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Alumni in STEM

At the Intersection of Homelessness, Healthcare, and Humanity

Rowland Hall alumnus Jeff Norris lives his purpose treating and advocating for underserved populations as the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego When Jeff Norris ’03 applied to medical school, the admissions office at the University of Utah called him in for a rare second interview. He had submitted a personal statement focused on the connection between medicine, public health, and social justice, and that intersectional approach raised some eyebrows.
 
Admissions officers asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to go to medical school, and not study public health or social work. But he assured them: he knew he wanted to be a clinician who worked with, and advocated for, underserved populations.

Jeff credits Rowland Hall with launching his career trajectory. In high school, under the mentorship of then-faculty member Liz Paige, he volunteered with Amnesty International and prepared and served food at local youth groups. The positive experience of serving others and making an impact—and relevant content in history and psychology courses—got the wheels turning in Jeff’s brain: “I started reflecting on my role in the world and how I could try to do something to make a difference for others. What is my purpose for being here?”

Jeff's self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success.

The service and activism Jeff began at Rowland Hall carried through his years as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a med student at the University of Utah, and as a Family Medicine resident at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success: in 2016, Jeff became the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages, an award-winning nonprofit that provides integrated services to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego.
 
Jeff’s day-to-day work requires a breadth of skill, knowledge, and tenacity: he estimates he spends about 40 percent of his time treating patients and the other 60 percent engaged in clinic administration, fundraising, and advocacy—including ensuring that state and federal legislation supports nonprofits like his. He serves on a number of boards, including a large network of clinics with over 100,000 patients in the San Diego area. For Jeff, it’s about more than staying connected and representing the interests of Father Joe’s Villages. “It is being present in the community to advocate for the needs of not just those experiencing homelessness, but underserved populations more broadly.”


At the clinic he leads—which serves walk-ins along with residents of Father Joe’s Villages and people receiving assistance from other local agencies—Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health. “The challenges our patients face are pretty unique, compared to most patient populations,” he said. “Their lives are very chaotic, and they have a lot going on medically, psychiatrically, behaviorally, socially…in all senses.” A significant portion of his time is spent managing programs to deliver medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD)—drugs such as buprenorphine (suboxone) or naltrexone—and for alcohol abuse. 

At the clinic he leads, Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health.

Among the most recent and cutting-edge programs Jeff and his team at Father Joe’s Villages are running is the Street Health Program, which launched this spring and is already impacting lives for the better. As the name suggests, the initiative involves going out into the streets and providing healthcare directly to people experiencing homelessness. So far, they’ve reached a number of people who’ve avoided or been underserved by traditional healthcare. One example: a man who had been using heroin for 30 years and had never before been interested in treatment. Pending a grant, the street health team hopes to treat patients with OUD at the first point of contact. In the meantime, they wrote a prescription for this particular patient because, as Jeff said, “it was the right thing to do.”
 
One of the long-term goals of the Street Health Program is to develop rapport with individuals so that they will visit the clinic for treatment. Additionally, the launch has created quite a buzz throughout San Diego, so Jeff hopes other clinics and treatment centers will consider similar programs (which do already exist in other large metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco). “It can’t just be us,” he said. “There are enough folks experiencing homelessness that we certainly cannot meet the need unilaterally.”
 
Jeff is rightly proud of his advocacy work and the impact his clinic makes on a daily basis, and he speaks passionately of the need for everyone to recognize the homelessness crisis—not just in San Diego, but also in Salt Lake City and urban areas throughout the country. While rising housing costs and relatively stagnant wages are the two primary drivers of the problem, Jeff doesn’t discount the power of the individual to make a difference, whether through volunteering, donating goods, or elevating the dialogue to fight the stigma against those experiencing homelessness.
 
When he’s not working, Jeff stays active outdoors, taking advantage of all that San Diego’s famously temperate climate has to offer. He also prioritizes time with his family: two-year-old daughter Alex keeps Jeff and wife Sonia Ponce—a practicing cardiologist—quite busy.
 
Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund is not at all surprised that Jeff is making a difference in the lives of others. He recalled how, as a high school student, Jeff was always highly engaged and motivated to serve, often being the last to leave a volunteer event. “Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion,” Ryan said. “It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare.”
Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion. It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare. —Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

Just as Jeff credited Rowland Hall for sparking his interest in a life of service to others, Mr. Hoglund credits Jeff for setting an example of genuine student leadership at the school. And, to the student leaders today, Jeff sends these words of encouragement: “Figure out what gives you energy and makes you feel like you're contributing to the world in some positive way, then grab that bull by the horns and don’t let go of it. That’s where you're going to be able to make a difference, to be satisfied with who you are and what you're doing in this world.”

