Custom Class: post-landing-hero

In early September, only days into her first semester at New York University, Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern ’21 was already busy.

Head shot of Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21.

Like other first-year students across the country, Katie had been navigating the numerous tasks involved with starting college, from exploring campus and starting classes (she’s currently studying politics) to settling into dorm life and meeting new people—all while adapting to the evolving safety measures of the pandemic, and even dodging severe weather: some of her first days in the city included record-breaking rainfall caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

“The unprecedented hurricane that occurred within my first week of moving in was definitely a little shocking,” said Katie.

Starting college against a backdrop of flooded subways and sidewalks, as well as surging cases of COVID-19, isn’t the preference of any new college student. But instead of giving into what she calls the “heaviness” of global issues like these, Katie has been leaning on her well-established activism experience to look for solutions. Only days after arriving at NYU, whether on coffee dates with new friends or in class lectures, she’s been involved in plenty of conversations aimed at solving tough problems.

For those who know Katie, this isn’t surprising. During her four years at Rowland Hall, she was a blur of the same kind of activity. In addition to a full course load, she was a member of the school’s Roots & Shoots club, Navajo Project, mental health educators, and dance company. Off campus, she interned at Alliance for a Better Utah and taught dance to refugees at a 4-H after-school program. And even with all that going on, Katie also volunteered at least eight hours a week for March for Our Lives Utah, the local chapter of the student-led organization that’s helping to drive US gun reform—a commitment so impressive that, as Katie learned in August, it earned her YWCA Utah’s inaugural Leader of Tomorrow Award, an honor designed to highlight the outstanding volunteerism of Utah women under the age of 19.

“YWCA Utah wants to recognize that activists are doing incredible work while young,” said Lisa Brown Miranda, associate director of admission for Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus and member of the YWCA Utah Board of Directors.

And to the selection committee, Katie’s work most definitely stood out: as an early supporter of the March for Our Lives movement (she joined as a lead ambassador right after its 2018 founding), Katie was able to play a key role in the Utah chapter’s administration, and was ultimately named state co-director her senior year, alongside fellow high school student Tory Peters. In the co-director role, Katie helped lead difficult but necessary conversations about the toll of gun violence, as well as encouraged legislative change.

“Katie wanted to look for practical ways to approach gun safety,” said Ryan Hoglund, Rowland Hall’s director of ethical education, who taught and mentored Katie, giving him a front-row seat to her dedication to March for Our Lives Utah. “She worked with her peers, took to the airways on KRCL's RadioACTive program [in December 2019 and February 2020], lobbied the Utah legislature, and ultimately developed a school curriculum to increase the awareness of gun safety: what to do if you find a gun as a young child, and how to keep a loved one who is struggling with mental illness and is considering self-harm safe.”

Of the many March for Our Lives projects she supported, Katie said she’s especially proud of the group’s legislative work, including her own experience testifying for universal background checks at the state capitol in February 2020. Even though it was scary, she said, because she knew she’d be speaking to a group largely against gun reform, it underscored her commitment to finding a solution to the country’s gun-violence problems. It also taught her to see activism from a big-picture perspective: she might not be part of the group that gets a reform bill passed, but she’s helping to lay the groundwork.

“Every year we make a little bit of progress,” said Katie. “It’s going to be awhile, and understanding that is important. But we have the utmost determination to get it done, and I’m excited for the future.”

Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21 has been active in gun reform in the state of Utah.

"Katie has a sincere love for life and all its challenges and opportunities," said teacher Sofia Gorder. "She believes in action, jumping at the thought of creating change and doing the hard work it takes to actualize vision. She is nothing short of a force." Photos courtesy Krista Kern.


For Lisa, watching Katie receive recognition for her volunteerism is exciting: Lisa first met Katie when she was a prospective ninth grader and remembers being impressed even then by the young student’s early devotion to grassroots work. Knowing Rowland Hall supports, values, and celebrates these kinds of contributions—and works with students to develop their own unique voices—Lisa was thrilled when Katie enrolled in the Upper School, and she spent the next four years enthusiastically watching the young leader do great things, both in the school community and for the state of Utah.

“Katie did everything she thought she was going to do—and more,” said Lisa. “She’s not the kind of person to face a challenge and look for ways to dodge it. She just jumps in, using her gifts to make others’ lives better.”

Katie remembers sharing with Lisa this desire to volunteer at the grassroots level, and noted that she ultimately chose to attend Rowland Hall because she was impressed by our teachers’ obvious passion for their subjects—something she recognized in herself. And Katie credits many Rowland Hall instructors for playing a role in her journey, like history teacher Nate Kogan and English teachers Kody Partridge and Carolyn Hickman for helping her better understand politics and how the legislature works, and Director of Arts and Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder for showing her, a longtime and passionate dancer, how arts and activism intersect. She is also grateful to the school for providing safe spaces, whether in classrooms or at the Dinner & Dialogue events Katie helped plan and lead, to practice having the crucial conversations necessary to spark change.

“Rowland Hall gave me a lot of space and independence to do what I wanted, and I did feel supported,” Katie said.

