Custom Class: post-landing-hero

Winged Lions on the Rise—title page graphic featuring six alumni.

Editor's note: this is one of six profiles republished from Rowland Hall's 2018–2019 Annual Report feature story, "Winged Lions on the Rise." Millennial alumni are finding their voices and already shaping their fields and communities—from physics to film, music to medical innovations, and environmental policy to conservation-minded real estate. Learn how Rowland Hall impacted them, and how they’re impacting the world. From left, Jared Ruga ’06, Claire Wang ’15, Phinehas Bynum ’08, Jeanna Tachiki Ryan ’01, Tyler Ruggles ’05, and Sarah Day ’06.


In her daily fight against climate change, Claire Wang’s weapons of choice include her bicycle, travel utensils, and reusable water bottle.

But the 21-year-old’s real arsenal is her character: her empathy, intellect, and contagious optimism that she wields to mobilize peers, negotiate with institutions, and drive environmental progress locally and nationally. Now, Rowland Hall’s first Rhodes Scholar graduates to the global stage.

There’s no choice but to be hopeful. We have a collective obligation to keep working towards a better future. Giving up would be a selfish act.—Claire Wang ’15

In Claire, the daunting problem of climate change finds a formidable opponent: the former nationally ranked Rowland Hall debater loves what she does and refuses to be discouraged. “There’s no choice but to be hopeful,” she said. “We have a collective obligation to keep working towards a better future. Giving up would be a selfish act.”

Claire was always interested in science and environmentalism; after coming to Rowland Hall in seventh grade, relevant curriculum furthered her interest in climate advocacy, while debate turned her into a policy wonk. In high school, she started volunteering for Utah Clean Energy through a school connection. “That was the moment I realized that I love this work and I want to do it for a living,” Claire said. “Rowland Hall was really supportive of that.” As a senior, she co-organized a press conference—held at the McCarthey Campus and covered by local news outlets—advocating against new fees on solar panels. And just before she finished high school, the Sierra Club asked her to help plan a national youth-led movement for renewable energy.

Claire Wang speaks with a broadcast news reporter at a 2015 press conference on solar panels, held at Rowland Hall.

Claire graduated as valedictorian and accepted a full ride to Duke University, where she majored in environmental science and policy. As a freshman, she worked with college administrators to secure Duke’s official support for renewable-energy policy reform. Then, Duke Energy—a large utility company unaffiliated with the university—announced plans to build a natural-gas plant on the university’s campus. It was the first of eight small-scale gas plants planned for the Carolinas. Claire spent two years fighting the campus plant proposal, and the university suspended the plans in spring 2018. Since then, none of the other North Carolina plants have entered the planning process. “Turning the tide early with the first plant ended up being really impactful,” Claire said.

Claire thrived in community campaigns at Duke and beyond—she even won prestigious Truman and Udall Scholarships in recognition of her work—and envisioned a career in national policy. But a 2018 study-abroad program on climate change and the politics of food, water, and energy spurred a shift. She visited a hydroelectric dam in Vietnam, and an ethnic-minority community displaced because of that dam. She also learned about how extreme weather impacts farmers, from drought in Bolivia to hail in Morocco. Now, Claire wants to reduce financing for fossil-fuel infrastructure, especially in developing countries. “We're not going to be able to achieve a livable climate future without cutting those back,” she said.

Eschew the conventional belief that salaries define successful careers. “Instead, focus on the impact you have on the world,” Claire said. “What you do with your life is not just a job—it’s a legacy.”

That global perspective drove Claire to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship—the oldest award for international study, covering graduate school at England’s University of Oxford. When she learned she’d been selected, Claire was elated, but incredulous. “It was a mix of nervousness, excitement, pride, and a general sense of, ‘Wait, did this actually happen?’”

Claire will be at Oxford for two years, starting with a one-year master’s in environmental change and management. She expects to land in policy, perhaps working for the government or an international group. Regardless, she’ll be doing work that’s meaningful to her, and she encourages other young people to follow suit: eschew the conventional belief that salaries define successful careers. “Instead, focus on the impact you have on the world,” she said. “What you do with your life is not just a job—it’s a legacy.”


Top photo: Claire in front of the United States Capitol. Over the summer, Claire interned with the Natural Resources Defense Council as part of the Truman Scholars' Summer Institute.

