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Rowland Hall is thrilled to announce that senior Ben Amiel was honored as the 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 19. This annual award goes to one role model who’s under age 30 and demonstrates exceptional and sustained commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism in the community.

Ben’s nomination was spearheaded by Jewish Family Service (JFS), where he began volunteering in the food pantry at age 13 for his bar mitzvah project. Ben still serves in the food pantry today, and over the years has taken on more responsibility: in fall 2017, when JFS received a grant to enlarge the pantry, Ben helped reorganize the space. In 2018, he ran an iPod drive and fundraiser for Music and Memory, a program for people suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients.—Jewish Family Service

“Ben brings a kind, calming presence to the agency,” the JFS team wrote in their nomination letter. “He seems to recognize the value in each person, and also in what we do to support them.” And his work makes a difference—his dedication to Music and Memory, for instance, resulted in the most successful donation drive in JFS history.

“Ben’s willingness to commit to JFS, adapting and finding additional ways to support and further our work is exceptional,” the team said. “It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients. Many of our volunteers opt in for a short time, often fulfilling a goal or project, or doing something they think will look good on a resume. Ben is a committed volunteer.”

His demonstrated devotion to JFS helped set Ben apart from other nominees in the Outstanding Young Volunteer category. “What’s superlative about Ben is his tremendous, and ongoing, commitment to JFS,” said Utah Philanthropy Day committee member Jessie Foster Strike. “Each year, Ben has found new ways to deepen his contributions to the organization, which has allowed JFS to deepen its service to the community. Whether he’s stocking shelves in the food pantry, organizing a fundraiser, or educating himself on a new program, he sees an opportunity, steps up, and take the initiative to help.”

Ben Amiel at the Jewish Family Service food pantry.

Ben Amiel working in Jewish Family Service's food pantry. Photo courtesy Darcy Amiel

Ben’s dedication to JFS, on top of his rigorous academic and extracurricular load, would be impressive on its own. But he has also chosen to dedicate much of his time to serving fellow students at Rowland Hall, where he’s attended school since third grade.

“Over the years, I have seen the development of a truly sincere mentor of younger students and a hardworking individual who values and contributes to his community,” wrote Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund in one of the letters that the school contributed to the JFS nomination.

Ben’s commitment to leadership and service at Rowland Hall is best illustrated by his involvement with the school’s debate program. A successful debater himself (he’s an Academic All-American, a National Qualifier, and has won awards at tournaments all over the state and country), Ben has mentored Middle School debate students since his freshman year, happily giving his limited free time to tasks like helping students hone their research and argumentation skills and judging tournaments.

“Debate is Ben's life and he's naturally drawn to opportunities that let him showcase his experience and wisdom,” said Debate Coach Mike Shackelford. He explained that Ben played a major role in establishing the debate mentoring program, including setting the tone and expectations for those who want to help. And he doesn’t shy away from the time-consuming work required, Mike said, because he understands the benefits of mentoring. “Ben will go out of his way to give real coaching feedback. He'll write out comprehensive evaluations. He'll proofread student work. He's always pushing them to meet their potential.”

Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy. More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.—Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund

This influence on middle schoolers is powerful, particularly because Ben has been in their shoes and serves as an example of where hard work can lead. “Middle School students can relate to Ben in direct and meaningful ways that I will never be able to,” Mike said. “They can see themselves on the same path. This gives them confidence and assurance that it will work out.”

Ben’s love of debate and, most importantly, to learning itself, also inspired him to establish a student debate group that meets weekly to discuss timely political topics. “Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy,” Ryan wrote. “More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.”

Mike agreed. “He's always had a larger perspective on why he debates. For him, debate is a means to an end. He doesn't do it for trophies—he participates because he loves the challenge, the skill development, the knowledge he gains, and the people he meets. Setting up clubs and doing service is just a natural extension to this purposeful approach to activities.”

It is this natural drive to use his strengths to make a difference that truly sets Ben apart as a leader. Former Upper School history teacher Fiona Halloran summed it up when she wrote, “I believe that Ben is a person for whom puzzles and challenges are central to intellectual and personal engagement. He thinks the world ought to function smoothly. It does not. So he seeks ideas and actions that can make it a little better.”

Thank you, Ben, for your commitment to making the world a little better every day. From all of us at Rowland Hall, congratulations on this recognition.

Students

Senior Ben Amiel Honored as Utah Philanthropy Day’s Outstanding Young Volunteer

 

Rowland Hall is thrilled to announce that senior Ben Amiel was honored as the 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 19. This annual award goes to one role model who’s under age 30 and demonstrates exceptional and sustained commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism in the community.