And as evidenced by how she’s already spending her time at college, Katie isn’t slowing down. She plans to continue to devote herself to a variety of movements because, as she explained, “it feels very heavy, all the problems going on.” And she hopes this involvement—and perhaps even her Leader of Tomorrow Award—will encourage others to take action. After all, after spending so much time at the grassroots level, she’s learned how empowering it is to help chip away at problems that, at first glance, seem too enormous to tackle.

I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together.—Katie Kern ’21

“I hope other young women—or students in general—recognize that they can do something about all these crises, that they can get involved,” she reflected.

And contrary to what some might think, Katie said, it doesn’t take much time to make a difference: she recommends everyone set aside just 10 minutes a day to learn about an issue affecting their community, and then find opportunities to help fix them. This is key, because in a world filled with nonstop news about everything that’s going wrong, having a hand in change is inspiring. In fact, Katie said, it’s these moments—watching communities join together in pursuit of solutions—that make her most optimistic about the future.

“I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together,” she said.


To ensure the health and safety of the community, YWCA Utah announced the postponement of the 2021 LeaderLuncheon—the ceremony at which Outstanding Achievement Awards are presented—until spring 2022. Those in the Rowland Hall community who are interested in this event should visit YWCA Utah’s website for details, as they become available.

Alumni

Rowland Hall Alum Katie Kern '21 Honored by YWCA Utah with Inaugural Leader of Tomorrow Award

In early September, only days into her first semester at New York University, Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern ’21 was already busy.

Head shot of Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21.

Like other first-year students across the country, Katie had been navigating the numerous tasks involved with starting college, from exploring campus and starting classes (she’s currently studying politics) to settling into dorm life and meeting new people—all while adapting to the evolving safety measures of the pandemic, and even dodging severe weather: some of her first days in the city included record-breaking rainfall caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

“The unprecedented hurricane that occurred within my first week of moving in was definitely a little shocking,” said Katie.

Starting college against a backdrop of flooded subways and sidewalks, as well as surging cases of COVID-19, isn’t the preference of any new college student. But instead of giving into what she calls the “heaviness” of global issues like these, Katie has been leaning on her well-established activism experience to look for solutions. Only days after arriving at NYU, whether on coffee dates with new friends or in class lectures, she’s been involved in plenty of conversations aimed at solving tough problems.

For those who know Katie, this isn’t surprising. During her four years at Rowland Hall, she was a blur of the same kind of activity. In addition to a full course load, she was a member of the school’s Roots & Shoots club, Navajo Project, mental health educators, and dance company. Off campus, she interned at Alliance for a Better Utah and taught dance to refugees at a 4-H after-school program. And even with all that going on, Katie also volunteered at least eight hours a week for March for Our Lives Utah, the local chapter of the student-led organization that’s helping to drive US gun reform—a commitment so impressive that, as Katie learned in August, it earned her YWCA Utah’s inaugural Leader of Tomorrow Award, an honor designed to highlight the outstanding volunteerism of Utah women under the age of 19.

“YWCA Utah wants to recognize that activists are doing incredible work while young,” said Lisa Brown Miranda, associate director of admission for Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus and member of the YWCA Utah Board of Directors.

And to the selection committee, Katie’s work most definitely stood out: as an early supporter of the March for Our Lives movement (she joined as a lead ambassador right after its 2018 founding), Katie was able to play a key role in the Utah chapter’s administration, and was ultimately named state co-director her senior year, alongside fellow high school student Tory Peters. In the co-director role, Katie helped lead difficult but necessary conversations about the toll of gun violence, as well as encouraged legislative change.

“Katie wanted to look for practical ways to approach gun safety,” said Ryan Hoglund, Rowland Hall’s director of ethical education, who taught and mentored Katie, giving him a front-row seat to her dedication to March for Our Lives Utah. “She worked with her peers, took to the airways on KRCL's RadioACTive program [in December 2019 and February 2020], lobbied the Utah legislature, and ultimately developed a school curriculum to increase the awareness of gun safety: what to do if you find a gun as a young child, and how to keep a loved one who is struggling with mental illness and is considering self-harm safe.”

Of the many March for Our Lives projects she supported, Katie said she’s especially proud of the group’s legislative work, including her own experience testifying for universal background checks at the state capitol in February 2020. Even though it was scary, she said, because she knew she’d be speaking to a group largely against gun reform, it underscored her commitment to finding a solution to the country’s gun-violence problems. It also taught her to see activism from a big-picture perspective: she might not be part of the group that gets a reform bill passed, but she’s helping to lay the groundwork.

“Every year we make a little bit of progress,” said Katie. “It’s going to be awhile, and understanding that is important. But we have the utmost determination to get it done, and I’m excited for the future.”

Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21 has been active in gun reform in the state of Utah.

"Katie has a sincere love for life and all its challenges and opportunities," said teacher Sofia Gorder. "She believes in action, jumping at the thought of creating change and doing the hard work it takes to actualize vision. She is nothing short of a force." Photos courtesy Krista Kern.


For Lisa, watching Katie receive recognition for her volunteerism is exciting: Lisa first met Katie when she was a prospective ninth grader and remembers being impressed even then by the young student’s early devotion to grassroots work. Knowing Rowland Hall supports, values, and celebrates these kinds of contributions—and works with students to develop their own unique voices—Lisa was thrilled when Katie enrolled in the Upper School, and she spent the next four years enthusiastically watching the young leader do great things, both in the school community and for the state of Utah.