Alumni

Claire Wang ’15: Rhodes Scholar, Climate Advocate
Winged Lions on the Rise—title page graphic featuring six alumni.

Editor's note: this is one of six profiles republished from Rowland Hall's 2018–2019 Annual Report feature story, "Winged Lions on the Rise." Millennial alumni are finding their voices and already shaping their fields and communities—from physics to film, music to medical innovations, and environmental policy to conservation-minded real estate. Learn how Rowland Hall impacted them, and how they’re impacting the world. From left, Jared Ruga ’06, Claire Wang ’15, Phinehas Bynum ’08, Jeanna Tachiki Ryan ’01, Tyler Ruggles ’05, and Sarah Day ’06.


In her daily fight against climate change, Claire Wang’s weapons of choice include her bicycle, travel utensils, and reusable water bottle.

But the 21-year-old’s real arsenal is her character: her empathy, intellect, and contagious optimism that she wields to mobilize peers, negotiate with institutions, and drive environmental progress locally and nationally. Now, Rowland Hall’s first Rhodes Scholar graduates to the global stage.

There’s no choice but to be hopeful. We have a collective obligation to keep working towards a better future. Giving up would be a selfish act.—Claire Wang ’15

In Claire, the daunting problem of climate change finds a formidable opponent: the former nationally ranked Rowland Hall debater loves what she does and refuses to be discouraged. “There’s no choice but to be hopeful,” she said. “We have a collective obligation to keep working towards a better future. Giving up would be a selfish act.”

Claire was always interested in science and environmentalism; after coming to Rowland Hall in seventh grade, relevant curriculum furthered her interest in climate advocacy, while debate turned her into a policy wonk. In high school, she started volunteering for Utah Clean Energy through a school connection. “That was the moment I realized that I love this work and I want to do it for a living,” Claire said. “Rowland Hall was really supportive of that.” As a senior, she co-organized a press conference—held at the McCarthey Campus and covered by local news outlets—advocating against new fees on solar panels. And just before she finished high school, the Sierra Club asked her to help plan a national youth-led movement for renewable energy.

Claire Wang speaks with a broadcast news reporter at a 2015 press conference on solar panels, held at Rowland Hall.

Claire graduated as valedictorian and accepted a full ride to Duke University, where she majored in environmental science and policy. As a freshman, she worked with college administrators to secure Duke’s official support for renewable-energy policy reform. Then, Duke Energy—a large utility company unaffiliated with the university—announced plans to build a natural-gas plant on the university’s campus. It was the first of eight small-scale gas plants planned for the Carolinas. Claire spent two years fighting the campus plant proposal, and the university suspended the plans in spring 2018. Since then, none of the other North Carolina plants have entered the planning process. “Turning the tide early with the first plant ended up being really impactful,” Claire said.

Claire thrived in community campaigns at Duke and beyond—she even won prestigious Truman and Udall Scholarships in recognition of her work—and envisioned a career in national policy. But a 2018 study-abroad program on climate change and the politics of food, water, and energy spurred a shift. She visited a hydroelectric dam in Vietnam, and an ethnic-minority community displaced because of that dam. She also learned about how extreme weather impacts farmers, from drought in Bolivia to hail in Morocco. Now, Claire wants to reduce financing for fossil-fuel infrastructure, especially in developing countries. “We're not going to be able to achieve a livable climate future without cutting those back,” she said.

Eschew the conventional belief that salaries define successful careers. “Instead, focus on the impact you have on the world,” Claire said. “What you do with your life is not just a job—it’s a legacy.”

That global perspective drove Claire to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship—the oldest award for international study, covering graduate school at England’s University of Oxford. When she learned she’d been selected, Claire was elated, but incredulous. “It was a mix of nervousness, excitement, pride, and a general sense of, ‘Wait, did this actually happen?’”

Claire will be at Oxford for two years, starting with a one-year master’s in environmental change and management. She expects to land in policy, perhaps working for the government or an international group. Regardless, she’ll be doing work that’s meaningful to her, and she encourages other young people to follow suit: eschew the conventional belief that salaries define successful careers. “Instead, focus on the impact you have on the world,” she said. “What you do with your life is not just a job—it’s a legacy.”


