resource management and cooked in restaurants to pay for college. He landed promising internships in that field, but sudden funding cuts and job shortages steered him elsewhere. Ed was working in Desert Edge Pub's kitchen alongside Jenny when he reevaluated his path. "We were having a conversation and she said, 'What would you do if you could change anything?'" Ed told Jenny he'd go to culinary school, and she said she'd do the same. "So we made the trip out to Napa," he said.


Chef Ed Heath photo with quote: The fact that Rowland Hall teaches how to think independently and critically was the biggest thing: never accept anything at face value

Drawn to the 'Adrenaline Rush' of Cooking

Ed turned cooking into a career in part because it fit his personality. "It's creative, but there are still rules to follow, so you've got to walk these fine lines," he said. He compared it to being a stage performer, like an actor or dancer: there are time constraints and crowds to please, and the show must go on even if you're wounded or exhausted. "It's a really big adrenaline rush."

After working in renowned Napa restaurants, Ed and Jenny moved to Illinois, near Jenny's family, and opened CH. He credited his high school foundation for helping him through that entrepreneurial experience: "The fact that Rowland Hall teaches how to think independently and critically was the biggest thing: never accept anything at face value," he said. "When we were opening a business, we got all kinds of advice—some poor and some amazing—but you don't take it all at face value. You research it and take it one day at a time."

CH became a local favorite early on, credited for serving "some of the best comfort food in the metro region," according to St. Louis Magazine. Shortly after it opened, Ed recruited friend and Greystone classmate Rick Kazmer to help run the kitchen, and in 2017 Rick took over as CH head chef after Jenny and Ed returned to Utah. Rick described Ed's cooking style as off the cuff—a reflection of Ed's personality. "He likes to go in with a small idea or plan of what he's doing and see where it takes him," Rick said.

Ed impressed Rick with one early CH dish in particular: crispy pork belly with watermelon, jalapeños, and mint, tossed in lime juice and Nước chấm, which is like a Vietnamese vinaigrette. "I'd never seen anything quite like it before," Rick said. "It just worked really well."

Ed's Rowland Hall classmate and friend David Sandberg '00 doesn't fancy himself a foodie, but in his pithy words: "I like good food." David visited CH twice while attending dental school in Omaha, and discovered firsthand that Ed was really good at his job. "I was blown away," David said of the food. "It was different and fun." David didn't know exactly what the James Beard awards were, but after he heard Ed was a semifinalist, he looked them up. "I was surprised, but in the same vein, I've always known Ed as a really hard worker," he said. David has also visited Ed at Martine since he's been revamping the kitchen there. After nearly 20 years, David said, Martine felt forgotten among locals, but that's changing: "Ed's breathed new life into it and it's exciting to have him there."

Circling Back to Salt Lake

With his restaurants, Ed's trying to be a big part of that fun energy that's coming to the city. It's cool to see. He's being himself and having a lot of success with it.—Ed's friend David Sandberg, Class of 2000

Ed and Jenny returned to Utah to be closer to Ed's family, and to suit their active, outdoorsy lifestyle—the pair enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and fishing, and Ed has been playing basketball at the Lincoln Street Campus with a group of fellow Rowland Hall alumni. "We feel like we're on a permanent vacation now," he said.

Though they have more leisure time, Ed and Jenny are still working hard to bring their creative edge to the Pub Group. "Salt Lake is growing like crazy, so we have to figure out how to stay relevant," Ed said, adding there's a positive side to that. "There's a million people in the bowl. Anybody has a chance here."

He and Jenny are reviving Martine by changing the food, bringing in effective leadership, and emphasizing hospitality. "It's a beautiful place—all you have to do is perform in that building and you can be successful there," he said. He's similarly working to revitalize the Desert Edge Pub, and expects an impending renovation at Trolley Square will help.