Ben’s nomination was spearheaded by Jewish Family Service (JFS), where he began volunteering in the food pantry at age 13 for his bar mitzvah project. Ben still serves in the food pantry today, and over the years has taken on more responsibility: in fall 2017, when JFS received a grant to enlarge the pantry, Ben helped reorganize the space. In 2018, he ran an iPod drive and fundraiser for Music and Memory, a program for people suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients.—Jewish Family Service

“Ben brings a kind, calming presence to the agency,” the JFS team wrote in their nomination letter. “He seems to recognize the value in each person, and also in what we do to support them.” And his work makes a difference—his dedication to Music and Memory, for instance, resulted in the most successful donation drive in JFS history.

“Ben’s willingness to commit to JFS, adapting and finding additional ways to support and further our work is exceptional,” the team said. “It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients. Many of our volunteers opt in for a short time, often fulfilling a goal or project, or doing something they think will look good on a resume. Ben is a committed volunteer.”

His demonstrated devotion to JFS helped set Ben apart from other nominees in the Outstanding Young Volunteer category. “What’s superlative about Ben is his tremendous, and ongoing, commitment to JFS,” said Utah Philanthropy Day committee member Jessie Foster Strike. “Each year, Ben has found new ways to deepen his contributions to the organization, which has allowed JFS to deepen its service to the community. Whether he’s stocking shelves in the food pantry, organizing a fundraiser, or educating himself on a new program, he sees an opportunity, steps up, and take the initiative to help.”

Ben Amiel at the Jewish Family Service food pantry.

Ben Amiel working in Jewish Family Service's food pantry. Photo courtesy Darcy Amiel

Ben’s dedication to JFS, on top of his rigorous academic and extracurricular load, would be impressive on its own. But he has also chosen to dedicate much of his time to serving fellow students at Rowland Hall, where he’s attended school since third grade.

“Over the years, I have seen the development of a truly sincere mentor of younger students and a hardworking individual who values and contributes to his community,” wrote Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund in one of the letters that the school contributed to the JFS nomination.

Ben’s commitment to leadership and service at Rowland Hall is best illustrated by his involvement with the school’s debate program. A successful debater himself (he’s an Academic All-American, a National Qualifier, and has won awards at tournaments all over the state and country), Ben has mentored Middle School debate students since his freshman year, happily giving his limited free time to tasks like helping students hone their research and argumentation skills and judging tournaments.

“Debate is Ben's life and he's naturally drawn to opportunities that let him showcase his experience and wisdom,” said Debate Coach Mike Shackelford. He explained that Ben played a major role in establishing the debate mentoring program, including setting the tone and expectations for those who want to help. And he doesn’t shy away from the time-consuming work required, Mike said, because he understands the benefits of mentoring. “Ben will go out of his way to give real coaching feedback. He'll write out comprehensive evaluations. He'll proofread student work. He's always pushing them to meet their potential.”

Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy. More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.—Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund

This influence on middle schoolers is powerful, particularly because Ben has been in their shoes and serves as an example of where hard work can lead. “Middle School students can relate to Ben in direct and meaningful ways that I will never be able to,” Mike said. “They can see themselves on the same path. This gives them confidence and assurance that it will work out.”

Ben’s love of debate and, most importantly, to learning itself, also inspired him to establish a student debate group that meets weekly to discuss timely political topics. “Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy,” Ryan wrote. “More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.”

Mike agreed. “He's always had a larger perspective on why he debates. For him, debate is a means to an end. He doesn't do it for trophies—he participates because he loves the challenge, the skill development, the knowledge he gains, and the people he meets. Setting up clubs and doing service is just a natural extension to this purposeful approach to activities.”

It is this natural drive to use his strengths to make a difference that truly sets Ben apart as a leader. Former Upper School history teacher Fiona Halloran summed it up when she wrote, “I believe that Ben is a person for whom puzzles and challenges are central to intellectual and personal engagement. He thinks the world ought to function smoothly. It does not. So he seeks ideas and actions that can make it a little better.”

Thank you, Ben, for your commitment to making the world a little better every day. From all of us at Rowland Hall, congratulations on this recognition.

Students

Explore More Ethical Education Stories

Ben Amiel 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer

 

Rowland Hall is thrilled to announce that senior Ben Amiel was honored as the 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 19. This annual award goes to one role model who’s under age 30 and demonstrates exceptional and sustained commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism in the community.

