We Need More Magic

I’m currently about halfway through my week of adventures in Italy with 7 members of my family, and so far it’s been a world wind of emotions. Yesterday though was particularly interesting because my aunt and I met up with the mom of a friend she made while at an artist retreat in the jungle. We had never met this woman before, and needless to say, it was a very random connection in which we had no idea what to expect, but we had a great time!

We grabbed some gelato and took a pit stops at the local market to get some food, and then we went back to her incredible apartment overlooking the river and ate some lunch while discussing life. It turns out that she is a native English woman who is semi-accidentally became a homeschool teacher who has lived all over the world and only recently moved to Rome. I say semi-accidentally because she started out homeschooling her own children and then, due to happy circumstances and a willingness to take risks and seize opportunities, she started a whole homeschooling meets tutoring business. Kids who speak all sorts of languages will work with her for various amounts of time to help with getting ready for going to English school by exploring Rome and making personalized “classes” relevant to the lives of these children.

She was speaking all sorts of learner-centered language and it was honestly just crazy awesome to me that even though we live on different sides of the world we had such similar opinions and ideas about the education system; there is truly a universal language around transformative education that is developing!

As perhaps one may guess, we had some very interesting conversations about education. Particularly, I loved how we talked about the necessity of incorporating magic and fantasy into education.

Think about it: the world around us is full of magic- things we can’t see or fully explain but know that they exist- like gravity, types of lights, dark matter, etc. Now some things may just not exist, but letting ourselves believe in magic helps to teach us to be imaginative and push the boundaries of what is real and strive to make the impossible possible. Once upon a time airplanes seemed like a magical fantasy, and look at us now exploring what it might look like for humans to live on Mars! We have to teach kids to dream and believe what they can’t see if we truly want them to be innovators and be willing to conceptualize what we believe is true about the world. So why don’t we talk about magic more often in school? Especially beyond elementary school! Plus in my mind it’s such a great way to bridge the gap between humanities and stem courses; reading about magic and discussing what science the magical concepts were based around and then imagined further sounds like a fabulous integrated project.

With this discussion, we talked about a wonder of ours: are we teaching sciences to the wrong age groups? Physics is crazy! Nano-science, space, light and sound, etc, there are so many things that can be kind of hard to imagine existing when we can’t really see them nor do we know everything about how they work, but it’s young children that typically have the greatest bandwidth for believing in the unknown. What if we spent more time exploring big science concepts like dark matter to elementary schoolers, and in high school, we spent more time continuing to foster the ability to imagine, dream, and believe in seemingly crazy possibilities?



Wow, today has been crazy! And I must say, I feel rather like an adult today, which is very weird. I could care less about how legally you are an “adult” once you turn 18. I’m 19 now, and I still feel more kid than adult about 90% of the time.

Powerful quotes at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Today was that other 10% though.

I’m writing tonight from San Fransisco where I’m serving as a “Community Builder” (somewhat of a mentor/coach/facilitator at the table level) for the Pioneer Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined.

There’s a couple of reasons why this has been a big deal. For starters, just the fact that I was asked to serve in a leadership role at a conference is awesome! Then as an extra level, it’s kind of odd getting used to the fact that I wasn’t just contacted through Mount Vernon; I’m starting to become my own person which is… different.

Behind the waterfall of the Martin Luther King memorial across from my hotel.

Furthermore, I’m attending this conference relatively alone. I happen to know people who are also here because I’m involved in the community; however, I flew across the country, found my way around town, and checked into a hotel (which I have to myself) all on my own which is not something I’ve ever done before or even really thought about.

Growing up is a funny thing, especially in those moments where we realize it’s happening.

Overall it’s been a pretty fun day though. I did some exploring before our kick-off dinner reception and had fun popping into a few places around town. Then meeting people tonight was great! I love talking to new people in the transformative education world because not only do I learn more about different education models, but I also find myself learning more about myself as I get asked

Exploring the local center for the arts.

questions about how I ended up in the position I’m in. (Tangent: It’s amusing to me how as soon as people learn you’re in college they start asking about to what capacity you’ve thought about your future.)

I’m excited to see what new discoveries and insights come out of this conference, and perhaps just as interested to see how this adulting thing goes…

Venturing around town and explored a “living house” exhibition at target.