Top photo: Claire in front of the United States Capitol. Over the summer, Claire interned with the Natural Resources Defense Council as part of the Truman Scholars' Summer Institute.

Alumni

Explore More Alumni Stories

Anna Shott receiving her high school diploma at graduation.

Alum Anna Shott ’16 sent the following email to middle and upper school computer science (CS) teacher Ben Smith ’89 on December 3, 2020. Anna graciously agreed to let us republish it here. We last interviewed Anna in 2016 when she was a senior taking her first CS class with Ben and enjoying the collaborative, problem-solving aspects of the field, which often gets falsely stereotyped as an antisocial and rote career choice. Ben has worked hard over nearly a decade to show his students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in the field—the reality: that programmers typically work together in teams to solve real-world problems and ultimately help people. This year, Ben is even weaving in social justice as a theme, using the Algorithmic Justice League as one of his teaching resources. We're grateful for Ben's dedication to CS education and can't wait to see what he and his former students like Anna do in the future. If you're an alum with a story about how a Rowland Hall teacher helped to inspire your career choice, let us know.


Dear Mr. Smith,

Hope you are doing well and enjoying a nice holiday season! I am reaching out with an update and to say thank you. 

After graduating from Rowland Hall in 2016 I took a gap year where I worked at my family's company and traveled. In 2017 I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California studying computer science and business. The last two summers I interned at Microsoft, first as an Explore intern and then as a program management intern. I am now a senior finishing up my last few classes before graduation in May. Next fall I’m heading to Seattle to join Microsoft full-time as a program manager.

I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year.

I’ve spent much of my last four years participating in startup incubators, building companies, and exploring Los Angeles. I've stayed involved in the engineering community as a counselor for an on-campus computer science camp for K–12 students and as a teacher's assistant for one of USC's core software engineering classes. I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year. Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science.

I've had so much fun reading the various articles on the Rowland Hall website regarding the incredible computer science program you have built. Congratulations on the numerous accolades you and your students have earned over the years. I hope the program continues to grow and expose students to computer science and engineering, and ultimately inspire many to pursue a career path in those disciplines. 

I wish you and your family all the best and hope you are staying happy and healthy during this time.

Many thanks again, and happy holidays!

Sincerely,
Anna Shott
Class of 2016


Top: Anna Shott ’16 at her graduation, receiving her diploma from now-retired head of school Alan Sparrow.

Alumni

Zoom webinar screen shot: Will Matheson showing shared priorities between young Democrats and Republicans.

As red and blue maps and graphs coated the screens of news websites Tuesday, the Upper School used their virtual monthly chapel to share hopeful, nonpartisan research and reflections about election day.

The speakers—several upper schoolers, Harvard senior and Rowland Hall alum Will Matheson ’17, and Interfaith Chaplain Jeremy Innis—also encouraged students to participate in our democracy by, for instance, voting when they turn 18. And throughout the heartening half hour, Jeremy, Will, and the student presenters touched on a central idea: especially when tensions are high, remain kind and respectful, and work to build trust and dialogue with others.

“I hope that you can find some wisdom here, some hope and compassion, and that we can think as a community about how to move through this week gracefully and thoughtfully,” Jeremy said as he kicked off the virtual event.

Scrutinize the information you see on social media and the news. There will be competing media narratives about what's happening and who won. Your job is to educate yourself.—Senior Alex Hodson

Seniors Augustus Hickman, Alex Hodson, and Katie Kern presented first. As students in Mike Shackelford’s political science class, they’re learning about the societal and institutional forces—as opposed to the individual candidates or choices—that affect election results. Drawing from that practical foundation, they offered level-headed insights: “Brace yourself. It's OK that we don't know immediately,” Alex said, referring to the election results. Let the system run its course, she added. “Second, scrutinize the information you see on social media and the news. There will be competing media narratives about what's happening and who won. Your job is to educate yourself.”

Next, alum Will Matheson—a Harvard senior studying government with a secondary concentration in economics—presented an overview of his work as a research team lead working on the Harvard Youth Poll. Will reassured upper schoolers that Americans aged 18–29 are more alike than it might seem: a majority of the young Democrats and Republicans surveyed, for example, want the government to do more to address health care issues, mental health services, and the economic consequences of the pandemic. Young Americans are also highly engaged right now and may have voted at record levels in this election. 

