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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.

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STEM

Computer Science Teacher, Students Earn Regional Recognition from Women in Tech Nonprofit

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

Explore More Alumni Stories

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

Three people pose outside with an Emmy.

Charismatic Rowland Hall lifer and Emmy winner Jared Ruga ’06 is apparently just as comfortable in the spotlight as he is behind the camera. On May 29, he flexed his storytelling prowess and delivered a speech chock-full of good advice for almost-grads at our annual Alumni Senior Breakfast, a school tradition since 1924.

Jared told his story in three acts: he waxed nostalgic about his time here; dissected his college life as a triple-major at the University of San Diego (USD); and recounted how he won an Emmy for Quiet Heroes, a documentary examining the Utah AIDS epidemic and the one doctor and her team that stepped up to treat thousands of critically ill, socially stigmatized patients.

The 30-year-old alumnus wove seven key insights into his talk.

Talented people usually hate their work. You have to finish it and show it to others anyway. Because standing behind imperfect work gives you the confidence to try it another time.

“Hate your work but show it anyway”

By the time Jared reached the Upper School, he knew he wanted to make movies, and he did. For the Distinction program—a now-defunct optional thesis project that, if successfully completed, resulted in graduation honors—he masterminded a feature-length teen thriller. But Jared procrastinated on his work, worrying his Distinction committee members. “I ended up not finishing the film until the night before the premiere,” he said. “And then I watched, beat for beat, in that crowded theater, and caught literal typos on screen, and saw that some of my non-actors’ performances weren’t made any better projected 20 feet high.”

Jared wryly confessed to seniors that the thriller, Sanctuary Disrupted, is not his best work. “But at that point in time, it was,” he added. “Talented people usually hate their work. You have to finish it and show it to others anyway. Because standing behind imperfect work gives you the confidence to try it another time with something else. And if you go through that process enough times, eventually you might land on something enough people like.”

As hard as it is for people you care about deeply to fall out of your life, the alternative—connecting only superficially—is so much worse.

“Connect deeply with others even when it’s temporary”

Jared and high school best friend Isabel Carpenter ’06 “weren’t the emotional types,” he said, but that changed with their pre-college goodbye that ended in a sob-filled hug. They still talk, only about once a year, but that’s OK: our lives are often transient, Jared posited, and roles such as friend, mentor, partner, etc., may be filled by different people at different times. “It doesn’t cheapen what you had with them in the moments your lives intersected,” he told seniors. “And it shouldn’t dissuade you from connecting deeply with the next round of candidates…Because as hard as it is for people you care about deeply to fall out of your life, the alternative—connecting only superficially—is so much worse.”

“Stick with your grit even when it’s hard”

Jared started college with a freshman roommate who wouldn’t talk to him, and mostly boring classes—“Rowland Hall had prepared me so well that I didn’t feel academically challenged until my junior year,” he said. But he trusted that circumstances would improve, and soon hit his stride academically, socially, and extracurricularly—through running the student TV station, participating in student government, and more. Jared earned his share of perfect grades at USD, but said the one he’s most proud of is a C+ in calculus, a required course that he kept dropping. In his last semester, he failed the midterm—but then poured his energy into acing the final. He passed the class and graduated magna cum laude from the honors program. “I didn’t transfer away from USD after a rocky start, and I didn’t drop calculus because I was hellbent on graduating as planned,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but it went my way in the end because I committed to making it happen.”

“Accept the wisdom of life seasons” and “Recharge your souls”

Jared is now openly gay, but didn’t come out until early adulthood. By the time he started law school at 24, he still hadn’t been in a relationship. “While I was so precociously successful by so many other metrics, what I thought was the deepest, most human experience we can have had eluded me,” he said. So he dove into dating, even to the detriment of his usually high grades. “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once,” Jared said. “Life has seasons for a reason.” Make time for the things that feed your soul, he advised. Pursuits such as relationships, hobbies, and volunteering are “just as important as the traditional metrics of success like degrees, accolades, money,” Jared said. “Success only actually feels good when you can celebrate it with others, and when it serves a greater purpose.”

The scourge of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s is a crucial part of Queer history that we in younger generations must understand and appreciate.

On winning the Emmy: “Prefer life management over life planning” and “Pick a path and just do the work until it, with luck, catches fire”

Jared first heard the story of Dr. Kristen Ries and physician's assistant Maggie Snyder—the main subjects of Quiet Heroes, pictured with Jared, top—from one of his law professors. “I was deeply touched by what Kristen and Maggie had done, and embarrassed that as a politically active 26-year-old gay man who was born and raised Salt Lake City, I had never heard their story,” Jared said. “The scourge of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s is a crucial part of Queer history that we in younger generations must understand and appreciate.”

