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Welcome, Grandparents!

Grandparents of our students are valued members of our community, and we hope you'll enjoy a rewarding association with the school. As a Rowland Hall grandparent, you'll be invited to community events, you'll have opportunities to volunteer, and you'll be able to connect with other wonderful families! We hope you take advantage of these ways to get involved:

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Grandparents Day will be held on March 17, 2023. Please be sure to update your contact information above to ensure you receive an invitation! We look forward to seeing you.

Meet our Grandparent Chairs

Grandparent Chairs

Jim and Sandy Pagoaga
Grandparents to Lower School students, William and Oliver.

School Stories from Fine Print Magazine

House of Light: A Teacher, A Renowned Literary Legacy, and the Reach of Inspired Learning

By Ashley Atwood and Robert Wilson
Original Watercolors by Annie Nash, Class of 2023

Editor's note: This piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 Annual Report.

In May, Upper School science teacher Rob Wilson embarked on an opportunity of a lifetime: a trip to Ketchum, Idaho, to reside in the home of Ernest and Mary Hemingway as a visiting scholar. There, he wrote teaching resources based on his own use of Hemingway in the science classroom, as well as conducted the property’s first biological inventory. It was both a personal journey and a chance for the educator to invite students into his experience, showing them what is possible when you pursue and cultivate knowledge and passion.

In late 1939, riding the high of celebrity built as a bestselling author and international war correspondent, Ernest Hemingway traveled to the newly built Sun Valley resort in Idaho on a publicity trip. While the writer was familiar with opportunities like this, it’s almost certain he was unprepared for the impact this trip would have on his life. From that first visit, he saw the Wood River Valley—home to Sun Valley and the former mining town of Ketchum—as a refuge, an idyllic place in which to socialize, hunt, fish, and write. He returned often over the next 20 years, and in 1959 moved to Ketchum full time with his fourth wife, Mary, after their exile from Cuba. The home they bought would be their last together, a place in which they could recharge, write, and entertain, whispers of cottonwood leaves and the rumble of the Big Wood River their constant companions. It is also where, on the morning of July 2, 1961, Ernest’s life ended in the foyer.

Mary Hemingway kept the home after her husband’s death and continued to visit it until her own passing in 1986, when she bequeathed it to The Nature Conservancy with instructions that it be turned into a nature reference library. In 2017, ownership of the house passed to The Community Library of Ketchum, which today honors the Hemingways’ legacy in Idaho through preservation work and educational opportunities, including an annual seminar that attracts those captivated by the author’s life and work. In 2019, the library completed a renovation of the home’s ground-floor garage into an apartment for visiting writers and scholars—a space in which invited guests can take in the landscape that inspired one of the greatest writers of a generation, find sanctuary in which to create, and walk away changed by this house of light.

Photos of Ernest and Mary Hemingway's historic house, located in in Ketchum, Idaho


That night we lay on the floor in the room and I listened to the silkworms eating. The silkworms fed in racks of mulberry leaves and all night you could hear them eating and a dropping sound in the leaves. I myself did not want to sleep because I had been living for a long time with the knowledge that if I ever shut my eyes in the dark and let myself go, my soul would go out of my body.
— Ernest Hemingway, “Now I Lay Me”

For a long time I avoided seeing the house. When I went to Ketchum, I would visit the grave in the town cemetery or the monument on Trail Creek, but I did not want to see the house. It seemed like an invasion of privacy, and it was not until I was invited late last year that I laid my eyes upon it. When I was invited to stay there, I was both thrilled and frightened; I was afraid that I might not be able to sleep knowing what happened in the foyer.

My first night in the house I did not fall asleep for a long time, until I slept deeply in the wee hours of the morning and awoke with a start from a bad dream. There was a hint of light to the east, and I could hear a robin. Ecologist Aldo Leopold calculated that “the robin will give voice when the light intensity reaches 0.01 candlepower.” I’ll take his word for it. I got up and made coffee and went outside to watch the day emerge. Four geese came downstream and turned around right in front of me and landed in the channel. A house wren commenced to sing. Eventually, some pine siskins and a ruby-crowned kinglet started talking. The sun lit up the peaks of the Boulder Mountains. Like a flash, the sun came out from behind a layer of clouds on the eastern horizon, and the house lit up. Glorious! The place was alive, truly alive. I came in to make breakfast, and only then did I realize the hour had already passed of the event that I’d been afraid would haunt me too much. The life of the land and the house outshines the darkness of the foyer.
— Rob Wilson, May 2022

* * *

Rob Wilson fell in love with the writing of Ernest Hemingway in eighth grade.

To this day, he remembers the thrill of that first reading of The Old Man and the Sea: how the novella brought to mind his own fishing trips with his dad. His mind readily painted a picture of the story’s setting: the boat, the deck, the handlines so different from his own rod and reel.