“Katie did everything she thought she was going to do—and more,” said Lisa. “She’s not the kind of person to face a challenge and look for ways to dodge it. She just jumps in, using her gifts to make others’ lives better.”

Katie remembers sharing with Lisa this desire to volunteer at the grassroots level, and noted that she ultimately chose to attend Rowland Hall because she was impressed by our teachers’ obvious passion for their subjects—something she recognized in herself. And Katie credits many Rowland Hall instructors for playing a role in her journey, like history teacher Nate Kogan and English teachers Kody Partridge and Carolyn Hickman for helping her better understand politics and how the legislature works, and Director of Arts and Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder for showing her, a longtime and passionate dancer, how arts and activism intersect. She is also grateful to the school for providing safe spaces, whether in classrooms or at the Dinner & Dialogue events Katie helped plan and lead, to practice having the crucial conversations necessary to spark change.

“Rowland Hall gave me a lot of space and independence to do what I wanted, and I did feel supported,” Katie said.

And as evidenced by how she’s already spending her time at college, Katie isn’t slowing down. She plans to continue to devote herself to a variety of movements because, as she explained, “it feels very heavy, all the problems going on.” And she hopes this involvement—and perhaps even her Leader of Tomorrow Award—will encourage others to take action. After all, after spending so much time at the grassroots level, she’s learned how empowering it is to help chip away at problems that, at first glance, seem too enormous to tackle.

I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together.—Katie Kern ’21

“I hope other young women—or students in general—recognize that they can do something about all these crises, that they can get involved,” she reflected.

And contrary to what some might think, Katie said, it doesn’t take much time to make a difference: she recommends everyone set aside just 10 minutes a day to learn about an issue affecting their community, and then find opportunities to help fix them. This is key, because in a world filled with nonstop news about everything that’s going wrong, having a hand in change is inspiring. In fact, Katie said, it’s these moments—watching communities join together in pursuit of solutions—that make her most optimistic about the future.

“I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together,” she said.


To ensure the health and safety of the community, YWCA Utah announced the postponement of the 2021 LeaderLuncheon—the ceremony at which Outstanding Achievement Awards are presented—until spring 2022. Those in the Rowland Hall community who are interested in this event should visit YWCA Utah’s website for details, as they become available.

Alumni

Explore More Alumni Stories

Rowland Hall alum (and YWCA Utah Leader of Tomorrow Award winner) Katie Kern at graduation.

In early September, only days into her first semester at New York University, Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern ’21 was already busy.

Head shot of Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21.

Like other first-year students across the country, Katie had been navigating the numerous tasks involved with starting college, from exploring campus and starting classes (she’s currently studying politics) to settling into dorm life and meeting new people—all while adapting to the evolving safety measures of the pandemic, and even dodging severe weather: some of her first days in the city included record-breaking rainfall caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

“The unprecedented hurricane that occurred within my first week of moving in was definitely a little shocking,” said Katie.

Starting college against a backdrop of flooded subways and sidewalks, as well as surging cases of COVID-19, isn’t the preference of any new college student. But instead of giving into what she calls the “heaviness” of global issues like these, Katie has been leaning on her well-established activism experience to look for solutions. Only days after arriving at NYU, whether on coffee dates with new friends or in class lectures, she’s been involved in plenty of conversations aimed at solving tough problems.

For those who know Katie, this isn’t surprising. During her four years at Rowland Hall, she was a blur of the same kind of activity. In addition to a full course load, she was a member of the school’s Roots & Shoots club, Navajo Project, mental health educators, and dance company. Off campus, she interned at Alliance for a Better Utah and taught dance to refugees at a 4-H after-school program. And even with all that going on, Katie also volunteered at least eight hours a week for March for Our Lives Utah, the local chapter of the student-led organization that’s helping to drive US gun reform—a commitment so impressive that, as Katie learned in August, it earned her YWCA Utah’s inaugural Leader of Tomorrow Award, an honor designed to highlight the outstanding volunteerism of Utah women under the age of 19.

“YWCA Utah wants to recognize that activists are doing incredible work while young,” said Lisa Brown Miranda, associate director of admission for Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus and member of the YWCA Utah Board of Directors.

And to the selection committee, Katie’s work most definitely stood out: as an early supporter of the March for Our Lives movement (she joined as a lead ambassador right after its 2018 founding), Katie was able to play a key role in the Utah chapter’s administration, and was ultimately named state co-director her senior year, alongside fellow high school student Tory Peters. In the co-director role, Katie helped lead difficult but necessary conversations about the toll of gun violence, as well as encouraged legislative change.

“Katie wanted to look for practical ways to approach gun safety,” said Ryan Hoglund, Rowland Hall’s director of ethical education, who taught and mentored Katie, giving him a front-row seat to her dedication to March for Our Lives Utah. “She worked with her peers, took to the airways on KRCL's RadioACTive program [in December 2019 and February 2020], lobbied the Utah legislature, and ultimately developed a school curriculum to increase the awareness of gun safety: what to do if you find a gun as a young child, and how to keep a loved one who is struggling with mental illness and is considering self-harm safe.”