 

All photos courtesy of Father Joe's Villages.

 

Alumni

Teacher helping students with a computing activity

Junior Alex Armknecht named Aspirations in Computing Northern Utah Affiliate winner, sophomore Katy Dark and teacher Ben Smith ’89 receive honorable mentions

It helps me confirm my commitment to equity and inclusion of girls in computer science classes at Rowland Hall.—Teacher Ben Smith ’89

Computer science teacher and alumnus Ben Smith ’89 has spent the past several years encouraging his students as they apply for—and often place in—the National Center for Women and Information Technology's (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing awards. For the first time this year, NCWIT recognized the teacher alongside his students.

Ben learned in March that he’d been named a 2019 Northern Utah Affiliate Honorable Mention recipient of the NCWIT Educator Award, which goes to teachers who continually encourage young women’s aspirations in computing.

“I have been active with NCWIT for several years now, and it was good to get recognition for those efforts—it was a bit of a surprise,” Ben said. “It helps me confirm my commitment to equity and inclusion of girls in computer science classes at Rowland Hall.”

Ben was one of three teachers honored by the regional affiliate, junior Alex Armknecht was one of 16 student winners, and sophomore Katy Dark was one of 30 honorable mentions. Student winners are selected annually "based on their aptitude and aspirations in technology and computing; leadership ability; academic history; and plans for post-secondary education," according to Aspirations in Computing (AiC).

Teacher with students at awards ceremony for women in computing.

From left, sophomore Katy Dark, teacher Ben Smith, and junior Alex Armknecht at the regional awards ceremony in March.

Since 2014, 11 Rowland Hall students have earned a collective 14 NCWIT awards, including two honorable mentions at the national level.

Alex’s 2019 award follows her honorable mention last year. A Middle School coding seminar first sparked Alex’s interest in the subject—from there, she worked with administrators and faculty to create a computing elective, and even recruited other girls to take the class. Last year in Ben’s AP Computer Science Principles class, Alex made a math app to help kids learn division, and fourth graders in teacher Tyler Stack's class picked her project as their favorite. She plans to keep studying computer science.

Katy also plans to pursue computing. In addition to the AiC award, she recently won a national President's Volunteer Service Award for her work tutoring students and developing a coding club at Dual Immersion Academy, a bilingual Spanish-English charter school she attended during her elementary years.

Ben, Alex, and Katy attended a March 16 ceremony in Provo where they met peer students and teachers, accepted their awards, and left with swag bags—a much-anticipated highlight for Ben. “Every year I see my students getting these killer swag bags and I go home empty handed,” the teacher joked before attending the ceremony. “I might just get one of my own this year.”

Since 2014, 11 Rowland Hall students have earned a collective 14 NCWIT awards, including two honorable mentions at the national level. The center and its AiC awards have become big names in the computer science world. Women are underrepresented in that field, but the 2004-founded organization is working hard to move the needle and empower women to pursue and succeed in computing.

Related stories

STEM

Alum Dr. Jon Bone at a Rowland Hall parent forum.

In Q&A, Dr. Bone Still Credits Rowland Hall for his Sense of Community and Strong Critical-Thinking Skills

Dr. Jonathan Bone '94 and Dr. Amy De La Garza from Equilibrium Clinic dropped by the Lincoln Street Campus Café December 7 for a Coffee and Conversation with Rowland Hall parents on the physiology of addiction. The chat revolved around how addiction operates in the brain and how to help our children avoid this all-too-common disease.

The event echoed a November 7 Freedom from Chemical Dependency Parent Forum, as well as ongoing school efforts to educate middle and upper schoolers on addiction.

Listen to event audio, and read some paraphrased nuggets of wisdom from both experts followed by a Q&A with Dr. Bone.