He remembers, as a high schooler, discovering a hardbound copy of Hemingway’s short stories on his dad’s bookshelf late one Friday and spending hours flipping its yellowed pages, reading long into the night. He remembers bonding with college friends over Hemingway, as well as quiet evenings during his early career as a field biologist, sitting on a cabin porch in southern Idaho and watching the sun set over the Pioneer Mountains above Sun Valley as he, again, made his way through Hemingway novels: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway’s writings were one of the first influential connections Rob had into the life of an artist, his stories and novels windows into worlds different from Rob’s in many ways, but also strikingly similar, with familiar streams of human experiences running through each tale. With each passing year, Rob began to see beyond the adventure stories that had first captivated him. Each new reading, supplemented by his accumulating life experience, became an opportunity to get lost in a story’s subtext. In Hemingway, Rob also found a kindred spirit—someone who, like him, respected the natural world. “Hemingway noticed the little things around him, and how they lived,” Rob said. The author’s writings are abundant with those observations: how trout hold in a clear river, for example, or the features of a wildfire-blackened mountainside, all described in such honest, sharp ways that it heightens the real-world experience of being outdoors.

In 2015, while re-reading Hemingway’s short story “A Pursuit Race,” Rob’s connection to Hemingway deepened in a new way when he realized how well its understated portrayal of alcoholism and heroin withdrawal could be applied to his health class lesson on substance abuse. He thought it would complement the textbook he usually used for the lesson, but more effectively invite students to contemplate the human impact of substance abuse in a way a textbook can’t.

“What fiction is,” he explained of that choice, “is a way to invite you into examining life.”

It was a successful experiment, one that excited both Rob and then-Head of School Alan Sparrow. Over the years, Rob began adding more texts to his lesson plans, including Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, as well several Hemingway short stories: “Now I Lay Me” for its themes of metamorphosis, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” for its tie to the climate, and “Big Two-Hearted River” for its portrayal of earth systems. Like the living creatures he brings to campus—pigeons for genetics, jellyfish to animate the history of life on Earth—Rob has found that Hemingway texts are an effective resource to enrich students’ understanding of science concepts. They’re also unexpected.

Research continues to make it clear that interdisciplinary learning, combining two or more subjects into one activity, benefits students by broadening how they think and how they approach problem solving.

“Students can be strict about silos,” he said, referring to the kind of thinking that draws lines around areas of study: students should reference a textbook or case study in science class and read Hemingway in English class. But research continues to make it clear that interdisciplinary learning, combining two or more subjects into one activity, benefits students by broadening how they think and how they approach problem solving. Hemingway’s signature iceberg approach—the idea that an author should allow a story’s deeper meaning to be implicitly realized by the reader—is an effective method for stretching young minds, allowing students space to lean on their own interpretations and observations.

“This is a major component of my teaching strategy,” said Rob. “If I tell you something, you are more likely to forget it. If you discover it for yourself based on what I provide, you will remember it and be proud of yourself.”

Many Hemingway stories build this skill with multiple examples of inference and deduction, forms of logic necessary to the scientific process, as well as sensory details that can deepen an understanding of natural sciences. While he was in Idaho, one of the stories Rob had his ninth-grade biology students read was “Now I Lay Me,” throughout which narrator Nick Adams, a soldier convalescing behind the front lines during World War I, refers to the sound of silkworms devouring mulberry leaves in his room. It was a natural tie to the class, which had been observing and caring for their own colony of silkworms that spring. Over the weeks, thanks to their worms’ diet of mulberry leaves, the class had watched the invertebrates grow from eyelash-sized hatchlings to fat, round, white worms. And as they read the story—for many, their introduction to Hemingway—that experience both provided a mental picture and enhanced the story’s subtext.

Silkworm with moth and silk, and original watercolor of a silkworm

“It was easier to visualize the things described in the reading,” remembered Loc Ossana-Aoki, while classmate Rachel Brague added, “Having silkworms in the classroom helped emphasize the story, showed the bigger picture. Knowing about silkworms, I understood the emphasis on the man's experience.”

It was an experience that helped drive home the ideas that science isn’t static and that interdisciplinary connections enhance learning in exciting ways. Much like a Hemingway story, the students realized, there is always another layer to discover, something new to take away, to enrich overall understanding.

“Without any knowledge or experience, you can read these stories and understand what is happening,” explained Rachel, “but once you know more, the simple writing suddenly seems like the story is much longer and filled with more information than before.”

In past years, Rob has had students share Hemingway discoveries like these in class, but this year’s trip to Idaho gave them an opportunity to make even more connections among the stories, their studies, and his experience when he invited them to ask questions about his time away. “They were really curious,” said Rob. “All I did was say, ‘What would you like to know?’ and they asked questions for the entire period.” Discussion flowed around the Hemingway property’s major geographic features and how they change over time, natural selection, and the landscape itself: mature cottonwoods and blue spruces the Hemingways may have looked upon, a house wren whose call Rob imitated, and pileated woodpeckers whose strikes Rob demonstrated by knocking on the whiteboard. Rob also shared how he placed the class silkworms on the writing desk as he composed his own work, a metamorphosing muse, and his own feelings of fear, peace, and reverence for the sacred space.

“It was really personal for him,” said student Winston Hoffman, “but I think all of us appreciated what he had to say because he was trying to include us in the experience. It was like we had been there too, almost.”