So Jared’s professor connected him with the two women, and the emotionally draining—but highly rewarding—project began soon after. “Quiet Heroes was a difficult film to make,” Jared admitted. “For nearly a year of the film’s production lifecycle, I wanted to just throw in the towel and focus on something else that wouldn’t cause me so much heartburn.” Driven in part by Salt Lake City’s supportive LGBTQ community, Jared and his team charged forward and ultimately earned a spot at the Sundance Film Festival, then secured distribution deals. A subsequent TV showing qualified Quiet Heroes for a Daytime Emmy, and the documentary won in its category—even edging out an Oprah’s Book Club special. The filmmaking journey wasn’t easy, but it was character building, and it helped Jared get over his “analysis paralysis”: “Sometimes you have to just roll up your sleeves and start doing the work, without any expectation of its success,” he said. “Trusting your instincts will probably nudge you in the right direction.”

Jared closed by telling seniors that no one does anything worth doing without help, and he thanked everyone who aided him along the way. “I continue to be motivated and touched by your faith in me,” he said, “It’s the fuel inside that burns brighter every day.” Echoing his early advice, he encouraged students to be bold. “You’ll fail, probably publicly. You’ll love people who don’t love you back. You’ll say mean things you wish you hadn’t. And you’ll take for granted some of the most important ingredients to your health and success. But know that even though you won’t be perfect, you’re well positioned to make these choices. You have a solid foundation of skills and deep community support behind you.”

Alumni

portrait of two moms outside school

Inclusion isn’t just a priority in our classrooms and on our playgrounds—it’s also a goal for all three 2019–2020 Home and School leaders, who want to make every family feel welcome.

Dawn Farrell will lead the Lincoln Street Campus Home and School Association, while Kari Corroon and alumna Jenna (Gelegotis) Pagoaga ’98 will serve as co-presidents for the McCarthey Campus. Jenna has two kids at McCarthey: Oliver is a rising 3PreK student and William is a rising second grader. Kari has twin sons: Reed and Ryker, rising fourth graders. Dawn's son, Kemper, is a rising senior.

Read more about Home and School here and learn about these leaders in the following Q&A.

Questions or Ideas? Email the Incoming Presidents

Dawn Farrell

    Dawn Farrell

Q&A

How long have you lived in the Salt Lake area, and what brought you and your family here?

Dawn: I moved to Utah in 1990 from Indiana. My dad transferred here when I was a sophomore in high school. It was so traumatic for me at the time (at 16 years old, everything is traumatic), but now Utah is my home. For three years, we lived on the Big Island of Hawaii with our two sons, Keaton and Kemper, but we've been back in Utah since 2017.

Jenna: I was born and raised in Salt Lake City. I spent a few years outside of the state after college with my husband, Steve, while he served in the Army, but ultimately we decided to come back home to raise our family. It’s a beautiful place to live; it was too hard to stay away!

Kari: I was born and raised in the Salt Lake area.

What are your personal hobbies and interests?

Dawn: Right now, most of my time is spent getting certified to become a pilates instructor. I love pilates! I also love to cook, play tennis, and take indoor spin classes. I wish I had more time to craft. I especially like to embroider.

Jenna: I enjoy the outdoors, musical theater, University of Utah football games and gymnastic meets, and dinner with friends at local restaurants. And as the parent of young children, of course, I enjoy a good nap.

Kari: If the sun is shining, I’m outside. My favorite thing to do is hike with my dogs, a 10-year-old Pug mix and a nine-month-old Golden Retriever. I love the theater and go to every show that I possibly can. I love being with my family, no matter what we’re doing!

What's your family's favorite activity or destination?

Dawn: I asked everyone in my family their opinions about our favorite activity and everyone said playing board games together. We break out a game every night at dinner. Our favorite games right now are Monopoly Deal and Bananagrams.

Jenna: Put us near the water and we’re happy! We love spending time at the beach in Southern California or exploring the beauty of Red Fish Lake in Idaho. And you can often find us spending school breaks at the happiest place on earth, enjoying the magic of Disneyland.

Kari: Our family loves to travel. We visit my husband’s family several times a year in New York and Florida. We love to discover new places and explore cities together. We also love to camp, ride bikes, and backcountry ski.

Why did you choose Rowland Hall for your kids?

Dawn: When I was in college, I worked at Coffee Garden for a while. I always thought the kids who came in from Rowland Hall were so cool. They were always polite and articulate. I thought it seemed like a great place to go to school.

As a proud 'lifer' and alumna of Rowland Hall, I wanted to give my children the same experience and spectacular education I was privileged to receive.—Parent and Alumna Jenna (Gelegotis) Pagoaga ’98

Jenna: As a proud “lifer” and alumna of Rowland Hall, I wanted to give my children the same experience and spectacular education I was privileged to receive. Though Rowland Hall has evolved through the years, the strong traditions and values still hold true. It has been a heartwarming experience seeing this through my children’s eyes. Watching them learn about different cultures and beliefs in chapel and experience diverse viewpoints in their classrooms is wonderful. And, we all love the tradition of Color Day and have enjoyed starting another generation of holiday plates in our kitchen. What a fantastic school to be a part of then and now!

Kari: I am an early childhood educator, and I discovered Rowland Hall while doing my graduate work at the University of Utah. The school’s educational philosophy aligns perfectly with my own. Rowland Hall is a magical place with the most amazing educators and administrators. I knew there was no better place for my own children to go to school. My twin boys will be starting fourth grade next year. They started in kindergarten and have absolutely loved every year. Rowland Hall has given them a love for learning that will last their entire lives.