Of the many March for Our Lives projects she supported, Katie said she’s especially proud of the group’s legislative work, including her own experience testifying for universal background checks at the state capitol in February 2020. Even though it was scary, she said, because she knew she’d be speaking to a group largely against gun reform, it underscored her commitment to finding a solution to the country’s gun-violence problems. It also taught her to see activism from a big-picture perspective: she might not be part of the group that gets a reform bill passed, but she’s helping to lay the groundwork.

“Every year we make a little bit of progress,” said Katie. “It’s going to be awhile, and understanding that is important. But we have the utmost determination to get it done, and I’m excited for the future.”

Rowland Hall alum Katie Kern '21 has been active in gun reform in the state of Utah.

"Katie has a sincere love for life and all its challenges and opportunities," said teacher Sofia Gorder. "She believes in action, jumping at the thought of creating change and doing the hard work it takes to actualize vision. She is nothing short of a force." Photos courtesy Krista Kern.


For Lisa, watching Katie receive recognition for her volunteerism is exciting: Lisa first met Katie when she was a prospective ninth grader and remembers being impressed even then by the young student’s early devotion to grassroots work. Knowing Rowland Hall supports, values, and celebrates these kinds of contributions—and works with students to develop their own unique voices—Lisa was thrilled when Katie enrolled in the Upper School, and she spent the next four years enthusiastically watching the young leader do great things, both in the school community and for the state of Utah.

“Katie did everything she thought she was going to do—and more,” said Lisa. “She’s not the kind of person to face a challenge and look for ways to dodge it. She just jumps in, using her gifts to make others’ lives better.”

Katie remembers sharing with Lisa this desire to volunteer at the grassroots level, and noted that she ultimately chose to attend Rowland Hall because she was impressed by our teachers’ obvious passion for their subjects—something she recognized in herself. And Katie credits many Rowland Hall instructors for playing a role in her journey, like history teacher Nate Kogan and English teachers Kody Partridge and Carolyn Hickman for helping her better understand politics and how the legislature works, and Director of Arts and Co-Director of Dance Sofia Gorder for showing her, a longtime and passionate dancer, how arts and activism intersect. She is also grateful to the school for providing safe spaces, whether in classrooms or at the Dinner & Dialogue events Katie helped plan and lead, to practice having the crucial conversations necessary to spark change.

“Rowland Hall gave me a lot of space and independence to do what I wanted, and I did feel supported,” Katie said.

And as evidenced by how she’s already spending her time at college, Katie isn’t slowing down. She plans to continue to devote herself to a variety of movements because, as she explained, “it feels very heavy, all the problems going on.” And she hopes this involvement—and perhaps even her Leader of Tomorrow Award—will encourage others to take action. After all, after spending so much time at the grassroots level, she’s learned how empowering it is to help chip away at problems that, at first glance, seem too enormous to tackle.

I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together.—Katie Kern ’21

“I hope other young women—or students in general—recognize that they can do something about all these crises, that they can get involved,” she reflected.

And contrary to what some might think, Katie said, it doesn’t take much time to make a difference: she recommends everyone set aside just 10 minutes a day to learn about an issue affecting their community, and then find opportunities to help fix them. This is key, because in a world filled with nonstop news about everything that’s going wrong, having a hand in change is inspiring. In fact, Katie said, it’s these moments—watching communities join together in pursuit of solutions—that make her most optimistic about the future.

“I definitely feel hope in moments when community comes together,” she said.


To ensure the health and safety of the community, YWCA Utah announced the postponement of the 2021 LeaderLuncheon—the ceremony at which Outstanding Achievement Awards are presented—until spring 2022. Those in the Rowland Hall community who are interested in this event should visit YWCA Utah’s website for details, as they become available.

Alumni

Rowland Hall Upper School students in disguise for the Drag Vs. AI workshop.

Editor's note: This piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2020–2021 Annual Report.


Computer science impacts our daily lives, but its workforce falls woefully short when it comes to reflecting national racial, ethnic, and gender demographics. Solving that problem starts with K–12 education. The subject’s proponents at Rowland Hall are ensuring equity is programmed into the curriculum—and the curriculum gets the attention it deserves—building toward a computing-literate society where everyone has a seat at the table.

During hybrid learning one February afternoon, about 40 Rowland Hall faculty, staff, and upper schoolers—some working from home, others from the Lincoln Street Campus—gradually populated a Zoom room. It started off as a standard pandemic-era Upper School class, but 20 minutes later, it looked more like an avant-garde digital dress rehearsal. Students unearthed accessories from family members’ closets and Halloween costumes past: a cowboy hat, a pair of aviation goggles, a leopard-print scarf. They cloaked themselves in masks, feather boas, heavy makeup, and oversized sunglasses.

Director of Arts Sofia Gorder and her dance students comprised half of these creative camouflagers, but despite appearances, it wasn’t prep for one of their performances. It was an open workshop held by teacher Ben Smith ’89 and his Advanced Placement Computer Science (CS) Principles class to show the Upper School community how facial-recognition technologies work and how they can be harmful, particularly for underrepresented groups.

One dance student, Mena Zendejas-Portugal ’21, wore a pink wig with bangs that covered her eyes. She used makeup to draw decoy eyes on her cheeks, below the magenta fringe. Mena and her peers smirked at their laptop cameras as a web-based program used artificial intelligence (AI) to guess their ages and genders. 