As he had walked along the road, climbing, he had started many grasshoppers from the dust. These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. Nick had wondered about them as he walked, without really thinking about them. Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its fourway lip, he realized that they had all turned black from living in the burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way.
— Ernest Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River, Part One”

I headed north on Highway 93 around 1 pm. It was cool and windy, and I could see flurries of snow in the mountains ahead of me. I always feel such great anticipation during this part of the drive, and I remembered making the drive at other times of the year, doing other things with other people, and always having the sense that I am gravitating toward Ketchum. It’s funny to think of the warm summer nights on Big Cottonwood Creek, when I sat on the porch and looked across the Magic Valley to the Pioneer Mountains and wondered who had watched them fill with snow and returned to see that the snow had melted. Nothing about the drive reminded me of my dad except loading the car, driving past the duck club on the Jordan River and the other one on the Bear River, looking for ducks when I passed canals, geese in fields, bridges over rivers, and birds circling; the exit at Tremonton that we used to take to hunt and fish in Swan Valley (in the winter, the ducks would circle over the cottonwoods and disappear and reappear over the channel under the branches, closer than you were ever used to seeing them); looking out into the sagebrush, wondering if it held sage grouse; and the drive to Magic Valley where we took our last hunting trip that winter, when I broke through the ice on the Big Wood River, and I didn’t know if it would be 10 inches deep or 10 feet.

What I did not know going north is how much better I would understand this way when I took it, just a few days later, going south. I drove on knowing that I could share this experience and return to it.
— Rob Wilson, May 2022

* * *

Rob’s journey to his Hemingway House residency began in September 2016, when he received an invitation to that year’s Ernest Hemingway Seminar from his best friend from graduate school, Jeff Motychak. Titled Hemingway and Nature, the seminar was to feature discussions on “Big Two-Hearted River” and aimed to, in the words of The Community Library, “stimulate deep thinking about the role of nature in Hemingway’s works.” It was a perfect opportunity for two natural scientists fascinated by Hemingway and would play a transformative role in Rob’s life. “I was so deeply inspired,” Rob remembered. “I came back different.”

Rob has participated in the seminar each fall since, and in 2019 joined the planning committee to assist in its arrangement. His annual journey north is a pilgrimage of sorts, where he observes the landscape, reflects, and recharges. It’s also a chance for him to connect with Hemingway enthusiasts—literary scholars, scientists, art curators, educators, writers, and the curious public—who gather to examine a Hemingway novel, topic, or even passage. It was through these discussions that Rob built a relationship with the library, which in September 2021 extended a writer-in-residence invitation, initially hoping Rob would use the time to write the Hemingway lessons he had developed into teaching resources for other educators, a goal that would expand in the intervening months. And though he knew the experience would be deeply personal, he and Upper School Principal Ingrid Gustavson also knew it was a valuable opportunity, a chance to further help students perceive, seek, and discover connections in their learning, and they decided he would schedule the trip during the school year.

Watercolor of grasshopper; photo of Upper School science teacher Rob Wilson in the classroom

“So much of what we're doing with kids in education is modeling lifelong learning,” explained Ingrid. “This opportunity allowed Rob to explore, through his biologist lens, his observer lens, the home of a literary giant and give a new perspective on it.”

So many scientists know the quantitative evidence of what they’re looking at, but the quantitative evidence doesn’t matter unless you know who you’re impacting.—Annie Nash, class of 2023

It’s this kind of thinking that can change students’ lives. For upper schooler Annie Nash, who was first introduced to Hemingway in 2020 as one of Rob’s ninth-grade biology students, and who identifies as both a scientist and an artist, the confluence of subjects in Rob’s classroom felt natural, freeing her to think about how she can apply both sides of herself to her life’s work.

“I never really imagined art separate from the sciences,” she explained. “Science is artistic, nature is artistic, math is artistic—we can’t separate them.” And the older she gets, Annie said, the more she realizes an interdisciplinary approach to education is preparing her for a dynamic world that needs creative-minded and collaborative thinkers to take on its big challenges. “So many scientists know the quantitative evidence of what they’re looking at,” she said, “but the quantitative evidence doesn’t matter unless you know who you’re impacting.”

An aspiring pharmaceutical scientist, Annie knows her personal definition of success depends on more than an understanding of analytical chemistry and biostatistics. One area she’s especially concerned about is the historically negative impact of medicine on marginalized communities. She worries that the traditional approach to science education, one that focuses strictly on data, leaves scientists removed from the real-world impact of their work, and she believes applying topics like English, art, and history to her science studies helps her recognize worrying trends in her desired field so she can do her part to interrupt them. Novels and short stories are especially powerful ways to frame this history, she’s learned. More than other media, they effectively invite readers to reflect on humanity’s shared history and paint an understanding of how the human journey—what we’ve believed, what we’ve valued, how we’ve lived—has shaped the current world so readers can take away lessons for their own lives.

“You understand the time period but also separate the good and the bad—and then further the good in your own studies,” said Annie. “Scientists are sometimes viewed as being antisocial hermits who are detached from real-world issues. I want to break this stereotype so that I can encourage others to be empathetic in their research, to always strive to better the world.”


Best of all, he loved the fall. The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams, and above the hills the high, blue, windless skies.
— Ernest Hemingway, eulogy for Gene Van Guilder

I can track with my eye the flow through the deepest part of the channel that would have ruptured the beaver dam. The flow is deflected off of the bedrock wall. Parts of the channel are visible from the east-facing windows, and it is easy to imagine that residents of the house would have watched the river shape this bend over the years. They would have seen cottonwoods bloom with beet-colored catkins, fill in with lush green leaves, and fill the air with a distinct perfume; leaves yellow on the cottonwoods; and the transformation to black and white skeletons against the winter land. From here, they could watch the plumes of snow raised by the wind from the highest peaks. They would have heard the gossip of geese and had a view into the nests of hawks and private lives of kinglets, and been witness to the comings and goings of myriad birds throughout the year. It saddens me to know how much Ernest would have enjoyed this setting over the decades he could have lived here and did not. He has left us his gifts of perception so that we may enjoy it ourselves and teach others to experience the sublime and to protect it.

