Custom Class: post-landing-hero

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Alumni

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Alumni

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Sophie Zheng with her Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award

On March 5, Rowland Hall eighth grader Sophie Zheng learned that she had earned an inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award for her January 30 performance on the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) 10 exam, an optional test designed to promote the development and enhancement of problem-solving skills for students in tenth grade and below.

The inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award was awarded to only 149 young women out of 36,000 AMC 10 competitors across the United States.

Named after the late Maryam Mirzakhani—an International Mathematical Olympiad gold medalist and the first woman honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics—this prize was given to only 149 young women out of 36,000 AMC 10 competitors across the United States. Sophie was one of six top-scoring female students in the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Intermountain Section, which covers Utah and part of Idaho.

Earning the Mirzakhani award feels extra special to Sophie, who grew up around the campus of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, when Mirzakhani was a faculty member at neighboring Princeton University.

“Winning the award makes me feel like I’ve truly met her now,” said Sophie.

In addition to earning her the Mirzakhani award, Sophie’s score on this year’s AMC 10 also qualified her for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), the next level of AMC competition. Sophie was one of four Rowland Hall students, and the youngest, who took the AIME this year. Upper School math teacher Adella Croft, who proctors AMC exams at the school, wasn’t surprised to learn of Sophie’s accomplishments. She believes that anyone who watches her work can see her passion.

“One of the things that I think characterizes Sophie is just the sheer joy she takes in doing mathematics,” Adella said. “She has so much fun with it; she makes it look effortless.”

I enjoy the exhilarating moment when an equation starts fitting together into a sudden revelation.—Sophie Zheng

This may, in part, be tied to how mathematics knits together Sophie’s love for both the creative and the analytical.

“I have always seen myself as an artist, taking on piano, drawing, and origami, but now math is a new aspect incorporated into my life,” she explained. “I enjoy the exhilarating moment when an equation starts fitting together into a sudden revelation. I find math hidden in nature’s beauty: recursion in the trees, the curve of bird wings. These intricate mathematical patterns can also bring a whole new inspiration and style when creating art and origami.”

Her passion for mathematics at such a young age both underscores Sophie’s promise in the field and serves as an inspirational example of girls’ strength in STEM. The MAA hopes that publicizing such examples will encourage more girls to get involved with opportunities like competitive exams. Here at Rowland Hall, Sophie is already doing her part to encourage others in math—she’s a charismatic leader who happily mentors peers in class and at Math Club meetings, Adella said. Sophie added that this support works both ways: Rowland Hall offers a welcome and hardworking family that has supported her journey—one that she hopes will echo Maryam Mirzakhani’s.

“I hope in the future to not only be recognized among females, but in the whole community of competition math, as she was,” Sophie said.

We can’t wait to see what else you achieve, Sophie. Congratulations on this exciting and impressive accomplishment!

STEM

Rowland Hall's 2020 American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) qualifiers

For three hours on March 11, four exceptional Rowland Hall mathematicians—juniors Zach Benton and Yuchen Yang, freshman Zach Klein, and eighth grader Sophie Zheng—were in the Eccles Library, focused on the 15 problems that made up this year’s American Invitational Mathematics Examination.

The AMC 10 and AMC 12 are optional mathematical exams designed to promote the development and enhancement of students’ problem-solving skills. Each test is 75 minutes long and consists of 25 multiple-choice questions. The AMC 10 is offered to students in 10th grade and below, while the AMC 12 is offered to students in 12th grade and below. AMC 10/12 qualifiers are invited to take the AIME, a three-hour exam that consists of 15 questions, with each answer an integer number between 0 to 999.

Known to test takers as simply the AIME, this exam is offered to students who excel at the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) 10 or AMC 12 exams (see sidebar). According to the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), which creates the AMC exams, approximately the top 2.5% of scorers on the AMC 10 and the top 5% of scorers on the AMC 12 qualify to take the AIME.

“The fact that we had four students from Rowland Hall take the AIME is extraordinary,” said Upper School math teacher Adella Croft. In fact, this is the largest number of AIME qualifiers in Rowland Hall history. (It’s also worth noting that Nathan Zhou, who took the AIME at Rowland Hall on March 11, attended the school last year and was coached with the other qualifiers.)