Ed fondly recalled the close-knit restaurant community back in St. Louis: chefs knew each other and bonded over their collective struggle. "Some of the famous chefs down there would come in our back door and be like, 'You need any help?'" Ed said. After over six months in Salt Lake, he's gradually getting ingrained in the scene here—including reconnecting with classmate Liam Connelly '00, co-founder of Proper Brewing Company: "Since we've been able to get to know people, it's become a community for us," Ed said.

Given their industry savvy, we suspect Ed and Jenny will help to push that community to the next level. As friend David explained, when he and Ed were growing up here, people didn't always see Salt Lake as "cool." But as friends have left for school or work and visited to find the city evolving, they've been choosing to move back. "With his restaurants, Ed's trying to be a big part of that fun energy that's coming to the city," David said. "It's cool to see. He's being himself and having a lot of success with it."

Alumni

Oliver Jin '18 Uses Passion for Film to Share Stories and Spark Change

Rowland Hall Senior Recognized with Excellence in Education Award for Work with Navajo Nation

Oliver Jin '18 can't pass up a good filming opportunity. His sophomore year at Rowland Hall, he signed up for the Highway Hiking 12 Interim trip, but a week before their scheduled departure, his good friend Knox Heslop '17 approached him with a request: come help film their cultural exchange on the Navajo reservation.

The Navajo Project is currently a yearlong civic engagement program for Rowland Hall juniors—often regarded as the advanced version of Project 11—focused on building relationships with members of the Navajo Nation, which culminates in a weeklong trip each May to work with students at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, Bluff Elementary School, and White Horse High School. When Oliver accepted Knox's invitation in the spring of 2016, the project was still evolving, and Oliver didn't know what to expect. As an international student from China who moved to the United States to attend Rowland Hall beginning in ninth grade, he simply wasn't familiar with Native American history and traditions, nor the typical stereotypes about their population. Looking back, he believes that lack of awareness benefited him.

I think the documentary became a central focus because of what documentary filmmaking, at least for me, does to power relationships. —Oliver Jin

"If I were to tell you every single statistic about the Native American population that is bad, you might want to do something about it, but you're terrified," He understands how paralyzing it can be to acknowledge the suffering of the Native American population—especially given how the United States is mostly at fault. Because Oliver didn't have those preconceptions or fears, he found his first-year trip to the reservation eye opening rather than paralyzing. He focused on working with Knox, setting up their cameras and listening to people's stories, eventually producing a documentary called The Common Ground.

"I think the documentary became a central focus because of what documentary filmmaking, at least for me, does to power relationships," Oliver said. Instead of showing up in a new community to help with a project, which suggests inferiority in the recipients, the documentary allowed Oliver to provide a platform to share others' stories. It made him feel like he and the Rowland Hall community could empower people by embracing their stories, Oliver said. And the sharing and cherishing of personal narratives matters deeply to him—he believes it's the way to form the human connections that eventually lead to positive change on substantive issues.

The first year was so powerful that Oliver committed to the program for his junior year, even though he technically completed his Project 11 requirement as a sophomore. Motivated to build stronger connections and help promote the longevity of the program, he produced a second documentary: A Film About Why There Isn't a Film. Oliver described the second film as a reflection on the difficulty of storytelling and service and said the title gestures toward the nuance and complexity of the project. Oliver hopes the two films can serve as a better starting point for future Rowland Hall students who might want to participate in community-building work.

"I can only hope that, as I graduate, ninth graders and tenth graders and eighth graders can see the work that we've done—through my lens—and having that awareness, want to go there," he said. As a senior, he spent many hours collaborating with the juniors who participated in this year's trip to the Navajo Nation, and he plans to maintain his connections with the people at the Navajo reservation for years to come. Additionally, he still has "hundreds, if not thousands" of stories in his notebook or on his computer's hard drive. He just hasn't found the right occasion or composition yet to share them. Currently at work on a portraiture project similarly focused on finding the human element at the center of every situation, he said, "I'm pretty far away from ever calling it done."