Teaching is a service of paying forward knowledge, skills, and values that enable another to cope and thrive in an ever-changing world. You can’t be a beacon if your light doesn’t shine. Mary could have walked away, and she chose to stay and have the house protected in perpetuity. The house on the hill of bedrock above the sea of cottonwoods is a beacon that both signals danger and radiates hope.
— Rob Wilson, May 2022

* * *

The house on the hill is designed to maximize its view.

From its wide patios, large windows, or broad lawn, visitors gaze upon a landscape of colors and textures: snow-capped peaks of the Boulder and Pioneer mountains, the Big Wood River flowing over gray stones, the dark trunks and lush foliage of black cottonwoods that, in late spring as they burst into new life, fill the warming air with a honey scent.

Cottonwood forests, or galleries, tell a story of resilience: their survival depends upon the ability of seedlings to keep their roots in contact with capillary fringe, the area of soil that draws moisture from the water table. When flood conditions are met, the trees grow in cohorts, but most years, due to weather or human disruption, those conditions are not met. As a result, one cohort of cottonwoods matures to nurture the next, a process that strengthens the entire gallery.

Water color of cottonwood tree; photo of Big Wood River in autumn; science teacher Rob Wilson documenting Hemingway land

There are times, though, when a cottonwood forest stops regenerating altogether, a process that happens so gradually the untrained eye misses the first signs. For the caregivers of the Hemingway House and its estate, a loss like this—of Mary’s desire for how the property would continue on—would especially hurt, and so Rob volunteered to conduct the first biological inventory, a task necessary to fully realize Mary’s vision.

“It's the library’s mission, as stewards, to protect that little bit of land,” he explained. “The biggest thing I could offer was to describe the living landscape for them.”

In addition to writing teaching resources, Rob spent hours of his residency walking the property’s 13.9 acres looking for cottonwood saplings as evidence of regeneration and documenting the landscape, from the bedrock on which the house stands to the kinglets and house wrens calling into early spring mornings, all of which he included in a reference document for the land’s ongoing protection and conservation—his personal contribution to its stewardship. “This idea of stewardship is: if you're here, it's your job to take care of things,” said Rob. “That's maintaining a landscape, if that's what you have the opportunity to do, or a place, or a relationship.”

A recurrent theme at Rowland Hall is: be the change you want to see in the world. That’s stewardship. My message to students is they can be interested in something and cultivate it and watch it become bigger and better than they ever imagined.—Rob Wilson

As a scientist, Rob has too often seen how our time in history is marked by a collective lack of stewardship, from climate change to the imperiled animals he studies, and he believes each individual plays a role in stewarding our world. He knows that if in his classroom he can tap into our shared humanity by breaking down learning silos and showing students how their passions, whatever those are, connect to something bigger, he can better prepare them to be the people the world needs.

“A recurrent theme at Rowland Hall is: be the change you want to see in the world. That’s stewardship,” said Rob. “My message to students is they can be interested in something and cultivate it and watch it become bigger and better than they ever imagined.”

It’s a perspective that can be found in hundreds of ways across Rowland Hall classrooms, from cross-disciplinary teaching partnerships in the Upper School to experiential learning in the Beginning School. “Adults at Rowland Hall model so well how to see connections in the world, to get excited about learning across disciplines,” said Ingrid. “No one is too young or too old to discover things we really care about, then go deep and figure out how to teach them to others, support a cause, or further someone else's learning.”

This sharing of knowledge is often viewed as a pinnacle of education, a way of students continuing the journey their teachers set them on. Just as a younger cohort of cottonwoods benefits from the stability and nourishment provided by an older cohort, students benefit from their teachers’ examples, then go on to share what they know. “The true test of a student's learning is not the answer they write on an exam,” said Rob. “It is how they share what they learned with the people around them.”

Ingrid remembered seeing evidence of this truth in May when she stopped by Rob’s classroom to find him and three earth science students caring for tanks of betta fish and the class jellyfish, Calypso. Rob encouraged the students to tell Ingrid about the creatures, which they excitedly did, showing her how they harvest brine shrimp for jellyfish food and test the water, and sharing who was caring for the animals over the summer. In that moment, Ingrid said, she realized the students had fully taken ownership of their learning. “This is theirs now,” she thought.

Rowland Hall science teacher Rob Wilson, with the Ketchum, Idaho, home of Ernest Hemingway behind him.

“I always thought science was supposed to be very straightforward—not bringing your own opinion, your own feelings into it,” said Hope Thomas, one of the students in the classroom that day, and Calypso’s summer caretaker. “For a while, it made it a hard subject for me because I’m a very creative person.” But being in Rob’s classes, where she’s encouraged to see connections among areas of study that another science teacher may never approach, Hope realized that making science personal wasn’t just okay, it was necessary to understanding, and taking on, the challenges of today. 

“It makes it more applicable to us when we can think about science in a more personal way,” she said. “When you care about it more, you are more willing to take action.”