Valued Learning Memories


I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 


Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.


Trailblazers Issue 2

What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.


Finals are Here and I’m not an Engineer

Earlier today I received my first official email from the Scheller College of Business. That’s right, I’ve finally declared a major, and it isn’t what most people expected. download-2.jpg

Since I started really thinking about where I wanted to go to college (so basically since junior year of high school), I have kind of avoided the question of what I wanted to major in. People would tell me,  “oh you’re good at STEM and like problem-solving, you should be an engineer!” I figured, why not. I didn’t have much of a better idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to continue doing design thinking, and I knew education was at the very least a passion of mine. I firmly believe that design thinking is a mode of thought pertaining to every discipline and major, but I’ve observed that higher education doesn’t seem to apply this notion to degree curriculum plans where it seems that only a few majors really dive deep into principles of design thinking.

I realize now that at the end of my high school career I spent far more time looking at colleges then I really spent learning about different majors offered. It’s said that it doesn’t matter what major you choose, and that’s fair, all majors are “good majors” and each is “hard” in their own way- that’s not how you should choose a major. It’s said, “a lot of the first few semesters is the same for everyone”, and I’ve found this to be true too, there are a lot of core requirements that all first years take. It’s also said that it’s fine to come into college as an undecided major- this is the one I have some problems with.

I entered college in undecided engineering, so I say all this from the perspective of someone is living out the life of an undecided major. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it makes sense that an 18-year-old doesn’t have their life completely together yet, which is what they tell you when you think you’re going to apply as undecided. However, once you get to college you have way less time to try and contemplate what major you want to go into. And sure people say you have time to decide on a major, but really what they mean is, “We want you to decide by the spring, that way at least you’re in something. Then we can deal with you changing your major later if that’s what you need to do.” (This isn’t me implying, I’ve been told multiple times that even though most classes are practically the same for the first few semesters, they still want you to pick a major by the end of spring.)

The other hard thing is that I like to talk to people to learn about the different majors. However advisors are figured out by major, and undecided engineering majors are just clumped with mechanical engineers because it’s the “most general engineering.” So my experience was that all of the advisings was really just focused on mechanical which wasn’t very helpful when looking to just learn more about different majors before making a decision. Thus I also tried talking to other advisors, but some advisors only speak to their specific major (including business…).

The big thing that I realized throughout this process, and in general since being in college, is that working in the realm of innovative education is more than just a passion of mine. I think I’d really like to continue working on forwarding the Education Transformation Movement as at least an initial career. download-1

It’s when I made this realization that I finally started to question if engineering was right for me. I started thinking instead about what’s kind of become a motto of mine, “could not should.”

When I applied to MVPS at the end of 5th grade, I was given a creativity question during my interview. The question asked, “List all the things you could do with a pencil.” So I did: write, use as a bookmarker, keep a locker open, hair piece, stab someone,… When I was telling my mom this story afterward this is the point she stopped me and said, “ANYA PLEASE TELL ME YOU DIDN’T SAY YOU COULD STAB SOMEONE WITH A PENCIL!!!” My response was, “It asked what you could do not what you would or should do.”

I got into the school, so as my mom and I like to think, we guess they accepted that I was taking the question very literal for the sake of creativity. But despite what my interviewer thought, my friends and family have never let me forget this story, and I’m kind of grateful because it’s become a good motto.

I’m not one to lack confidence, and I truly believe that if I wanted to, I have the brain power and persistence to where I could become an engineer. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I should just because I could. As I started to think about this possibility I realized that I’ve never been one to particularly love activities closely associated with being an engineer, like creating CAD models, or using power tools, or running data analysis on experiments. I’ve never hated these activities when given the chance to work on them, but in a team setting, for example, someone else is always the “engineer” role.

download.jpgSo I’ve switched to business because I want to be a social entrepreneur and oppose to spending my time learning about thermal dynamics, I’d rather focus more on leadership studies, risk management, startup and entrepreneurial culture, change theory, etc. And I’m excited about how the business school is really focused on real-world applications and has extra advising specifically for looking at career paths and getting all students to have an internship/co-op/study abroad experience before graduation. In particular, I’m currently looking to do a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital and get a certificate in Social/Personality Psychology, and I hope to also do an exchange in New Zealand to take some education courses and/or maybe do research there. I’m excited to plan more of what’s ahead as I start to meet with my new advior soon.