Institutionalizing these celebrations is really valuable in that it shows you a fundamental level of respect for this type of work. I don't have to win the award to feel empowered. —Oliver Jin

Oliver's success in building relationships with members of the Navajo Nation was the primary reason Rowland Hall faculty members Ryan Hoglund and Sofia Gorder nominated him for the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs' Excellence in Education Award earlier this year. The award recognizes high school students and educators who facilitate change, embrace intercultural awareness, and advance civic engagement in their communities.

In their nomination letter, Ms. Gorder and Mr. Hoglund also lauded Oliver's work with Rowland Hall's Inclusion and Equity Committee, his contributions to the school's arts department, and his graceful transition to our community as an international student. "Such a rich and evolving cultural identity role modeled openly by Oliver liberates other students to explore conflicting identities and engage with many parts of themselves," they wrote.

When Oliver won the award in March—presented as part of Utah Multicultural Youth Leadership Day—he was unsurprisingly humble about the recognition. Instead, he took great pleasure in the mere existence of the award and the people who coordinate it. "Institutionalizing these celebrations is really valuable in that it shows you a fundamental level of respect for this type of work," he said. "I don't have to win the award to feel empowered."

Oliver wasn't always engaged with initiatives for equity and inclusion. In fact, he credited a conversation with his sister, Jin, an alumna from the class of 2015, with spurring him to action. After she asked him why he didn't participate in a social media trend celebrating the passage of gay marriage legislation in Utah—she is a gay woman—Oliver recognized that his answer wasn't satisfactory. "I told her, 'You know I love you and support you, but I just didn't feel like it,'" he recalled. "I came to realize it's not enough to ideologically align with a tradition or liberal ideal of inclusivity and equality. I really need to do things instead of staying silent, quietly knowing I am a good person."

Over the past three years, Oliver emerged as a leader on the Lincoln Street Campus, frequently advocating for marginalized or underprivileged members of the school community. He recently initiated a dialogue with Upper School leaders about making sure the flag hallway represents the home nations of all students. He also adamantly supported the creation of an all-gender bathroom and regards it as a critical space, even though he identifies as a gender-conforming male. "Having that space to be used by everyone makes those who actually need it more comfortable to use it," he said. "Going to it shouldn't be sending out any message other than that's a convenient bathroom to use when in certain classrooms."

Over the past three years, Oliver emerged as a leader on the Lincoln Street Campus, frequently advocating for marginalized or underprivileged members of the school community.Oliver will continue to seek out stories to share among people he'll encounter at Sarah Lawrence College next year, where he plans to major in film with a continued focus in philosophy, ethics, and sociology. Regardless of which degree path he chooses, film will remain an essential part of his life and work. At a time when the film industry is embracing stories of inclusion and making blockbuster movies about them—Oliver cited the recent success of Call Me By Your Name and Black Panther—he is optimistic about what he and others can accomplish.

"It's a beautiful thing in our society, where these concepts are becoming accepted, and there's financial incentive to make these films," Oliver said. "And then that reinforces society to be more embracing of these concepts. There's a circle of positive feedback in mainstream culture."

Community

 

Overstock VP Meghan Tuohig '98 to Class of 2018: Be Bold, Present, and Grateful

Within two decades of graduating from Rowland Hall, alumna Meghan Tuohig '98 has climbed the Overstock.com ranks to become a vice president, designed the publicly traded company's headquarters in Midvale, and landed in the Utah Business Forty Under 40. She's excelled in a high-profile career and is helping to elevate others along the way: in December, she made the front page of The Salt Lake Tribune for championing gender parity in her workplace.

Be bold, be present, and be grateful.

During our annual Alumni Senior Breakfast May 30, Meghan humbly distilled her life experience into timeless advice for our latest batch of graduates: be bold, be present, and be grateful.

"All of my greatest memories, my greatest lessons learned, my greatest accomplishments, have come from the moments in life where I've been bold," Meghan told the class of 2018. "Take risks—don't take the safe road."