And ultimately, this is the goal of education: to help students make meaningful connections about what matters to them and take action to leave the world a better place than they found it. It’s a lesson, Rob has found, that means more to him with each passing year and is especially clear when he returns to The Old Man and the Sea, the book that started his journey, and the one Hemingway himself called “an epilogue to all my writing and what I have learned, or tried to learn, while writing and trying to live.” With the benefit of time, study, and lived experience, said Rob, it’s now more than just a fishing story—it’s a reminder of what is most precious in the time he has.

“What gets me now,” he said, “is the poignancy of how brief a moment is going to be.”

Authentic Learning

Banner photo credits: Ernest Hemingway by Robert Capa (c) International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos; Mary Hemingway courtesy of the Jeanne Rodger Lane Center for Regional History, Dorice Taylor Collection. Other photographs provided by The Community Library and Rob Wilson.

Special thanks to The Community Library for their partnership on this story.

Rowland Hall ninth graders Eli Hatton, Aiden Gandhi, and Evan Weinstein at 2022 International Science and Engineering Fair.

Rowland Hall equips students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in a dynamic world. We believe education is active, and that deep, authentic learning experiences engage students in powerful ways, enabling them to view themselves as innovators and creators. Our new vision and strategic priorities are helping to center and formalize this work, but it’s long been a part of the Rowland Hall experience, inspiring generations of students to pursue, create, and share knowledge both in and outside the classroom. In the past year alone, we’ve watched many of our young scientists and engineers, fueled by their personal passions, tackle real-world problems and offer innovative solutions designed to better our shared world. This fall, we’re spotlighting some of their stories. (Be sure to also check out "Ruchi Agarwal Named Runner-up in National Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition.")

For many, air travel is a necessity in today’s world. It’s easier, faster, and, in many cases, cheaper than other transportation options. But there’s an environmental cost to that convenience: emissions. Currently, the aviation sector accounts for more than two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, an environmental impact that scientists and engineers are working to lessen. That group of researchers now includes three Rowland Hall students.

In fall 2021, Aiden Gandhi, Eli Hatton, and Evan Weinstein, then ninth graders, were hard at work choosing a science fair topic. They knew they worked well together (as middle schoolers, they had teamed up for the You Be the Chemist Challenge), and they were united in a common goal: to create a project that could qualify for the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest high school STEM competition and an opportunity the young scientists had been waiting to be eligible for. As upper schoolers, that wait was over, so the only question was: what topic did they want to tackle?

The team’s priority was to choose a project that balanced members’ individual interests in engineering and physics. They decided a project on sustainable aviation would meet that objective. The choice allowed each member to play to his strengths—a good strategy when aiming for ISEF-level research. Additionally, the team liked that an aviation project would let them address climate change.

“We had lots of ideas of different areas of science we wanted to work with,” remembered Eli, but the team’s priority was to choose one that balanced members’ individual interests in engineering and physics. After discussion, they decided a project on sustainable aviation would meet that objective. “It’s a blend of everything we’re interested in,” explained Aiden. The choice also allowed each member to play to his strengths—a good strategy when aiming for ISEF-level research. “We each have individual interests within aviation—physics, technical—which meant we had a pretty diverse background going in,” said Evan.

Additionally, the team liked that an aviation project would let them address climate change. Like their peers around the world, they’ve long been aware of environmental challenges facing their generation, and, as aviation enthusiasts, they’re also aware of the industry’s role in carbon emissions. And because flying isn’t going away, they explained, air travel needs to become more environmentally friendly and efficient. “If we can’t completely get rid of it, we can at least make it better,” said Evan. 

The team first considered designing an entire sustainable aircraft—an idea they soon dismissed. “We realized that was far too complicated,” said Eli. Instead, they chose to focus on what Evan called the part that “makes airplanes more or less efficient”: the engine. An airplane’s engine, after all, is the source of its power—it’s where jet fuel is burned to provide the machine’s thrust (the force that moves an airplane in the air). But jet fuel is inefficient and the main contributor to an airplane’s carbon output: after fuel is burned inside the engine’s combustion chamber, it releases carbon waste into the atmosphere. However, it’s tricky to find a good substitute for jet fuel. Research has been done on other fuels, but many still release potentially harmful chemicals into the environment, and others are too volatile or expensive. And even ideas around electric aircraft have limited reach—the team found that current designs were only capable of short-distance flights. They wanted their experimental model to both eliminate the use of jet fuel and be available for international travel.

Goal in mind, the team set to work on a computer-aided design of an engine that creates propulsion via electrically heated tungsten coils in the combustion chamber. Tungsten, they explained, can efficiently heat and pressurize air, so they felt it was the right material choice. By February, the group was ready to present their project, named Engine-ering the Future of Air Travel, for the first time at a regional science fair, where they qualified for state—the step at which they would be considered for ISEF. They felt good about their odds: they placed second in the Mechanical and Materials Engineering division and fifth overall at the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair, putting them in excellent position for an invitation to ISEF, which arrived a couple weeks after state.

“We were really happy we were invited,” remembered Aiden of the moment the group learned they had reached their goal.