This was a hard choice, especially since there is a big stigma around business majors at GT. Students consider it the “easy major” and try to claim the students in business aren’t as smart as other majors. But I know some amazingly smart people in business, and we all got into GT just the same, and I’m not transferring because I thought engineering was going to be “too hard.” It’s all just relative. So I’m proud of myself for finally submitting my form and making the choice to go all in. If I end up changing again, so be it, but now that first semester classes are over, I’m feeling pretty good going into finals tomorrow having a bit more of a direction with my college path.



And with that, as tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night!


Climbing Mountains

The last few weeks have been crazy and I really should be sleeping but it’s been far too long since I last blogged and I want to continue to make this a priority of mine.

I’m a college student… This is finally starting to really sink in now that I’ve officially completed my first week of classes. And I’ve had a pretty solid few weeks so far since orientation.

I backpacked in Scotland which was a crazy experience unlike anything I’ve ever done before! I can’t say I’ll necessarily go backpacking again for a while, and decided I’m really not a camping person, but it was an experience I’m glad I had. You grow close to people while hiking for a total of 52 miles in 4 days and 17,411 ft in elevation.

It was long and tiring and there were several moments where we all just wished we could stop and be in a hotel in the city with a nice non free dried meal and a hot shower. However, when you’re hiking up a mountain with the weight of a small child on your shoulders in 50 degree whether while it’s pouring down rain, there is only one way to go and that’s forward. We just had to keep climbing and working together as a team to make it through the hard times because there was nothing for us if we turned around and went back.

Instead of complaining, we developed a saying that kept us going, “I didn’t come here for nothing.” We knew at the top of the mountain there would be incredible views, and at the end of the hike there would be a bus taking us back to the city of Glasgow for a day and then there’d be a plane home. We all knew that we’d have to work hard for these rewards and we weren’t about to do all of the work to stop short of our goal.

Sadly there were the occasional false submits where were very depressing because we would think we were at the top of a mountain, and then discover there was just further to go. But that’s life for you, there is always another mountain to climb. It’s when we started setting smaller goals and celebrating when we reached them that we found ourselves keeping a better moral and making more distance.

The mountains really taught me just how important it is to set high goals but also set little goals along the way and I think that’s been a really positive reminder as I’ve started out here at Georgia Tech.

So far at GT I keep hearing, “You get in what you put out.” I know it won’t be easy to be successful (which I’ve already started to discover as we’ve started getting more homework with each new class), but I also know from all the upperclassmen I’ve talked to it’s very possible to achieve success if you really put your mind to it.

I’ve already started to feel at home here even. Between the friends that I came with and the new ones I’ve gained I’ve started to find a good group of people I feel like will support me through anything. Plus I’ve already gotten involved with theater and my first performance in the blackbox went really well with me playing Bottom from A Midsummer Nights Dream (again) in a 10 minute part of the DramaTech open house performance this past weekend. And I’m also really excited to continue my work with the Education Transformation Movement as I’ve found my team for Grand Challenges that wants to focus on education and I’ve started to network with people at GT  involved in the movement.

(I haven’t really blogged much about Grand Challenges, but it’s a very similar concept to the Innovation Diploma in the sense that we meet twice a week for an extended period in order to bring together learners with different backgrounds and use design thinking to try and solve wicked problems in the community.)

So yes I know there are a lot of mountains in front of me as I start my new journey into college, but in this moment after week one, I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m at. I didn’t come here for nothing, and I’m ready to keep climbing till I find my new path.


fuse17 Here We Go!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s finally Fuse17 week!!!! That means dozens of educators from around the country have gathered at our school to learn about design thinking and how it’s applicable in the real world, including/especially within education. Plus, unlike a normal conference (says the 18 year old…), we get the joy of working alongside of 3 non profits as we go through a lap of the design thinking process.

I’ve been waiting all year for this event and am so glad it’s finally here and that we have such an amazing group of people gathered!!!

Now I’m really tired and should probably sleep seeing as tonight’s only day 1 of the 3 day conference. However, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on my already uncontainable excitement from day one, so I’m going to try to make this short, which is a struggle of mine.