 

Kids don't respond well to 'should' or 'shouldn't.' I have kids and young adults ask themselves the question, 'How's this behavior going to help me, and how's it going to hurt me?'—Dr. Jonathan Bone ’94

Highlights from the doctors:

  • "Kids don't respond well to 'should' or 'shouldn't.' I have kids and young adults ask themselves the question, 'How's this behavior going to help me, and how's it going to hurt me?' Get them to pause for two seconds to ask that question and to think about it. If they can get that integrated into their thinking—how it will help versus how it will hurt—it lets them feel like they're making that choice for themselves."—Dr. Bone
  • "Addiction is a disease of the brain. Kids' brains are so plastic and dynamic: think about how fast they can learn language, skiing, or math. They could learn addiction just that fast."—Dr. De La Garza
  • "Kids that use substances before they're 21 have a 20% greater chance of developing a substance abuse disorder when they're older."—Dr. De La Garza
  • Both doctors agreed parents should start teaching kids at a young age about addiction—around fourth grade.

On assessing the situation after discovering substance use:

  • "We don't want to be alarmist about it. If you look at it diagnostically, you look at the different domains of life: health, relationships, education, occupation, legal, financial—how is use impacting each of those domains? That's how we differentiate between mild, moderate, and severe substance-abuse disorder. We can take that approach with our kids: how are they doing socially, how are they doing academically? Are they sticking with their sports team? Do they give stuff up? You take an inventory of what is going on with them globally. And if you find a joint, that's different than finding a bottle of oxycodone. You're also looking at the risk of the substance."—Dr. Bone
  • "Emergency rooms, detox centers—those are really scary places for kids and it stigmatizes them. You have to do a good risk assessment, and if you can't do that yourself, call someone: your pediatrician, your family practice doctor, one of us."—Dr. De La Garza
  • "We want to keep kids at the lowest level of care possible for as long as possible. I'm very conservative with raising that level, and it's really well-contemplated. If kids have a plan to hurt themselves, for example, that's when they go to the hospital."—Dr. Bone
     

Q&A with Dr. Jonathan Bone ’94

Dr. Bone, a 1994 Rowland Hall graduate, holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Denver, and he's worked with substance-use disorder patients since his medical internship. Following the Coffee and Conversation, we talked to him about what his job is like, and how his time at Rowland Hall left an impression on him. Q&A lightly edited for style and context.

I chose a career that fosters my continued development of relationships and I think this foundation emerged during my time at Rowland Hall. —Dr. Jonathan Bone ’94

How did Rowland Hall impact you and your career path?
Rowland Hall impacted my career by shining a light on the importance of community. I formed bonds with people at the school—teachers, coaches, peers, administration—that have lasted until today, and I hope they continue to thrive. I began to learn about and appreciate the interconnectedness of humanity while a student, although I certainly was not cognizant of that as a teenager. I chose a career that fosters my continued development of relationships and I think this foundation emerged during my time at Rowland Hall.

During my undergraduate, graduate, and internship, my training professors, supervisors, and colleagues often spontaneously commented on how well-developed my writing skills are. I think that one of the most impactful aspects of Rowland Hall is the importance placed on thinking critically and being able to synthesize data from multiple sources in a cogent essay, thesis, etc.   

What is it like working and treating patients here in Utah, where the opioid epidemic has hit especially hard?
It is frustrating and rewarding, on a daily basis. Opioid dependence is a brutal condition that changes how people behave in such drastic ways it is difficult to describe. When I lose a patient to overdose or suicide, or they simply fall out of treatment, I am pained beyond words. However, when I have a patient with six months sobriety who is interpersonally, emotionally, and physically healthy again it is incredibly rewarding. Utah has a significant problem at present. It is time we no longer hide the disease so we can treat it aggressively.

Top image: From left, Dr. Jonathan Bone '94 and Dr. Amy De La Garza from Equilibrium Clinic on December 7 led a Lincoln Street Campus Coffee and Conversation on the physiology of addiction.

Alumni

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

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

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.

Alumni

After her Wrongful Arrest, Alex Wubbels '94 Spurs Movement to Protect Nurses, Patients

The Rowmarker and two-time Olympian on how Rowland Hall shaped her, and how she's turned a traumatizing and widely covered incident into a rallying cry for her community

In February of her Rowmark Ski Academy postgraduate year—which skiers often use as a stepping stone to national or college teams—Alex Shaffer '94 competed in exactly zero races. She took a month off in the middle of racing season.

"People thought I was crazy," Alex said. Some peers and national coaches saw her hiatus as a big mistake. But a race-free month was hardly the death knell of the 19-year-old's career.

The respite (from competing, not practicing) was part of a post-knee-injury plan hatched by Alex and Rowmark Co-Founder Olle Larsson. "It gave my body and my mind a chance to find that fire again," Alex said. Come spring, a string of successful races qualified her to the U.S. Ski Team. By her 2004 retirement from the sport, she'd earned two national championships and competed in two Olympics, cementing her legacy as one of our notable Rowmark alumni.