But the team’s ISEF invitation wasn’t the end of the road—in fact, in many ways, the group had to work harder than ever to ramp up for international competition. They used the weeks leading to the May ISEF meeting to adjust their presentation to meet fair requirements and to tinker with their engine’s design. One major change the group made at this time was swapping the tungsten coils for tungsten fits, which, said Aiden, “have more surface area and would be better for transferring heat from the tungsten to the air throughout the engine.” They also began testing their model in ANSYS—engineering software that simulates airflow, thermal, and physical stress—to refine it. Additionally, as ISEF competitors, they had access to new resources, including local engineers Daniel Baxter and Duke Speer, who could provide feedback on their project to ensure it was ready for a higher level of scrutiny. And the team continued to seek support from Rowland Hall faculty. Robotics coach Alex Beaufort ’13 went over the mechanics of their engine, while physics teacher Robin Hori reviewed its physical properties and concepts to make sure they made sense theoretically. Their project mentor, science teacher Dr. Padmashree Rida, was invaluable to the group’s presentation practice. A former ISEF judge herself, Dr. Rida knew what they needed for the international competition, and she was impressed by what she saw.

What blew me away about this team of young scientists was their unflappable spirit, their ability to see around corners, the initiative they demonstrated by taking on a challenge that even industry experts have struggled with, and their motivation to continually innovate, iterate, and improve their original engine design.—Dr. Padmashree Rida, Upper School science teacher

“What blew me away about this team of young scientists was their unflappable spirit, their ability to see around corners, the initiative they demonstrated by taking on a challenge that even industry experts have struggled with, and their motivation to continually innovate, iterate, and improve their original engine design,” said Dr. Rida. “When they presented their poster to me for a practice session, I was amazed by how they had thought through every minute detail of their design, and how hard they had worked to research their problem inside out and to think of good responses to potential questions and critiques. They received feedback with heartwarming grace, showed inspiring tenacity and focus when faced with setbacks, and were deeply committed to their purpose: to do something about the pressing crisis of climate change.”

Robotics coach Alex echoed Dr. Rida’s sentiment, calling out the team’s impressive determination even when encountering hurdles just a week before competition—a promising characteristic of these future professional scientists and engineers. "They overcame obstacles with tenacity,” said Alex. “Even during the last week, when they encountered problems, they were able to adequately address them in a professional manner, approaching the solution with the scientific mindset that is ever evolving.”

These weeks of preparation were valuable, the team said, not only when it came to making their project more realistic, but also in helping them learn to better convey their ideas. By the time they headed to Atlanta in May, Aiden, Eli, and Evan were confident their updated engine could compare to today’s commercially used engines, and they were ready to present their work to some of the top engineering minds in the field. And though competition was high (the three Rowland Hall students were among 1,750 competitors from 49 US states and 63 countries, regions, and territories), what they remember most is the feeling of camaraderie among attendees—an essential component of their future careers.

Finalists at the 2022 International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta.

Aiden (second from left), Eli (eighth), and Evan (ninth) with other ISEF finalists.

“It’s important because you need more than one person to make a significant change in the world,” said Aiden. Evan added, “Not only are you making friends, but you’re also creating partnerships. Likely, these are the people you’ll be researching with at high levels.”

It’s safe to say that Rowland Hall’s jet engine crew would have been satisfied at this point: as ninth graders they had already made it to ISEF, they were mingling with innovative students from around the world, and they got to present their original research to engineering experts. But they soon learned their hard work had paid off in another exciting way. As attendees, the group was eligible for the event’s Grand Awards, prizes presented to the first- through fourth-place winners in each of ISEF’s 21 categories. (Top ISEF awards are then selected from the group of 21 First Award winners.) As the young scientists and engineers gathered on award night, the Rowland Hall team was thrilled to hear their names called over the loudspeaker—they were the Fourth Award winners in the Engineering Technology: Statics and Dynamics category, which had 81 total entries.

“We were very surprised and shocked and happy. It felt surreal,” remembered Eli. “We thought just making it there was our biggest achievement.”

These achievements won’t be wrapping up anytime soon. Now sophomores, Aiden, Eli, and Evan are still immersed in their jet engine research, currently choosing a 2023 science fair project that will build on last year’s work (details are still being kept quiet at this stage). With the benefit of their first ISEF experience, the team is excited to see what they can do next, and they’re quick to encourage other students to try science fairs themselves, noting how a Rowland Hall education, including excellent faculty support, prepares young scientists and engineers for these opportunities to take on real-world problems. “The resources at Rowland Hall are incredible,” said Aiden. “Faculty, our schoolwork, and papers and research in history, science, math—all that definitely prepared us for ISEF.”

Without a doubt, these students will continue to do incredible things, and the Rowland Hall community is looking forward to watching what they take on next. “I am super excited about the positive impact they will have, and the changes they will drive,” said Dr. Rida.


Rowland Hall Upper School student Ruchi Agarwal,a runner-up in the 2022 Stockholm Junior Water Prize national competition.

Rowland Hall equips students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in a dynamic world. We believe education is active, and that deep, authentic learning experiences engage students in powerful ways, enabling them to view themselves as innovators and creators. Our new vision and strategic priorities are helping to center and formalize this work, but it’s long been a part of the Rowland Hall experience, inspiring generations of students to pursue, create, and share knowledge both in and outside the classroom. In the past year alone, we’ve watched many of our young scientists and engineers, fueled by their personal passions, tackle real-world problems and offer innovative solutions designed to better our shared world. This fall, we’re spotlighting some of their stories. (Be sure to also check out "Three Rowland Hall Students Place Fourth at International Science and Engineering Fair for Aviation Engine Design.")