Today was a day of really gearing up for the Moonshot of the conference. Participants started the day in a lab either dt101-Flashlab or dt102-Consultivation; these labs allowed participants to get an extra lap through the design thinking process (at whatever level suited their past experience) under their belt before we head into the big design challenge working with our non-profit partners. Then the evening was really spent diving deep into MoVe Talks where we heard from the various non profit organizations (GA Farmers Markets, Beds 4 Kids, and Love Beyond Walls) as well as some MVPS speakers who focused on how we use DT at MVPS for all ages in various capacities.

What really stood out personally for me today was to see how far we- MVPS, MVIFI, Innovation Diploma, even fuse itself- have come in the past four years. (I guess when you graduate you can’t help but spend the summer reminiscing on how much things have changed over time because it seems to be a recent theme of mine.)

Hearing the MoVe Talks today from MVPS people made me realize how many more stories we have to share than four years ago and how we have so many people that could give a MoVe Talk if needed, students included. We have 6 total Innovation Diploma members at fuse17 which is a much greater turn out than the last two years where we had about 3 max, and I’ve already been hearing so many comments about people being impressed by the students they’re working with or hearing from. And projects that ID has worked on over the past few years came up myriad times over the course of the day, which just goes to show that we’ve done some pretty awesome noteworthy stuff in the past three years.

Furthermore, facilitating the Consultivation session allowed me to experience and feel how far we’ve come.

This may sound odd, but there was an almost physical vibe about how comfortable things felt in terms of the DT process/facilitation/coaching going smoothly. We’ve facilitated dozens of design challenges in the past four years- yes I say we, I may only be a recent grad, but I have done my fair share of facilitating- and we are still constantly prototyping new ideas on how to run them, but today just felt so organic and there weren’t a million questions about, “Wait I don’t understand this, how do I use this tool?” It was great! (Wow that was a run on sentence, but I’m just so empowered right now that I can’t help but think and type faster than my poor grammar can try to keep up!)

I’m going to cut this post shorter than my normal reflections because I need to get some rest, because these next few days are about to be full of hard purposeful work- so obviously it’s going to be too much fun to want to spoil by being sleep deprived!


Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.

So please check out our first edition which includes:

A Letter From the Founders

Meet the Curators: Anya Smith-Roman, Kaylyn Winters, Abigail Emerson

The learner-centered movement: Q&A: Sparkhouse Conference

Creating Something New: Brady Vincent

Change is a Conversation: Neel Pujar

Free Ranged vs. Caged: Kim Mi Yeoh

Intelligence: Cali Ragland

Community Connections

Good Reads


Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible!! Can’t wait for issue 2!


I Am a Designer

IMG_7447What feels like a very long time ago, I had to start writing my Common App essay for college. Back when I did start brainstorming what to write about, I turned immediately to my blog; it’s been amazing to have a an entire collection of reflections from some of the most memorable things that have happened over the years. It only seemed right that now, now that I’m finally decided on a college and graduated high school, that I should officially post my Common App essay:


Common App Prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

I am a designer. Anyone can be a designer. You don’t need a fancy degree or a Mona Lisa to prove it. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.” This was the message I delivered to inspire creative confidence to a “young” audience of design thinkers. Let me set the stage.

The summer after sophomore year, I earned the opportunity to be one of four guest speakers at an annual summer conference called Fuse, facilitated by the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation. This event gathers 110 educators, business leaders, social innovators, change agents and dreamers from around the world to make an impact while learning more deeply as design thinkers. A slide deck appears on stage and the attendees saw the peculiar twitter handle @Pinyabananas, then a single spot light illuminated me- a 16 year old girl with her hair in a scrunchie. As a speaker, I delivered a 10 minute presentation similar to a TEDTalk where I shared about “Thinking Like a Designer.” My role: to get the room full of educators excited and confident in their abilities to spend three days problem solving for four different non-profit organizations. As the only speaker under the age of 30, the one with the least formal schooling and lacking the series of credentials and accomplishments of the other speakers, I was nervous.

Being an actress, I’ve been up on stage dozens of times in front of audiences larger than 110 people. I’m comfortable with public speaking, but this experience was different. This time I was the only student; specifically chosen because the organization believes that I have a story and ideas that educators should hear. Typically, it’s assumed that anyone still in secondary schooling has much to learn and not much to teach. When asked to speak, I was tasked with representing not only myself, but all students– to prove that we can have insightful thoughts worth sharing in serious conversations about the future.