At 23, Meghan said, she bought her first house here in Salt Lake City. The down payment left her too broke to hire professionals to remodel the 1897 building. So project by project, she improved the house herself: she ripped up the carpet, rented a belt sander, bought a tile saw, and read a plumbing book. "It could have been disastrous, but it ended up being a wonderful investment," she said. The experience taught her to be resourceful and served as an appropriate introduction to a bigger project she'd tackle down the road: building the headquarters for Overstock in 2013.

Meghan, who holds a BS from the University of Utah and an MBA from Westminster College, also completed a program in interior design and architecture at New York University in order to better lead the $100 million undertaking for Overstock. CEO Patrick Byrne envisioned a round building, and Meghan added flair to that idea: she devised the concept of a hub and spoke, and tilted the left and right spokes down to create a peace sign visible from the air. In the approving words of her CEO: "The Coliseum represents the duality of man; the dichotomy of the coliseum representing toughness, strength, and boldness, while the peace sign represents gentleness, peace, and love."

After working on the project for three years, introducing 1,700 Overstock employees to the so-called Peace Coliseum amounted to the proudest moment of Meghan's career, she said. "We wouldn't have gotten the awards, the accolades, the press attention had we just built a regular steel square structure with 90-degree angles," she said. "So be bold, because it will pay off. And frankly, even the failures that come from taking risks will be some of the most incredible growing experiences in your life."

Meghan Tuohig tells Utah Business about opening the new Overstock headquarters.

Another bold move for Meghan entailed advocating for gender-diversity initiatives at Overstock. In addition to having her company sign the ParityPledge, she backed reforms that included opening a childcare center at the headquarters and expanding maternity-leave policy to include more paid time off for birth mothers, fathers, same-sex partners, and adoptive parents. "Despite the abundance of evidence that diversity leads to better business outcomes, the proportion of females in leadership roles remains dismally low," Meghan told Fine Print in a wide-ranging interview before the May 30 breakfast. "At Overstock, we want to create an environment where females feel inspired, supported, and celebrated, and that they have opportunities equal to their male counterparts."

Meghan has an acute ability to multitask, a trait that's aided her success in tackling such bold endeavors. The businesswoman credited Rowland Hall's challenging environment for teaching her to juggle multiple responsibilities at once—while here, it was school, sports, and life, she said. Director of Alumni Relations Hilary Amoss Gibbons '96 gave insight into her former schoolmate's superhero-like multitasking skills when she introduced her at the breakfast: "When Meghan was at Rowland Hall, she was known as a happy, energetic, athletic, hardworking, smart student who was a volleyball star," Hilary said, highlighting Meghan's Region 12 MVP award and her spot on the All-State Team.

Though she's still a natural multitasker, Meghan cautioned seniors against being so goal oriented that they don't carve out time to enjoy their surroundings. When Meghan worked her way through her MBA program, for instance, she neglected to unwind and forge many fond memories. "I didn't take time to be present," she candidly told seniors. "So remember to take moments like this one right now and ingrain it into your memory, because these are really special."

Meghan now enjoys a healthy work-life balance: in addition to working at Overstock, the mom and former volleyball star stays active via skiing, mountain biking, and playing competitive tennis—and she still tackles various home-improvement projects. She lauded Rowland Hall for similarly encouraging students to balance challenging academics with fun activities. Winter sports, volunteer opportunities, and interim trips provided appealing respites from intense studying, said Meghan, Overstock's vice president of people care—their version of human resources. "That balance is necessary in the workplace too," she said. "Employees need fun perks to offset the often-stressful demands of their roles."

In Meghan's final piece of advice at the breakfast, she urged seniors to be grateful: "Graduating from Rowland Hall is an incredible privilege, and don't lose sight of that. This degree that you're receiving can propel you into success if you let it," she said. "Don't forget to thank those who have supported you along the way—your friends, your family, your teachers, your peers. Stay grounded and be grateful in your journey. This is an advantage that most others don't have in life."

Alumni

 

The Business of Video Games: How Jason Thummel '05 Launched a Career in the Gaming Industry

Jason Thummel '05 wasn't allowed to have a video-game console growing up—instead, he mastered a selection of parent-approved games on his dad's computer. He remembers, for instance, playing the wholesome, educational Reader Rabbit series.