What are your goals as the new Home & School presidents?

Dawn: My goal is to offer more support to the students. I would love to brainstorm with student council in the fall to see if Home and School can support them in activities that will help increase the sense of community and inclusion. I would also like to start a life-skills activity day for our senior class. If you’re a skilled professional (or are just good at something!) and are willing to share your talents with our seniors, please contact me.

Jenna: My hope is to continue to foster a strong and inclusive parent community at Rowland Hall. We offer such unique and important programming and it’s my goal, along with Kari’s, to encourage all those interested in participating to do so. We hope to increase awareness of Home and School events and provide a welcoming environment for families to connect, learn, and socialize together. We challenge you to participate in Home and School in whatever capacity you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Kari: Jenna and I are really looking forward to helping out in Home and School next year. Our goal is to make every family, new and old, feel included. We want every parent who has a desire to volunteer to feel welcomed and appreciated. We want to support the incredible teachers and staff in every way that we can. We look forward to a great year!

Add anything else you'd like our community to know about you and your new role.

Dawn: Every family who has a student enrolled at the Lincoln Street Campus is a member of Home and School, yet I don't know the majority of you. Please take a second to introduce yourself! I cannot express enough how much I appreciate your participation in this organization. From your monetary donations to every second you spend volunteering, you’re helping bridge the gap between your home and your child's school. Thank you!

Jenna: We would love to meet you! Stop us in the halls, email us your questions, come to our monthly meetings. We want to get to know you all!

Home & School

Portrait of a Gap Year: Work, Activism, Writing, Self-Care, and Self-Discovery

Editor’s note: Gap years have long been common in Europe, and they’re on the rise in the US. So what happens when a high-achieving Rowland Hall alum takes a break from the classroom? Read on for our 2018 co-valedictorian’s account.

By Allie Zehner ’18

Ever since middle school, I had my life all planned out: graduate from high school, launch straight into college, graduate from college, and immediately enter grad school or a career. Straying from this pin-straight path didn’t seem like an option; however, here I am, writing this piece at the end of my gap year.

At the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging.

Looking back, I don’t remember the exact moment I said, “Hey, mom and dad, I’m taking a year between high school and college.” Because this option did not pop up on my radar until eleventh grade, the only way to describe my decision is as the perfect collision of four distinct circumstances. First: at the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging. Second: in the fall of my senior year, my family hosted two young women, Priya and Winona, who were in the middle of taking gap years to travel the country, interview people about their intersectional identities, and write a book on racial literacy. Third: I met Abby Falik, the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, an organization dedicated to making bridge years between high school and university a socially acceptable norm. Fourth: after continuously pushing myself throughout high school and becoming co-valedictorian, I was afraid of burning out. 

So, I committed to Barnard College of Columbia University in New York last spring and asked for a deferral of admission, elucidating my gap year plans. Barnard approved my request, I filled out a one-page form, and just like that, I was taking a gap year. 

And so the year began.

In the summer, I worked part-time jobs and saved some money.

In the fall, I worked with Sonita Alizadeh (pictured top, right, being interviewed by Allie at a Surefire conference), a young activist who uses music as a tool to catalyze social change, particularly looking to end the detrimental traditional practice of child marriage. Through my work with her and a nonprofit, Strongheart Group, I conducted research, interviewed young activists from around the world, and traveled to the United Nations Foundation’s Social Good Summit in New York City. 

In the winter, I started focusing on curating a book about the next generation of young women. Formatted as a collection of essays, I will write about half of the chapters and other teen girls will write the rest. From omnipresent social media to an extremely divided political climate to gun violence, this book will speak to the most pressing, serious issues my generation is facing on our journey to adulthood. Learning through doing, I taught myself how to write a book proposal, draft a query letter, reach out to agents, and build a website. 

In the spring, I was extremely fortunate to travel to Colombia, where I used my Spanish (gracias, Señor Burnett), attended a women’s conference, and shadowed an incredible nonprofit, Juanfe, that works with teen moms in Cartagena. And, coincidentally, I met another teen who is taking a gap year to live in South American cities, work, become fluent in Spanish, and volunteer. I have also spent the spring loving (pretty much) every second of learning how to write a book. 

The other key aspect of this year is that, having struggled with a chronic illness since the seventh grade, I made time to see doctors and get necessary testing. While I still do not know the root cause of my health issues, I am better equipped to manage my symptoms and look after my own well being: two things I did not prioritize in middle and high school.

And that is my gap year in a nutshell. 

Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

Let me just say that taking this year and venturing from the extremely narrow life path I had envisioned has been one of my best decisions. From around the time I could walk, I was in school five days a week, seven hours a day. For 15 years, being a student was absolutely core to my identity. Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

I will be attending university this fall. Contrary to what is sometimes believed about gap years, I will be going back to school with an immensely stronger sense of self, more direction, and a readiness to return to the classroom. I could not be more ecstatic to finish my book throughout freshman year and continue to grow as a person.

Gap years are not for everyone, but they should be considered a viable alternative to going straight to college. My hope is that society recognizes the immense possibilities bridge years can hold.

alumni

You Belong at Rowland Hall