Last year, while on the lookout for a science fair research subject, upper school debater Ruchi Agarwal found inspiration in a topic that was being examined by policy debaters across the country: The United States federal government should substantially increase its protection of water resources in the United States.

"It’s a prominent issue right now,” Ruchi said, and one she became personally passionate about while researching water resources for debate competitions. She decided to focus her science fair project on the study of toxic cyanobacteria—algae mats that produce neuro and liver toxins poisonous to humans and animals—in streams and rivers. Though much research has been done on algal blooms in lakes, Ruchi explained, little has been done on their presence in flowing waterways, despite cyanobacteria’s threat to lives around the globe.

Though much research has been done on algal blooms in lakes, little has been done on their presence in flowing waterways, despite cyanobacteria’s threat to lives around the globe.“Once I realized that the toxic mat formation is not just a local issue, but a global one, I immediately embarked on researching more about this scientific issue,” Ruchi later wrote about her decision.

Ruchi hypothesized that because toxin-producing cyanobacteria co-exist with non-toxic producers, they can synergize with non-toxic bacteria nutrients, as well as other resources—a theory she wanted to test at the Virgin River in Utah’s Zion National Park. With the help of park employees, Ruchi collected samples at four sites over a period of four months, which, with the support of University of Utah professor Dr. Ramesh Goel and graduate research assistant Shadman Kaiser, she tested for certain water quality parameters, cyanobacteria genomic content, and the ability of toxic cyanobacteria to synergize with other bacteria. Her research, Ruchi wrote, confirmed that Microcoleus, the most common cyanobacteria worldwide, is “dominant in nutrient-deficient environments and exhibits strange metabolic behavior which makes this genus very competitive in terms of flourishing with respect to other toxin producers.”

To say Ruchi’s findings were well received would be an understatement. As planned, Ruchi first presented her project at the regional University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair (USEF), where she qualified to compete at the state USEF. At state, she received further accolades: first place in the Civil and Environmental Engineering division, as well as the Salt Lake City Public Utilities prize. She also received an unexpected but exciting opportunity: a nomination to apply to compete for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP), the most prestigious youth competition for water-related research.

Rowland Hall junior Ruchi Agarwal at the March 2022 University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair in Salt Lake City.

Ruchi at the March 2022 University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair.

When asked how it felt to be nominated for the SJWP, Ruchi remembered, “It was a mix of exciting and daunting … more the second emotion, primarily because receiving the nomination is just one step of many.”

Indeed, competing for the SJWP isn’t for the faint of heart: nominees (students in grades nine through twelve) must be working on projects “aimed at enhancing the quality of life through improvement of water quality, water resources management, or water and wastewater treatment,” and are required to write scientific research papers that are first submitted for state-level competitions, then—for the 50 young scientists chosen from each state—for national competition. The national winner then goes on to compete with scientists from 30 countries at the international competition in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I definitely hadn’t written a paper to this scale,” Ruchi said. And though the process came during the Upper School’s AP test season, she devoted time each day for three weeks to putting together her submission, leaning heavily on the knowledge she built in Upper School classes like biology, English, and debate—knowledge, Ruchi said, that equipped her with “the critical thinking skills that go into writing a 20-page paper.” In May she learned that her entry, “Water Scarcity in the Arid West: What is the Role of Harmful Algal Blooms?”, had earned the top prize for the state of Utah, and that she was headed to the national competition at the Colorado School of Mines in June.

“It was really nice to know it had paid off, and I was excited,” said Ruchi. That excitement grew once she arrived in Colorado, where she was able to learn more about water conservation and connect with students from across the nation. “It was inspiring talking to other people who are passionate about this,” she said.

Rowland Hall student Ruchi Agarwal was named a runner-up in the 2022 Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition.

Ruchi poses with SJWP judges after being named a runner-up in the national competition.

And though Ruchi’s research already had a track record of excellence, she remained modest about her paper’s chance at the national level. “I thought maybe I had a chance to win one of the special awards,” she said, referring to prizes awarded to two top competitors who are not named either the national winner or one of two runners-up. You can, therefore, imagine Ruchi’s reaction when she was announced as a runner-up. “I was literally shocked,” she said.

Doing work that is so fundamental to our health and daily lives is incredibly fulfilling. It helped me realize that I could use my passion for research as a way to create change and find solutions to pressing issues in the scientific community.—Ruchi Agarwal, class of 2023

Ruchi may have been, but her teachers, including debate coach Mike Shackelford, weren't. “Ruchi is one of our top debaters, and, while I was thrilled, I wasn't surprised by her success at the SJWP,” said Mike. “She's always been driven, creative, articulate, and bright, and has honed her critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills over many years of competitive debate. As a coach, I've always believed that debate is a means to end, not an end in itself. And while I'm certainly happy when debaters win trophies, I'm especially proud when they apply their skills and knowledge to real-world experiences.”

With a boost of confidence as a scientist, Ruchi has started her senior year ready to build on her SJWP experience. She’s looking forward to tackling new challenges in classes like AP Biology, reworking her SJWP paper for submission to other science competitions, and growing her research skills. As an aspiring biology major, she said, she now better understands how the research she’s already interested in can make a difference in quality of life for people around the globe, and she hopes to play a role in effecting policy solutions through her work.