Jason Thummel '05

"I can also distinctly remember playing lots and lots of the original SimCity, and how exciting it was to finally build a city up to being a metropolis," Jason said.

Little did he know, he'd later launch his career working on a spinoff of the game he played for hours as a kid. After a bit of trial and error, Jason found his calling in his longtime hobby and now works as an engineer at Electronic Arts (EA), a top company in the gaming world.

Jason's parents weren't thrilled about his love of gaming, but they took a constructive approach: his dad encouraged him to learn about how games are created. Jason—as kids are wont to do—ignored his dad. But in Jason's second year as a neuroscience major at Colorado College, he circled back to that sage advice. He realized neuroscience wasn't the right fit for him, and took a computer science (CS) class: "After that, my dad's idea suddenly seemed a lot more interesting."

So Jason transferred to the University of Utah's world-renowned Entertainment Arts and Engineering program for game design—"hands down, the best decision of my life," the alumnus said. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in CS, both from the U. As part of the master's program, he landed an EA internship working on Sims 3: Into the Future.

"I spent three months over the summer there, and had such an incredible time that I knew once I graduated it was where I wanted to start working," he said. So he applied for an entry-level client programming position, got hired, and started working there just two weeks after completing his master's.

Jason now works as a client engineer on the popular mobile game Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, and said there's no such thing as a typical day. "Some weeks, we might be adding new features to the game, the next, we might be changing existing mechanics to address player concerns, and the next, we could be focused on resolving bugs," he explained. "Because things are always changing, it's impossible to fall into a steady rhythm and get bored." And he values the collaborative aspects of his job: "I'm never just sitting at my desk coding alone. I'm often working together with other client engineers, server engineers, artists, designers, and producers."

The alumnus cited the 2015 release of Minion's Paradise as the proudest moment of his career so far—an unlikely choice given the game's fate. It floundered, Jason said, and was discontinued last year. Still, it was the first professional game he worked on from the ground up until release. "It was a year of hard work and a lot of frustration, but it was so incredibly rewarding once we shipped it."

Jason still remembers taking an HTML class in Middle School, and another computer class in the Upper School. His advanced math classes, he said, were "exceptionally valuable" and made his transition from neuroscience to CS a smooth one. His freshman year, for example, was easier than he expected: "Both Calculus I and II were mostly repeats of AP Calculus from high school. Rowland Hall excelled at preparing me for the future."

Rowland Hall has expanded its CS program substantially since Jason attended the school. Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters has been one advocate for this expansion—he's keenly aware that industries like Jason's need employees who can code or otherwise use digital tools to create media. "All careers in the future will require some working knowledge of computers, and better yet, an understanding of algorithms that can analyze and synthesize vast amounts of data," Mr. Waters said. Accordingly, Ben Smith '89—Utah Coalition for Education Technology's Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2017—has been teaching only CS-related classes this year, including a new AP Computer Science A class focused on the Java language, the Joy of Computing, and AP Computer Science Principles.

Jason said he was glad to hear about the increased prevalence of CS classes at his alma mater. "As technology continues to advance, more and more jobs are going to benefit from, or require, some form of programming skill," he said, echoing Mr. Waters. "Not to mention the fact that just being able to write simple programs to handle trivial tasks for you can make life so much easier in small ways."

Jason encourages current Winged Lions to discover who they are and take advantage of the opportunities they have in middle and high school. "Don't be afraid to experiment and find what really interests you, even if you get it wrong a few times. I was convinced that I wanted to be a neuroscientist, and when that fell apart I was a little lost," he said. "But it wasn't the end of the world because, ultimately, it led me to find my true interest. Most importantly, make sure that you're passionate about what you want to do."

Now, Jason's advice for young gamers echoes his father's: "Play games not just to have fun, but to try and understand why they're fun, and why they're built the way they are."

In other words, practice curiosity—you never know where it might lead you.

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