Ben’s nomination was spearheaded by Jewish Family Service (JFS), where he began volunteering in the food pantry at age 13 for his bar mitzvah project. Ben still serves in the food pantry today, and over the years has taken on more responsibility: in fall 2017, when JFS received a grant to enlarge the pantry, Ben helped reorganize the space. In 2018, he ran an iPod drive and fundraiser for Music and Memory, a program for people suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients.—Jewish Family Service

“Ben brings a kind, calming presence to the agency,” the JFS team wrote in their nomination letter. “He seems to recognize the value in each person, and also in what we do to support them.” And his work makes a difference—his dedication to Music and Memory, for instance, resulted in the most successful donation drive in JFS history.

“Ben’s willingness to commit to JFS, adapting and finding additional ways to support and further our work is exceptional,” the team said. “It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients. Many of our volunteers opt in for a short time, often fulfilling a goal or project, or doing something they think will look good on a resume. Ben is a committed volunteer.”

His demonstrated devotion to JFS helped set Ben apart from other nominees in the Outstanding Young Volunteer category. “What’s superlative about Ben is his tremendous, and ongoing, commitment to JFS,” said Utah Philanthropy Day committee member Jessie Foster Strike. “Each year, Ben has found new ways to deepen his contributions to the organization, which has allowed JFS to deepen its service to the community. Whether he’s stocking shelves in the food pantry, organizing a fundraiser, or educating himself on a new program, he sees an opportunity, steps up, and take the initiative to help.”

Ben Amiel at the Jewish Family Service food pantry.

Ben Amiel working in Jewish Family Service's food pantry. Photo courtesy Darcy Amiel

Ben’s dedication to JFS, on top of his rigorous academic and extracurricular load, would be impressive on its own. But he has also chosen to dedicate much of his time to serving fellow students at Rowland Hall, where he’s attended school since third grade.

“Over the years, I have seen the development of a truly sincere mentor of younger students and a hardworking individual who values and contributes to his community,” wrote Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund in one of the letters that the school contributed to the JFS nomination.

Ben’s commitment to leadership and service at Rowland Hall is best illustrated by his involvement with the school’s debate program. A successful debater himself (he’s an Academic All-American, a National Qualifier, and has won awards at tournaments all over the state and country), Ben has mentored Middle School debate students since his freshman year, happily giving his limited free time to tasks like helping students hone their research and argumentation skills and judging tournaments.

“Debate is Ben's life and he's naturally drawn to opportunities that let him showcase his experience and wisdom,” said Debate Coach Mike Shackelford. He explained that Ben played a major role in establishing the debate mentoring program, including setting the tone and expectations for those who want to help. And he doesn’t shy away from the time-consuming work required, Mike said, because he understands the benefits of mentoring. “Ben will go out of his way to give real coaching feedback. He'll write out comprehensive evaluations. He'll proofread student work. He's always pushing them to meet their potential.”

Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy. More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.—Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund

This influence on middle schoolers is powerful, particularly because Ben has been in their shoes and serves as an example of where hard work can lead. “Middle School students can relate to Ben in direct and meaningful ways that I will never be able to,” Mike said. “They can see themselves on the same path. This gives them confidence and assurance that it will work out.”

Ben’s love of debate and, most importantly, to learning itself, also inspired him to establish a student debate group that meets weekly to discuss timely political topics. “Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy,” Ryan wrote. “More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.”

Mike agreed. “He's always had a larger perspective on why he debates. For him, debate is a means to an end. He doesn't do it for trophies—he participates because he loves the challenge, the skill development, the knowledge he gains, and the people he meets. Setting up clubs and doing service is just a natural extension to this purposeful approach to activities.”

It is this natural drive to use his strengths to make a difference that truly sets Ben apart as a leader. Former Upper School history teacher Fiona Halloran summed it up when she wrote, “I believe that Ben is a person for whom puzzles and challenges are central to intellectual and personal engagement. He thinks the world ought to function smoothly. It does not. So he seeks ideas and actions that can make it a little better.”

Thank you, Ben, for your commitment to making the world a little better every day. From all of us at Rowland Hall, congratulations on this recognition.

Students

Teacher Katie Williams watches a student construct a home out of blocks.

In late October, Katie Williams’ and Vicki Smith's kindergarten class buzzed with the noise of pint-sized architects and construction workers busy assembling miniature versions of their family homes. With printed photos as their guides and wooden and foam blocks as their materials, the children were hard at work building walls, adding stories, and brainstorming methods for constructing tricky architectural features.

This activity is one of many that makes up the unit of study on community that takes place every October and November. Katie explained that the unit—which begins after the first month of school, when students meet one another, and concludes before the family-centered Thanksgiving holiday break—is a fantastic way to help children discover more about themselves, their classmates, and their families, as well as how everyone fits into the communities around them.

By helping students see the bigger picture of how lives intertwine, they begin to learn how to balance the needs of themselves and others.