Rowland Hall computer science teacher Ben Smith participating in the Upper School's Drag Vs. AI facial-recognition workshop.

Computer science teacher Ben Smith '89 aged himself for the Drag Vs. AI workshop.


Before Mena wore her disguise, the program vacillated between misidentifying her as a 13-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. After Mena changed her appearance, ironically, the program’s guess came closer to the reality: it classified her as a 16-year-old female. 

“It wasn’t a surprise how the AI read me since I have a rounder face along with short hair,” said Mena, one of the leaders of the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee. “It’s just a confirmation for the thought of AI being built around stereotypes and constructed beauty standards that aren’t applicable to everyone.”

Algorithms permeate our daily lives, and flawed coding can have devastating real-world consequences, from wrongful arrests to housing discrimination. Ben educates the Rowland Hall community on these problems, and ensures his CS students are equipped to solve them.

Algorithms permeate our daily lives, and the type of flawed coding that Mena experienced can have devastating real-world consequences, from wrongful arrests to housing discrimination. Ben educates the Rowland Hall community on these problems, and ensures his CS students are equipped to solve them. “If these students are going to become leaders in technology, they need to have this perspective,” Ben said. “You can't ask people to have an interest in a career and not prepare them for the future ramifications of that.” 

Ben has long given students space to discuss JEDI issues but formally added it to his CS curriculum during the 2020–2021 school year. And at Rowland Hall, the marriage of CS and social justice is a natural development: the school prioritized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the 2014 Strategic Plan, and during the past school year, longtime JEDI work escalated as a priority. 

February’s facial-recognition workshop—Drag Vs. AI by the Algorithmic Justice League, which “combines art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms” of AI—helped a cross section of upper schoolers see firsthand why this work matters: “By just learning CS and not looking behind the scenes, the future could be less inclusive than we envision,” Mena reflected. Indeed, AI researcher Joy Buolamwini, a Black woman, launched the league after personally experiencing algorithmic discrimination in her work. In one project utilizing generic facial-recognition software, the program failed to detect Joy’s face until she wore a white mask. In another, she had to ask a lighter-skinned friend to stand in for her. We can solve these problems, Joy posited in a 2016 TED Talk with over 1.4 million views, by creating more inclusive code. Teams must be diverse and driven to create “a world where technology works for all of us, not just some of us, a world where we value inclusion and center social change.”

This ethos fuels Ben’s work. The Rowland Hall alumnus, now celebrating 20 years as a faculty member at his alma mater, started teaching CS in 2015 and shifted to teaching that subject exclusively two years later. From day one, he’s made it his mission to diversify CS, a field “plagued by stark underrepresentation by gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and family income,” according to CS advocacy nonprofit Code.org. The US needs more—and more diverse—computer scientists, and efforts to broaden that workforce need to start in K–12 schools. Computing jobs are the top source of all new wages in the U.S. and they make up two-thirds of all projected new jobs in STEM fields, Code.org touts, making CS one of the most in-demand college degrees. And exposure before college makes a difference: students who learn CS in high school are six times more likely to major in it. Among traditionally underrepresented groups, the likelihood is even higher: seven times for Black and Latinx students, and 10 times for women.

Ben currently relies on one-to-one recruitment to grow CS enrollment among those underrepresented populations. He read a book around 2014, during graduate school in instructional design and educational technology at the University of Utah, that sparked his professional goals: Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing by Jane Margolis. The book chronicles the lack of access to CS courses for Black and Latinx students—and addresses how to change the system. “It was just one of those eye-opening moments,” he said. “There’s no logical reason—except institutional bias—for why computer science education looks the way it does today… It’s incredibly unjust.” Since then, Ben has prioritized combating what he calls the most glaring equity issue in education today. He collaborates with other schools and organizations that are trying desperately to expand CS opportunities, and works diligently to build an equitable CS program for Rowland Hall. “With Rowland Hall's support, I’m committed to a future where all computer science courses have a student population that mirrors the demographics of the school as a whole.”

Building Curriculum from the Ground Up

Fortunately, Ben isn’t starting from scratch when sixth graders meet him in Foundations of Computer Science, a required class since 2016. Since Christian Waters stepped into the role of director of technology integration in 2013, he has crafted an arsenal of computing lessons to captivate the full spectrum of beginning and lower schoolers. Christian teaches at least one unit of digital citizenship, coding, and robotics to every lower schooler. Kids engage in hands-on activities like programming colorful toy robots and building wearable tech comprised of LED lights affixed to felt. They also get the space to think big and consider computing’s real-world applications, like furthering one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. How might they use computing, for example, to remedy a problem like overcrowding or a lack of affordable and clean energy?

Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters at Lower School Maker Night 2018, on the Salt Lake McCarthey Campus.

Christian Waters with students at the 2018 Lower School Maker Night.


Christian draws curriculum from dozens of expert educational resources, including the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Children’s Innovation Project, and Code.org. “We've built something that is really relevant, and the best combination of the best materials and resources,” Christian said. “It's not a curriculum that is sold in a big box that you wheel into a classroom, and everyone has to do it the exact same way. It's tailored to the needs of Rowland Hall and relevant to our goals and our objectives.” 