“The AIME is about mathematics beyond the classroom, about kids’ ability to be creative,” Adella explained. “And it’s typically non-traditional problem-solving—it’s very clever, sometimes even humorous. It’s cool.”

The MAA points out a variety of exam benefits, from helping students develop positive attitudes toward analytical thinking and mathematics that can assist in future careers, to challenging them with interesting questions that align with what they’re learning in school. But to be prepared for this level of competition, students must be willing to devote hours outside of class to studying topics like number theory, set theory, geometry, and probability. Rowland Hall students also meet weekly for Math Club and with coach Hiram Golze, one of Adella’s former students and a one-time USA Mathematical Olympiad qualifier (the Mathematical Olympiad is the next level of competition for top AIME scorers). Adella likened these preparatory measures to violin soloists who devote hours each day to mastering their instrument. “This is like taking math to the level of an artist,” she said.

And it’s that devotion to mathematical proficiency that truly motivates these students. While earning as high a score as they can on the AIME is always a goal, it’s clear there’s much more to the experience than that. These exams, taken by some of the brightest young mathematicians in the world, are extremely difficult—in 2006, for example, 22,764 students sat for the AIME and earned an average score of 2.741 out of 15 points (and only four students had a perfect score that year). In 2019, the average score was 5.87. But rather than discouraging them, the difficulty drives the Rowland Hall students toward their individual bests, helping them sharpen problem-solving skills, embrace hard work, and enjoy pursuing knowledge for its own sake—skills that will serve them for life.

It is a persistence exercise. They do it in absolute silence and isolation, pitting their mental faculties against each problem.—Upper School math teacher Adella Croft

“It is a persistence exercise,” said Adella. “It’s too bad it’s not a spectator sport because these are as competitive performers as any. They do it without an audience. They do it in absolute silence and isolation, pitting their mental faculties against each problem. They’re resilient, they’re passionate, they’re driven, they’re fearless.”

And they’re also not letting social distancing stop them. Each week, the students are meeting virtually for tutoring and for Math Club—amazingly, as a bigger group.

“It’s growing!” Adella said, noting that after she sent an email to students about ways to participate in Math Club during distance learning, she received several replies from kids who were interested in joining for the first time.

“Beyond finding a way, it’s spreading. It’s infectious in a good way,” she laughed.

STEM

Due to COVID-19, the MAA has put an indefinite hold on all aspects of the AMC program, including postponing until further notice competitions and the scheduled grading session. We will update this story with news as it becomes available.

In the meantime, if you’re curious about what the AIME looks like, visit Art of Problem Solving. They create test prep resources for math exams and offer a collection of past AIME questions and answers.


Top photo, from left, standing: Yuchen Yang, Nathan Zhou, Sophie Zheng, Zach Klein, and Hiram Golze. From left, seated: Adella Croft and Zach Benton.

Robotics students and teacher in team uniforms.

In their inaugural year, our Upper School FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team not only racked up enough wins to qualify for the Utah Championship at Weber State University on February 22—they also left that event with the coveted Control Award.

According to teacher Ben Smith, Rowland Hall cinched that accolade—one of 10 awards in a competition among 36 teams—"for use of telemetry, image recognition, autonomous programming, and creative coding."

"This was our rookie year," Ben explained, "and given that fact and the fact that it was the first robotics experience for many of the team members, our qualifying for state and winning the Control Award is commendable to be sure." Below, watch Ben's video of Rowland Hall's robot roaming an Upper School hallway prior to the state match.

Senior Lucas Erickson, the team’s lead coder, said the group had hoped to continue in the challenge beyond the state level—but they still agree they did a great job for their first year. “Building the robot and getting to become a member of the FIRST competition community was well worth the time and effort that we spent, even if we're not thoroughly satisfied with our performance at state,” Lucas said. And the Control Award was no small feat, he added. Competition for it was stiffer than usual this year, “and we were still able to beat out the veteran teams that have been perfecting their code for years.”

Building the robot and getting to become a member of the FIRST competition community was well worth the time and effort.—Senior Lucas Erickson, lead coder

FTC is a global competition for teams of up to 15 members, and it’s open to students in grades seven through twelve. It involves designing, building, programming, and operating robots to complete tasks based around a given theme. The theme is reimagined annually, meaning challenges change every year. Watch FTC’s video explaining this year's theme, SKYSTONE, and how the competition works.