Previous generations that rose to the challenges that faced them did so not by pointing a finger, but by extending an open hand, and Rowland Hall actually does a great job at instilling these qualities and skills involved.—Alum Will Matheson ’17

So what can Rowland Hall students do with this information, especially considering most can’t vote yet? Will—who fittingly co-wrote a CNN op-ed back in June entitled “Dear Gen Z, don't give up on America just yet”—encouraged students to vote in every election they can, from age 18 onwards. “The system has to be impacted by youth over time to make progress on those issues,” he said, referring to the shared priorities revealed in the Harvard Youth Poll, “so turning out in every election at every level of government matters.” 

Second—less concrete but no less important, Will said—he asked students to become the best citizens they can be. “Previous generations that rose to the challenges that faced them did so not by pointing a finger, but by extending an open hand, and Rowland Hall actually does a great job at instilling these qualities and skills involved,” he said. “We need to embody qualities like curiosity, empathy, and humility to admit when we are wrong...It requires hard skills like being a smart media consumer, but also soft skills like being able to talk to people that you might not agree with. Once we've done that, only then can we begin to really heal our civic culture.” Only in trial is progress possible, Will closed. “It requires all of us, with big hearts and open minds.”

ethical education

Rowland Hall alumna Charis Smith '12 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.


At Rowland Hall’s September 4 all-school Convocation, alumna Charis Benjamin ’12 reminded students, “How you engage with others and interact with your peers matters.”

“We’re not only building our own confidence in our lives, but we also have an opportunity to help build the confidence of our peers,” she told them. “The gift that we give each other is the chance to interact with others and help each other be our best selves.”

We’re not only building our own confidence in our lives, but we also have an opportunity to help build the confidence of our peers.—Charis Benjamin ’12

As the 2020 alumni speaker for Convocation, Charis was asked to join other speakers—including Head of School Mick Gee, Chaplain Jeremy Innis, and Student Body President Maddy Frech—to reflect on the theme Welcome Everyone. She used this opportunity to think back on her nine years at Rowland Hall, weaving stories of her own experience into her speech to illustrate the power of relationship and spoken words in a learning community.

“Our interactions matter—we’re constantly learning from each other,” Charis said when asked about why she chose to focus her speech on peer-driven confidence-building. She wanted to show students of all ages that they have the power to encourage others simply by being a friend—something that everyone can relate to. “Building elements of confidence or using your words kindly is universal for young or older learners,” she said.

And because she knows that students often hear about people clashing over differences, she also wanted to use her experiences to encourage them to build space for others’ uniqueness—to embrace, rather than fear or avoid discussing, differences. “We have to spend time celebrating differences,” she said. Charis further noted that Rowland Hall’s size benefits kids who are getting comfortable with these skills: “At Rowland Hall, you get a chance to have a smaller group of peers. You can spend time asking unique questions to get to know the people around you.”

Charis knows firsthand the benefits of peer confidence-boosting—how it spreads beyond the individuals who feel safe and welcomed to classrooms, where students take risks and engage in deeper learning. This builds skills they then take into their adult lives. “How engaged you are in the classroom impacts how comfortable you feel to speak up,” she said. “The space that you spend a lot of time in helps cultivate how you move through the world.”

Charis’ experience illustrates just how far this confidence can take students—and how it prepares them to continue living with a community-minded focus. Since graduating from Rowland Hall, Charis has studied how to make individuals and communities healthier, first earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and society from Cornell University in 2016, then a master of public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2019. While earning those degrees, she also worked as a research assistant, a graduate PHASE intern, and a program administrator—opportunities that, she explained, helped her “really understand some of the big-picture issues” around public health. In August, Charis began the newest chapter of her journey, entering the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health as a first-year medical student.

Charis can readily call up memories of Upper School teachers who prepared her to grapple with real-world problems and to think beyond herself: In Doug Wortham’s French class, she learned how to be uncomfortable and to have empathy for others learning a new language. In Carolyn Hickman’s English class, she learned that reading comprehension skills go far beyond texts. And in Ryan Hoglund’s ethical learning class, she took part in life-changing group discussions around ethical dilemmas.