Thanks to ongoing collaboration between Christian and Ben, Rowland Hall’s CS curriculum is also vertically aligned: “We're preparing students for Advanced Placement Computer Science A Java in a way they never were before. Students in the Middle School are learning about objects, classes, functions, and variables,” Christian explained. “It's thanks in part to how we're building up from the Beginning School.”

One example of vertical alignment and mission-centric curriculum: Christian uses a Code.org activity where lower schoolers train a computer to recognize facial expressions—broaching some of the same issues upper schoolers examined in their February workshop. The crux of the Lower School lesson, according to the educator: “How do we distinguish between facial features and whether someone is happy or sad or excited, and is that even ethical to do that?” Students exercise their critical-thinking skills and confront questions involving how these programs work, and how to ensure they’re as ethical and unbiased as possible. “Ultimately what students get is that there is a lot of subjectivity in how we humans train computers,” Christian said. 

A Group Effort

Part of attracting younger and more diverse students to CS—and, down the road, reducing bias in code—entails continual, widespread exposure. Christian has not only integrated CS into classrooms, he’s also created community-wide opportunities to rally around computing and engineering. He organizes three annual events that are now synonymous with STEM culture on the McCarthey Campus: the beginning and lower school Family Maker Night in the fall, the school-wide Hour of Code in the winter, and Lower School Maker Day in the spring. “These events are designed to demystify technology and making,” Christian said. “All students can see themselves as computer scientists, coders, makers, roboticists, engineers.”

These events and the school’s CS curriculum as a whole are dominated by collaborative group work that occasionally reaches across subjects and divisions. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben Smith's Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles students collaborated annually with Tyler Stack's fourth graders to make an app that helps young students learn math. Upper schoolers worked in groups to devise and test app concepts on the lower schoolers and use their feedback to improve app design. For Katy Dark ’21, it was a highlight of Rowland Hall’s CS program: “The thing that will stick with me the most is using new interfaces to help people.” It’s a fitting favorite memory for Katy, who in 2020 became the first Rowland Hall student to win the top national award from the Aspirations in Computing program, sponsored by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). She won, in part, for her efforts tutoring students and developing a coding club at Salt Lake City’s Dual Immersion Academy, a bilingual Spanish-English charter school she attended during her elementary years.

Two Rowland Hall computer science students learning how to program a robot to write on a white board.

Two CS students learning how to program a robot to write on a white board.


The app project is a prime example of group work that can encourage underrepresented populations to pursue CS, according to Dr. Helen Hu, a Westminster College computer science professor whose work examines how educators can improve diversity in CS. “In industry there's something called agile co-programming, which is people working in groups,” said Dr. Hu, also the parent of a Rowland Hall ninth grader and seventh grader. “This is actually an important skill in computing—being able to work with others.” While some students love computing for computing, she added, a lot of others love it because of what it can do, “because of the problems you can solve, because of the impact you can have,” she said. “By doing both, by emphasizing these other parts of computing, you're helping both types of students. The students who love to code, still get to code. The students who love coding to solve problems are getting to do that. We know that students aren't going to learn it as well when you just teach it at the level of, ‘Where does the semicolon go and where do parentheses go?’”

Alex Armknecht ’20, a 2019 Aspirations in Computing regional award winner who’s now a CS major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), appreciated learning CS at a more holistic level. “I loved the CS classes at Rowland Hall and they were consistently my favorite classes throughout high school,” she said. “I loved the way Mr. Smith taught and allowed us creative freedom...his class is the main reason I am majoring in CS. I learned the importance of asking for help, creativity, and collaboration, which all have been helpful to me in my college CS classes.”

During her senior year, Alex also participated in another shining example of collaborative group work in CS: the Upper School’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge Robotics team. The team started off strong in its inaugural 2019–2020 year and has continued to evolve, Ben said: “It’s expanded the opportunities for young women to become leaders, compete, and see how other girls across the state are involved with technology and engineering.” 

During the 2020–2021 school year, juniors Irenka Saffarian and Tina Su stepped into unofficial leadership roles that bode well for the near future. Both have taken Advanced Placement CS A and are great coders, Ben said, and they pushed hard for the team to make it to the national semifinals in the FIRST Global Innovation Awards. Rowland Hall was the only team from Utah and one of only 60 teams internationally to make it that far. “Our theme right now is take it to the next level,” Ben said. “We realize we are right on the verge of getting to that level where we’re really competitive—where we actually compete with the best teams in the state.” And Irenka and Tina, Ben said, are committed to getting the team there. They embody the enthusiasm that Ben and Christian hope to cultivate across the school. “I hope that the future of taking computer science courses at Rowland Hall is increasingly coming from a place of excitement and interest and, ‘I cannot wait to use this skill in anything that interests me,’” Ben said. “It's not about a kid sitting in a basement all alone typing on their computer. This is about groups of people making exciting and interesting and really impactful decisions, and everyone needs to be at the table.”