The class began the unit by reading Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, which explores the animal inhabitants of Busytown and how they work together to provide food, housing, and clothing for their families. The story started a kid-friendly discussion on the interconnectedness of communities, and because it also identifies children as helper workers, it opened the students’ eyes to their own place within their communities. “They’re still identifying who they are,” Katie said. By helping them see the bigger picture of how lives intertwine, she continued, “they begin to learn how to balance the needs of themselves and others.”

The class built on their discoveries. After identifying what makes them special individually, they expanded the discussion outward: from a person to a classroom community; from the classroom to the school community; from the school community to the surrounding neighborhood; and so on, up to the global community. The class took a walking field trip to 9th and 9th, where students identified what the Salt Lake City neighborhood and Busytown have in common (a bakery, a salon, and a fire station, among other things). The trip ended at Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus, where the children enjoyed exploring the middle and upper schools they may one day attend.

Each person is one of many and responsible for helping their community.—Kindergarten teacher Katie Williams

While the unit’s activities are definitely fun, they also stretch young learners developmentally. For example, collaborating with peers on community maps sharpened the children’s social-emotional skills, while solving problems—like how to replicate the particularly difficult slope of a roof—built cognitive skills.

The unit also guided them toward the goal of balancing their needs with those of others. On that October morning, the students who first completed their homes began helping those who needed assistance, and after construction was complete, they connected their creations with roads, turning the classroom into a mini-neighborhood. It was a reminder that every student contributes to making kindergarten an enjoyable place. After all, as Katie said, each person is one of many and responsible for helping their community.

Academics

Four students sitting around their teacher, learning about computers and circuits.

After years of watching CSforAll Summit videos online, Rowland Hall alumnus and computer science teacher Ben Smith ’89 is elated to attend the national conference in person: the third-annual event is happening October 21–23 here in Salt Lake City, at the University of Utah.

In conjunction with the summit, CSforAll asks participants to make a specific commitment to support the ultimate goal of “making high-quality computer science an integral part of the educational experience of all K–12 students and teachers.” Accordingly, Rowland Hall is committing to increase girls’ participation in computer science to more closely mirror the school's demographics. 

Read on for a Q&A with Ben about that commitment, the summit, and why this matters to Rowland Hall.

Graphic: Rowland Hall commits to increasing the participation of girls in computer science.

Who from Rowland Hall is attending the CSforAll Summit?  

I’m going with Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey and Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters. It’s Rowland Hall’s first time sending anyone. The summit was originally held in the Obama White House for the first few years, and now it travels to a new city each year. This is a great opportunity to have this event in our hometown, very close to the school.

The summit is the one place each year that focuses on equity, inclusion, and access to CS for all students, a goal that Rowland Hall and the computer science program have been dedicated to for quite some time.—Computer Science teacher Ben Smith ’89

Why are you excited to attend the summit?

I’m a member of the CSforAll teacher community, and I watch the announcements and videos coming out of the summit each year. The summit is the one place each year that focuses on equity, inclusion, and access to CS for all students, a goal that Rowland Hall and the computer science program have been dedicated to for quite some time.

Why did we set a broad commitment, as opposed to a narrow one (for instance, “launch a coding camp”)?

We wanted a commitment that each division and each teacher could adopt, even if the method by which they accomplish it varies based on circumstances. Perhaps one division could pursue integrating CS into all science and math classrooms, thereby reaching all students, while another one might make a concerted effort at recruitment strategies, and another might reconfigure the course offerings or schedule to accommodate CS for all students.

What do you hope to get out of the conference that will help us reach our goal?

I hope to hear from people about structures, innovative strategies, and methods for making our commitment possible. There are some important topics at the conference, such as "Teaching Ethics and Social Impacts of Computing in K–12 CS," "Building a Supportive Pathway for Girls in CS, Engineering, and Beyond," and "Inspiring Engagement through Popular Culture and Media."

What has our male/female CS participation looked like in the past several years?

We’ve tracked participation in tech and CS classes in the Middle School and Upper School for six years. In both divisions, we’ve moved the needle for girls participating in CS classes closer to our school demographics (which are roughly 50/50), with the Middle School reaching a high in 2017 of 40% participation by girls. This year, the Advanced Placement CS courses in the Upper School have 60% girls—a majority for the first time at Rowland Hall. We still have challenges with the competing interests of sports, theater, dance, and music on students’ schedules, as CS is not a required course. What’s impressive is that we’ve been able to consciously and successfully close the gap for girls, though we still need to look at students of color and other demographic factors.

Add anything else you think is important.

Rowland Hall's CS, engineering, and STEM program has grown immensely in the last six years, and we’re on the precipice of changes and adoption at all divisions.

STEM

Claire Wang in front of US Capitol
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

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