“Doing work that is so fundamental to our health and daily lives is incredibly fulfilling,” Ruchi reflected. “It helped me realize that I could use my passion for research as a way to create change and find solutions to pressing issues in the scientific community.”


Rowland Hall student body president Charlie Frech speaks to the school community at the 2022 Convocation.

Each August, Rowland Hall holds a Convocation ceremony, a traditional gathering that brings our school community together to connect, learn, and celebrate the start of a new school year. This year’s event, held the morning of Friday, August 26, centered around the theme, and school value, Think Deeply.

Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. (Look back at the 2021 and 2020 speeches.) For his speech, student body president Charlie Frech challenged students to help create a great school year by finding ways to think deeply—about friendship, self-discovery, and personal challenges. His speech, lightly edited for style and context, appears below.

Hello, everyone. My name is Charlie Frech, and I am the student body president.

After reflecting on the school value Think Deeply, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way to demonstrate the merit of this theme: a show-and-tell. Through this trip down memory lane, I hope to demonstrate that thinking deeply is possible at every age, no matter your grade level, and it should be a central component of your experience this year at Rowland Hall.

What I remember most from my days in 4PreK was not the lesson plans of what I learned or the everyday activities we completed, but the friendships I made.—Charlie Frech, class of 2023

My first item that I have brought for you today is my 4PreK yearbook. While flipping through the nostalgic pages of this book, I recognized that while I do miss aspects of 4PreK, like naptime or the “Tricycle Grand Prix,” where my classmates and I competitively raced one another throughout the playground on school-provided tricycles, what I remember most from my days in 4PreK was not the lesson plans of what I learned or the everyday activities we completed, but the friendships I made. After completing 4PreK, I left Rowland Hall, and later returned in seventh grade. For me, the friendships I made in my 4PreK class provided me with much-needed ease from the stresses of being a new student. To this day, I still appreciate the kindness and friendship that Heidi Paisley, Katerina Mantas, Jordan Van Orman, Julia Summerfield, Maile Fukushima, Mikel Lawlor, and Noah Shewell offered me when I entered the doors of the Lincoln Street Campus in seventh grade—as many of my current classmates remember, a shy kid with an extremely over-gelled, slicked-back hairdo. And no, it is not a perm. Thus, for all of the beginning and lower school students, I urge you to think deeply about how you can make new friends this year, because relationships matter.

Student body president Charlie Frech shares his preschool yearbook at Rowland Hall's 2022 Convocation.

The next item I brought to my show-and-tell today is an audio recording of me from Mr. Ainsworth’s eighth-grade Spanish class, butchering pop star Marc Anthony’s world-famous song Vivir Mi Vida with my own take on the lyrics.

Let me be the first to apologize to all of you, especially to my eighth-grade younger brother, Andrew Frech. I realize I may have just become a meme in the Middle School. But that horrific noise we all just heard surprisingly also provides a lesson on how to think deeply. In middle school, students start to find and use their own unique voices, literally and figuratively, as they learn more complicated subjects and transition into teenagers. This year, I challenge all of the middle schoolers to think deeply about how they will find their voices, whether through public speaking, artistic or athletic expression, or service projects. Luckily for all of us, I never pursued developing my voice as a singer.

The last item I brought today was our final project from physics last year: a model airplane. To me, this object represents the final way we can think deeply: by applying the lessons we learn from our teachers in order to develop our abilities to think critically, take risks, and solve problems creatively in the outside world. When my buddy Alex Yang and I worked on this plane last year, we faced many challenges. The wheels were too weak to hold the plane up, our propeller kept flying off our motor, and the electrical tape we used to attach our wires kept falling off. Nevertheless, we used the skills of diligence and hard work that Mr. Hori taught us to build our plane. For all of the high schoolers, I encourage you to continue to think deeply and apply the skills and values you learn inside the classroom to every facet of your life in the outside world. Sophomores, use the lessons of angles from your math class to prepare for the treacherous endeavor of parallel parking on campus as you are running late for class. Or seniors, apply the lessons of perseverance that you have learned from the late nights of writing essays and preparing for final exams to survive the toil and anguish of senioritis.

Student body president Charlie Frech sings at the 2022 Convocation.

I want all of you, no matter your grade level, to realize the importance of thinking deeply, and how it encompasses all of Rowland Hall’s core values.—Charlie Frech

If I want you to take anything away from this Convocation speech, it is not that I am a horrible singer. Rather, I want all of you, no matter your grade level, to realize the importance of thinking deeply, and how it encompasses all of Rowland Hall’s core values: learning for life, welcoming everyone, living with purpose, and forming meaningful relationships. Thinking deeply applies to how we build friendships. It is completely in our control the level of kindness and empathy we show, and how much we support and care about others. Think deeply to make a new friend this year. Additionally, think deeply about how you challenge yourself and find your voice. Try something new. Join the band, play a new sport, take a new elective, create a club. Finally, apply everything you think deeply about in the classroom and apply those lessons to your life outside of Rowland Hall. Rowland Hall is an amazing school because it teaches you how to think, not only what to think. To conclude, I want to welcome all of our new students. We are delighted to have you join our community. I wish all the students, the teachers, and the administration the very best of school years, and, in the words of Marc Anthony, I hope you all have time to smile, to dance, and to live your best lives because I know that for me:

Voy a reír, voy a bailar 
Vivir mi vida, la la la la

Thank you.

Student Voices