Progress Made, and the Work Ahead

We are talking more about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty, but because technology has a lot of ground to make up here. We see ourselves as trying to help kids recognize that.—Christian Waters, director of technology integration

While Katy, Alex, Irenka, and Tina are recent success stories, Christian and Ben readily acknowledge that Rowland Hall isn’t exempt from racial and gender disparities. But the school is perpetually working “to change that from the ground up,” Christian said. Thanks in part to schoolwide training, JEDI values are ingrained in how Rowland Hall instructors design and teach tech-related classes. “We are talking more about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty, but because technology has a lot of ground to make up here. We see ourselves as trying to help kids recognize that.” 

Ané Hernandez, a junior who took AP computer science and robotics as a sophomore during the 2020–2021 year, appreciated the heightened JEDI focus. Ané’s parents are both engineers and she’s been interested in CS for as long as she can remember—the winner of a 2021 Aspirations in Computing regional honorable mention loves the art of programming. Ané, who is Mexican American, has also long been interested in JEDI issues and advocating for more equity and representation, including through Rowland Hall’s student JEDI committee. She found it compelling to see how two of her passions, JEDI and CS, are related. "As technology is rising, racial, gender, and socioeconomic problems still exist," Ané said, "so they're just becoming interwoven." 

While she’s grateful for how the JEDI units have furthered her passion for CS, she hopes her school also uses this momentum to self-reflect on, for instance, how to make CS more accessible to lower-income schools and communities. And that sort of community outreach isn’t unprecedented at Rowland Hall. In summer 2015, and in two summers that followed, Rowland Hall hosted a nonprofit Hackathon centered around teacher training. “That was a way that we contributed to a culture of learning and growth in our community,” Christian said. Educators from local public and independent schools convened on the Lincoln Street Campus to learn coding skills and how to use certain tools, like 3D printers and Arduino robots. The technology team helped cover some of the costs, Christian said, and teachers could earn state licensing credit for attending. Ben's resume is also flooded with conferences and workshops where he’s trained his peers. “It’s great for me to show a group of 15 or 20 educators how to teach a curriculum,” he said, “and then I can show them that I have a classroom with a majority of female students, and that I've been able to recruit and build, and that this is possible.”

Rowland Hall computer science teacher Ben Smith with a middle schooler on the Salt Lake City Lincoln Street Campus.

Ben teaching in the Middle School. Computer science is taught in all four Rowland Hall divisions.


These sorts of efforts could expand in the future. Rowland Hall is seriously considering ways to increase CS opportunities and spaces, and plans could solidify as early as the 2021–2022 school year. Christian and Ben are drafting a CS strategic plan that involves integrating CS with other subjects, training teachers, and expanding current classes. And Christian, Ben, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas are starting a CS task force and have asked others to join: one or two teachers from each division, Dr. Hu, and Sunny Washington, a startup COO and CEO who also serves on the board of Equality Utah. One of the task force’s first actions will be to provide feedback on the strategic plan draft.

For now, Christian and Ben’s work to recruit more—and more diverse—CS students is paying off. Since 2014, 19 Winged Lions have earned a collective 25 awards from the Aspirations in Computing program, including one win (Katy’s) and two honorable mentions at the national level. Rowland Hall also won The College Board’s 2019 and 2020 Advanced Placement Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in our AP CS Principles class. Dr. Hu lauded the achievement. “That's pretty impressive," she said—especially for Utah. "There are some states where they have tens of teachers who received this. We have three. I think that speaks to how difficult this is in the state." 

Ben, Christian, and the faculty and staff who support them remain focused on graduating good citizens armed with the tools to make tech work for all of us, not just some of us.

Ben, Christian, and the faculty and staff who support them remain focused on graduating good citizens armed with the tools to make tech work for all of us, not just some of us, as Joy Buolamwini so wisely said. Recent grad Katy is now attending Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and majoring in law—possibly cyber law. Anna Shott ’16 emailed Ben in December 2020 to share that she’d be joining Microsoft as a program manager the following year. “Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science,” wrote Anna, a University of Southern California grad who also worked as a K–12 CS camp counselor on her college campus. And current student Ané said what she learned in AP Computer Science Principles—that an algorithm can decide whether someone is granted a loan, for example—was a game-changer for her. “This experience has made me want to not only major in computer science, but a specific realm of computer science that maybe deals with AI and diversifying participants and coders so that there isn't such a large bias.”

Alex also plans on working in CS, another testament to Ben’s teaching: “I decided I wanted to go to my college when I met LMU's chair and professor of computer science and he reminded me of Mr. Smith,” she said. “I would not be a computer science major if it weren't for him. He pushed me to work my hardest, to try new things, and provided me with lots of opportunities.”

This sort of feedback keeps Ben laser-focused on boosting equity in CS at Rowland Hall and beyond. “I won’t pretend that it didn’t bring a tear to my eye,” he said. “It’s certainly fuel for the work that I do and it reminds me that it's worth doing. I could sit back on a curriculum and just deliver, and do fairly well at it. But this is beyond that. The work is more than what I teach—it’s who I’m teaching to.”

Timeline: Modern Computer Science at Rowland Hall

STEM

Rowland Hall alumna, YWCA Utah volunteer, and teacher Monet Nielsen Maggelet ’14 with her husband, alum Drew Maggelet ’13.


Rowland Hall alumna—and longtime dedicated volunteer—Monet Nielsen Maggelet ’14 believes that the practice of giving back is transformative.

“Every time I’ve volunteered, I’ve gotten more out of it than I could ever give,” she said.