As a physician-in-training with a background in epidemiology during the time of COVID-19, Charis is confronted with challenging questions every day—but she stressed that she feels prepared to take them on, thanks in large part to the confidence she built at Rowland Hall, which she credits for true friendships and her first encounters with “big questions, and how we tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.” Charis can readily call up memories of Upper School teachers who prepared her to grapple with real-world problems and to think beyond herself: In Doug Wortham’s French class, she learned how to be uncomfortable and to have empathy for others learning a new language. In Carolyn Hickman’s English class, she learned that reading comprehension skills go far beyond texts—in her case, preparing her to ask the right questions to diagnose illnesses in patients (“Reading comprehension really is life comprehension,” she pointed out). And in Ryan Hoglund’s ethical learning class, she took part in life-changing group discussions around ethical dilemmas.

“Most prompts did not have one clear, correct answer—and that’s the point,” Charis said. “Getting comfortable with ambiguity at the high school age is important, because in life you’re going to have gray areas.” This is especially true in her line of work. “Right now with coronavirus we have a lot of questions,” she continued. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” But being comfortable in the gray area keeps scientists like her moving forward, looking for ways to fight the pandemic as well as to protect communities—global examples of the kind of community-building that takes place daily at schools like Rowland Hall.

“Charis is a keen reminder that Rowland Hall graduates are community builders long after they leave this community,” said Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund. “Listening to Charis' inspiring speech, I hope we all can understand the importance of taking care of each other in a community and recognize how interdependent we really are. Her reminder that our sense of self-worth and confidence is co-created by our peers and mentors speaks to the importance of little moments when we can show greater patience, compassion, and curiosity to each other. Taking the time to see ourselves as caretakers for each other is critical to our own well-being and to the well-being of the communities we rely upon.”


Banner photo: Charis on the campus of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. As a first-year medical student, Charis is continuing on her journey to make individuals and communities healthier. Photo courtesy Charis Benjamin.

Alumni

Jonah Holbrook '16 presenting at a conference.

Editor's note: this piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2019–2020 Annual Report story "The Rowland Hall Internship Program: Connecting Classroom Learning to Careers and Community."


For Jonah Holbrook ’16, a Rowland Hall internship was more than a summer experience—it was the first step on his career path.

After taking Advanced Placement Biology as a junior, Jonah was reconsidering plans to study mechanical engineering in college. When he saw Rowland Hall's internship program advertising an opportunity at Michael S. Kay’s biochemistry lab at the University of Utah, he jumped at the chance to explore the field, and spent that summer assisting a PhD student researching a viable inhibitor for Ebola virus strains.

Jonah Holbrook '16 at the 2020 Pittsburgh Conference for Analytical Chemistry.

Jonah has come a long way from assisting researchers at the Kay lab. In early 2020, he presented his own research on point-of-care microfluidic diagnostics at Pittcon, an annual conference and expo organized by the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy. Photo courtesy Jonah Holbrook.

The following summer, Dr. Kay recommended Jonah for a second internship at Navigen Pharmaceuticals, where, thanks to his Kay lab experience, Jonah transitioned from intern to assistant research scientist working on a lead inhibitor for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). He also took part in a weekly club where employees discussed conditions that may benefit from Navigen technology—Jonah researched how it could potentially inhibit a circulating peptide related to migraine headaches.

Reflecting on his Kay lab internship, Jonah said, “It helped me find my passion in terms of my career.”

In fall 2016, during his freshman year at Cal Poly, Jonah joined the Medical Design Club, which enables students to develop, research, design, and manufacture technology that improves quality of life. Jonah received permission from Navigen to pitch his migraine drug idea, and received funding. This experience led to the opportunity to run for club president (a position he held his sophomore through senior years), where he advised peers on a variety of projects, from an alternative EpiPen to a neurostimulator. It also helped him realize a desire to attend medical school, a goal he worked toward at Cal Poly alongside conducting his own research and returning to Navigen every summer to work on the RSV drug.

Reflecting on his Kay lab internship, Jonah said, “It helped me find my passion in terms of my career.” And he’s well on his way. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in May 2020, Jonah began working as a medical assistant to a vascular surgeon. He plans on starting medical school in fall 2021.


Top photo: Jonah with former Head of School Alan Sparrow at his 2016 graduation.

STEM

You Belong at Rowland Hall