Our team—known in competitions as Rowland Hall Rowbotics (emphasis added to show the intended pun)—is currently made up of seven active members who have coding, organizational, and engineering skills to share. This year's team leaders include seniors Lucas (coding), Logan Bateman (organizing), and Shoji Mori (engineering), as well as junior Maddy Eatchel (scouting). After their success at the state competition, the group also got a chance to showcase their robot at the March 10–11 Utah Coalition for Educational Technology Conference in Provo. Following the COVID-19 outbreak and our campus closure, the team now maintains its momentum via regular Zoom meetings. And there are some virtual and in-person events still planned for the summer, Ben said.

Looking ahead, Ben hopes to expand this program for next year: in addition to a varsity team of 10 to 15 members, he wants to add a rookie team for students in grades seven through nine.

If you’re a Rowland Hall community member interested in volunteering to coach or otherwise help organize our growing FTC robotics program, or you know of a business or enterprise that might want to sponsor the team, Ben wants to hear from you—email bensmith@rowlandhall.org.

stem

Mick Gee in classroom

As we enter the second half of the academic year, the Rowland Hall team is hard at work preparing for milestone events, including the April 24 all-community celebration honoring beloved Head of School Alan Sparrow, who retires in June. After Alan’s departure, Rowland Hall will begin a new era, with Michael “Mick” Gee installed as our 20th head of school; he begins July 1.

Mick was the natural choice to lead Rowland Hall, and the Head of School Search Committee, formed after Alan announced his retirement in October 2018, was unanimous in recommending him for the job. In her June 2019 email to the Rowland Hall community, Board Chair Jennifer Price-Wallin wrote, “Throughout our comprehensive process, Mick emerged as the educational leader who best embodies the core attributes our school community seeks in our next head.”

Mick’s background—rich in administrative leadership and teaching experience—will be instrumental in building on Alan’s 28-year legacy and the school’s 153-year history. Many in our community are especially excited about how Mick’s science training will help shape the school. Prior to becoming an administrator, Mick taught courses like physics and chemistry, which greatly influenced his approach to education and his beliefs about how students learn and their capacity for knowledge.

“I always say there’s a big difference between teaching science and teaching kids to be scientists,” Mick explained. “We do a lot of the former—we teach a lot of knowledge, and we do labs and things like that. But we don’t often give kids a chance to be real scientists who create knowledge—who actually go into uncharted areas and solve problems by devising their own experiments.”

It’s important for students to feel that the work they’re doing can have an actual impact. That’s an incredibly powerful experience.

This mentality dovetails with the momentum from Rowland Hall's Strategic Plan that is already happening on our campuses: teachers such as Molly Lewis and Alisa Poppen have championed similar ideas around empowering students to become scientists. And this approach is especially appealing to today’s students, Mick said, because they are looking for context and meaning for what they learn in class—and they want to make a tangible difference.

“I think it’s important for students to feel that the work they’re doing can have an actual impact,” he said. “That’s an incredibly powerful experience.”

One way Mick has supported active learning was through the creation of three Centers for Impact—for STEM and innovation, global engagement, and entrepreneurship—at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York, where he is currently head of school. Today, these centers give students opportunities to apply classroom skills and knowledge in real-world ways—for example, their science research course is designed to allow students to choose their own research thesis, collaborate with an expert in their chosen field, and present their findings to peers. Some students have even been published.

“It sounds like I’m describing PhD research—and some of the students that I’ve seen do this are in third grade,” Mick said. “We used to think students in third, fourth, or fifth grade could only learn knowledge—they couldn’t create knowledge. It’s just not true. Now we see students of all ages engaged in problem solving from a scientific and engineering point of view. They’ve got the skill set, they’re applying the skills, and they’re coming up with solutions that many adults haven’t thought of.”

Importantly, Mick believes that teachers of any subject, not just the sciences, can create active engagement opportunities that prepare students to enjoy pursuing knowledge, helping them thrive in an ever-changing world.

“Schools are where we find the joy in learning,” he said.

STEM

You Belong at Rowland Hall