Since she was a young student, Monet has donated her time to organizations she cares about. And though she’s done this for several groups over the years, she’s been especially drawn to one: YWCA Utah, the Salt Lake City-based nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

Monet remembers Rowland Hall as one important influence in the development of her love of volunteerism. “The Upper School puts a lot of emphasis on volunteering and giving back to your community,” she said.

“The first time I volunteered at YWCA Utah was during high school as part of a project for Kate Taylor's honors English class,” said Monet. “I volunteered with a group of friends to put together a fun event for families living at the shelter.”

In fact, Monet remembers Rowland Hall as one important influence in the development of her love of volunteerism—“The Upper School puts a lot of emphasis on volunteering and giving back to your community,” she said—and that initial experience at YWCA Utah inspired her to continue to support the organization. During college, she led an outreach Girl Scout troop for girls at the shelter, while also studying elementary education, history, and English as a second language (ESL). And after graduation, Monet said, she continued to feel a pull toward the organization, though she wasn’t sure how she could help while navigating the demands of a newly minted teacher.

“I wanted to do something, but it was hard for me to spend as many hours volunteering as a first-year and second-year teacher,” Monet said.

Still, she reached out to the nonprofit to explore ways she could give back, and in 2020 was offered a spot on YWCA Utah’s Board of Directors, which she joined in August of that year. Monet said it’s an honor to be asked to serve in this role and to have the chance to collaborate with YWCA Utah’s Chief Executive Officer Liz Owens, Chief Mission Impact Officer Saundra Stokes, and their team.

“They’re really leading YWCA Utah to make sure the eliminating racism part of our mission is fulfilled,” she said, “and they are always thinking critically about how to have an antiracist lens.”

I don’t think you can ever educate yourself too much. I am continuing to learn and I’m still on my own path, and I know that path is neverending.—Monet Nielsen Maggelet ’14

Monet is also contributing to these conversations: in addition to attending full-board meetings, she sits on two of the board’s committees, Public Policy and Racial Equity and Social Justice, where she lends her experiences, particularly as an educator, to help YWCA Utah fulfill its mission. Monet was even invited to share her perspective on this necessary work in a video the organization recently created for its Stronger Together campaign (see above), which celebrates 115 years of the nonprofit’s service in Utah.

“I truly believe that it’s my duty to be an advocate for all of my students,” Monet said in the video. “I want all of my students of color to know I am working to educate myself and to stand up for them.”

Monet invites members of the Rowland Hall community to also help support this important work: she recommends joining YWCA Utah’s 21-Day Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge, which begins June 21 and will lead participants on a journey around the core concepts on race equity so that they can have the necessary conversations that will contribute toward making Utah a safer place for everyone.

“I don’t think you can ever educate yourself too much,” Monet said. “I am continuing to learn and I’m still on my own path, and I know that path is neverending.”


Banner photo: Monet with her husband, fellow Rowland Hall alum Drew Maggelet ’13.

Alumni

Alum comedian Jamie Pierce

Alum Jamie Pierce ’98 thrives in all sorts of spotlights: he’s a classically trained dancer with theatre credits galore, and as a comedian, he was named a Laugh Factory top-10 national emerging comic and has opened for industry legends such as Wanda Sykes and Janeane Garofalo.

Now, Jamie—who honed his performing arts skills on our Larimer Center stage—will grace Rowland Hall’s virtual stage to host our April 17 stand-up comedy auction benefiting school financial aid, faculty professional development, and our ongoing COVID-19 response.

What a thrill to now be master of ceremonies for such a glamorous event! And this year it’s taking place in the most glittering venue of them all—my living room.—Jamie Pierce ’98

“When I was in high school, I remember being jealous of the adults who got to dress up fancy and attend the auction,” Jamie said. “What a thrill to now be master of ceremonies for such a glamorous event! And this year it’s taking place in the most glittering venue of them all—my living room.”

We can’t wait for Jamie—aided by a few other hilarious community members—to crack us up for a good cause. Visit our auction webpage to read more and get ready to STAND UP Rowland Hall on April 17.

Jamie Pierce's Biography

After graduating from Rowland Hall, Jamie began his career as a classically trained dancer (BFA, ballet, University of Utah) performing with the Utah Ballet Company before moving to New York where he appeared in The Music Man and Broadway Dances. Other professional theatre credits include Carousel, Dreamgirls, Urinetown, and The Wild Party, as well as Evita, Phantom, and Peter Pan with Utah’s Pioneer Theatre Company. In 2019, he received an Ovation Award nomination for his performance in the Los Angeles production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and most recently created the role of “Frank” in the world-premier play, Embridge. As a comedian, he was selected as a Laugh Factory top-10 national emerging comic and was featured in the New York Comedy Festival at Caroline’s on Broadway. He has performed as the opening act for notable comedy legends including Wanda Sykes and Janeane Garofalo. On screen, Jamie can be seen as the title role in the film festival favorite Bill (2021) as well as the lead in the music video for “Just Party” by hip-hop artist Supanova Galaxy. He has also appeared in numerous TV commercials. Jamie is host of the top-rated podcast Hello, Gorgeous! (#43 on iTunes). He currently lives in Los Angeles.

auction

You Belong at Rowland Hall