1995 Rowmark Edge featuring Alex Shaffer

The September 1995 Rowmark Edge announcing Alex's spot on the U.S. Ski Team.

 

Rowmarkers like Alex thrived because they were independent thinkers, Olle said, and weren't deterred by occasionally unconventional training plans. "It's difficult with a young teenager to sit down in the fall, and lay out a whole program for the winter, and stick to it," he said. "Alex had that ability because she could see there could be higher gratification in the end."

Alex Shaffer—now Alex Wubbels—honed that kind of mental fortitude at Rowmark. In true Rowland Hall tradition, her sixth-grade biographers documented that evolution in 1994: "Alex is a person who has grown more self-reliant, independent, and has increased her self-esteem over the past four years," wrote then-sixth-graders Kaebah Orme '99 and Myndi McCloskey. "The person who has most influenced her life would probably be her coach, Olle Larsson, who taught her about life, rules, and learning. He taught her to understand herself and depend more on herself."

Olle's lessons stuck. Now a critical care nurse, Alex proved her enduring conviction on the University of Utah Hospital floor.

On July 26 last year, during a mind-boggling incident recorded on a body camera, Salt Lake City Police Department Detective Jeff Payne wrongfully arrested Alex when she refused to allow him to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient who'd been in an automobile accident. Per hospital policy—which Alex calmly relayed multiple times—Payne needed a warrant or patient consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest. Payne lacked any prerequisites. Alex adhered to the policy and refused to yield.

After a half-hour of bullying by the detective, she could have given in. Maybe it wasn't worth it.

But for Alex—who sees it as a privilege to help patients and keep them safe when they're unable to do so themselves—the issue transcended worth.

You can't just come in and take something that isn't yours. If there's anything more proprietary and more personal than your blood, I don't know what it is.—Alex Wubbels, Class of 1994

"You can't just come in and take something that isn't yours," she said. "If there's anything more proprietary and more personal than your blood, I don't know what it is."

So she did her job and protected her patient, even though it entailed being grabbed, dragged from the ER floor while yelling for help, handcuffed, and put in the back of a police car.

"My heart was pounding," Alex said. "I was scared to death." She's still coping with post-traumatic stress from the arrest, but even in the chaos of it all, she knew she was doing the right thing.

"In moments of duress, our guts tell us a lot about right and wrong," she said. "I learned to trust my gut that day, I think, more than I probably have in a while."

Alex's story went viral in September, after she and her lawyer released bodycam footage from the arrest. The video sparked international outrage over the aggressive arrest and mistreatment of a nurse doing her job.

"Alex Wubbels did everything correct," Utah Nurses Association (UNA) President Aimee McLean told the American Nurses Association (ANA). "She stepped away from her patient's unit, she deescalated, she followed hospital policy and procedure. This never should have happened." ANA called Alex "a hero to her patient, to her hospital and to nurses across the country."

During the wave of media attention, Alex told reporters she hoped her actions were enough to invoke change. They certainly were.

Alex reached a $500,000 settlement from the city and university—she donated some money to the UNA, and set up a fund to help others obtain police bodycam footage. Relevant hospital and police policies were updated. Payne was fired and his watch commander was demoted, though news media have reported they're both appealing. The Utah House and Senate have passed a bill that aims to prevent this from happening again, and now it awaits the governor's signature.

The Rowmark Effect

Alex's Rowmark years with Olle primed her to go against the grain when needed. "Talk about the principles of standing up against bullies—that's pretty much what he taught us from the very beginning," Alex said of Olle. The duo has maintained their friendship. "He is one of those people that I am just so grateful to have in my life."

When he heard about the arrest, Larsson wasn't surprised that Alex stood her ground that day. He cited her independence, thick skin, and broad life experience as an elite athlete competing internationally. "She could be calm-minded skiing at 70 miles per hour," he said.

Like so many skiing prodigies, Alex started young. She and her brother, Pete Shaffer '96, also a Rowmarker, grew up on a ranch in Aspen, Colorado. "We didn't have babysitters," she said. "You either skied till the mountain closed and got the bus home, or you skied till your parents got off work and you caught a ride with them. So you just skied—that's just what you did."

Alex joined her local ski club one year younger than normally allowed, climbed in the rankings as a middle schooler, and attracted the attention of recruiters, including Larsson. She committed to Rowmark due to the selling point of a Rowland Hall education—her parents knew skiing wouldn't sustain her forever, and they wanted her to attend a challenging school.

So Alex and Pete moved to Salt Lake City and lived with host families while their parents stayed in Aspen. During Alex's senior year, the Shaffer siblings happily landed with Middle School math teacher Nancy Robinson, now a popular tutor. After Alex's second of two knee injuries, Nancy remembers the skier's dogged determination to heal. The teacher, who's now like a sister to Alex, even begrudgingly joined the senior for some early morning physical therapy—a 6 am aqua-jogging class at the Steiner Aquatic Center. "We spent a lot of time running back and forth in the pool," Nancy laughed.

"Alex's big goal was to go to the Olympics, and despite her various setbacks and challenges, she made it," Nancy said, adding Alex acknowledged her challenges and found a way through them. "Whatever she's going to do, she's going to do it as well as she can."

Learning How to Learn

Rowland Hall delivered on the challenging education Alex's parents sought for her—it was, in fact, probably more challenging than Alex would've liked at the time. "I remember being so focused on skiing, literally nothing else mattered," she joked.

More than anything, the curiosity that I have for medicine and for nursing came directly out of Rowland Hall. If you're curious about something, learning is easy. I got that from Rowland Hall in a way that I could have never imagined.—Alex Wubbels

But in retrospect, she's grateful that Rowland Hall helped her hone her learning skills. Her junior year, for example, she'd just had knee surgery and needed to write an essay for Carol Kranes' English class. She perfunctorily completed it in her hospital bed, and in a suggestion that seemed novel to Alex, Ms. Kranes later encouraged the Rowmarker to resculpt the essay into something better, and turn it in for a new grade. "I was like, 'huh,'" Alex said quizzically, imitating her teenage self. Through interactions like that one, Alex said, Rowland Hall dispelled her misconceptions about school. It was about learning how to learn, staying curious, and gaining a deeper understanding of subjects, not rote memorization or completing an assignment for the sake of completion.

"I was a blob when I showed up. I was actually a figure of someone when I left," the alumna said. Her teachers and coaches, she explained, helped to shape her into an effective citizen, and a good person who strives to be the best version of herself.

This set her up for success in her nursing career—a job that shes says keeps her on her toes, and in a state of perpetual learning. She even spends 20 hours every two weeks as an educator in the burn unit. "More than anything, the curiosity that I have for medicine and for nursing came directly out of Rowland Hall," she said. "If you're curious about something, learning is easy. I got that from Rowland Hall in a way that I could have never imagined."

"Nurses are closing their ranks around Alex Wubbels"

Alex's desire to understand and educate steered her actions after the arrest: "This happened, it should never have happened, and it will never happen again," she said. "In that light, what can I do to inform people."

Friend Nancy Robinson confirmed that after the incident, Alex felt a responsibility to raise awareness and help nurses and others who perhaps had similar experiences but didn't receive media coverage. "She's very conscious that this is not just her experience, she just happens to be in the limelight because there is video footage," Nancy said.

Indeed, the incident was isolated, Alex said, only in the sense that it was filmed. "Without the bodycam my story would've gone nowhere," she said. "It made it really easy for anyone to watch that footage and feel like it was them, or someone that they loved."

According to the ANA, one in four nurses has been assaulted at work. In addition to new legislation here in Utah, Alex's arrest sparked an ANA-led movement to #EndNurseAbuse, including a pledge with 13,000 signatures and counting. On a personal level, the response to the incident reinforced her commitment to nursing. In the same blog post where the UNA president defended Alex's actions, the national organization doubled down in a heartening way. "Nurses are closing their ranks around Alex Wubbels," the post reads. "ANA has your back." She received an outpouring of supportive letters and emails from nurses across the world. "We're not just here for people that need help—we're here for each other," Alex said. "I couldn't have done what I did if I wasn't a nurse."

One of the most important things Alex learned as a ski racer was how to recover. You can set the goal of a perfect run, she explained, but it's not realistic. "If you're always aiming for perfection, the little bumps are going to throw you off so much so that you won't ever recover," she said. "I realized that it wasn't about the perfect run. It was about who can recover the fastest from the mistakes." As in ski racing, so in life: "There are bumps and bruises, and that's to be expected," she said. "It's how you recover and how you pick yourself back up and move forward that determines what happens." Through no fault of her own, Alex hit a major bump. But she's moved forward admirably by fighting for what's right and defending herself, and her community.

Alumni

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