I got up on stage vulnerable yet confident, and shared what I believe to be a recipe for success: to have community involvement, work with a #fuse15 MoVe Talkpurpose, a mentor to guide you, a mindshift to turn problems into opportunities, and a bias towards action. I challenged the entire audience to say the opening lines of this essay with me: “I am a designer.” To my surprise, when I repeated this statement, a chorus joined me; 110 educators accepted the challenge proposed by a 16 year-old girl to think like designers.

Age doesn’t have to be a limiter in life. If I am willing to take action for a cause that I care deeply about, then anything is possible. After my talk I had a number of educators come up to me and say, “You are inspiring!,” “I can’t believe you’re only 16,” “Thank you for giving me the confidence to do this.” Later that night my phone was blowing up with the number of twitter notifications I was getting from people commenting, liking, and retweeting things about my talk; our head of school even said, “Sounds like the takeaway of the night was from @Pinyabananas ‘I am a designer.’” It was a crazy night for me; it’s hard to believe it really happened.

This talk has since been used at a number of other workshops, some of which I probably don’t even know about. I remember researching myself online one day and found a link to a presentation by a professor in England who used the video of my talk! I am still astonished to think that my work had such an impact, and have continued to use my digital presence through daily blogging and tweeting as a mouthpiece for students around the country who remain silent school consumers. Anyone can be a designer. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.”


A Babies First Steps: “I’m Fine”

IMG_7409.JPGWith the end of senior year rapidly approaching, I can safely say I have not had senioritous hit me. I have been working like crazy to the point where I haven’t been able to blog. However, tonight I don’t care what I’m procrastinating by taking the time to write this post because I’m so happy to have just made it through the most stressful day of my entire high school experience!!!

A year ago I asked the 5 other Thespians in my grade if they would be interested in working on a senior theater project. Little did they know when they agreed that we would end up writing, directing, and performing our own hour length show and putting the entire production side of the show together in under two weeks.

First semester we met once every other week for under an hour to work on writing the script which we then did a live read through of at the semester to get feedback on our work so far. When second semester rolled around, we still only really met on Wednesdays for an hour, but we decided we needed to come in every week not just every other. Then, once our spring musical, The Addams Family, closed, we had 8 rehearsals to put together the set, tech, and blocking for our show. Furthermore, only 4 of these rehearsals really had every cast member present.

Then today was the big day…

To be honest, our show was a mess even just this afternoon. Lines weren’t fully memorized, and transitions were sloppy, and our techies were just recently pulled into the show because we realized we needed more help and convinced some non Thespian seniors to help out. We barely finished by 6 and then sprinted to cars in order to try and grab something to eat before our house opened at 6:30. We had a small turn out, but a turn out none the less, and our nerves were higher than they had ever been for anything.

IIMG_7386.JPGt’s really hard to spend a hundred hours working on an art piece on controversial mature topics to then put it out in front of an audience for the first time. This show is about so much more than our acting because it’s about everything we had to do to bring the show to life, and it’s our final theater production in high school which is a big deal to all of us. We want to go out with a bang to show the culmination of all of our dedicated time doing what we love. For those people that come to see our show, I’ll admit it’s probably not the best show you’ve ever seen, and I’m sure more time would’ve helped the acting quality and stage relationships; however, this show is about so much more than just the acting, which is why we were even more nervous than normal.

I’ve grown to love our show like a baby, and it’s exciting and a little scary to see your baby take it’s first steps.

But today was the day to stand up because whether we wanted it to be or not it was preview night which means we did an entire run through for a live audience of parents and teachers– Man was I proud of the work that happened on the MVPS black box stage tonight!!!

IMG_7309.JPGNone of us felt like it was the performance of a life time, and there are definitely things that can and hopefully will be improved upon tomorrow and Thursday for our opening and closing night. However, like I said before, this was about more than the acting. This run through was the moment of truth to see if all of our hard work would pay off: could we really pull this off?

I think we did.

By the time we got to the last few scenes we knew we were going to make it through and were trying to hold in our excitement like a kid in a toy store who’s told not to touch anything. We had to keep going out into the cafeteria just to do a little happy dance so that we wouldn’t be too noisy backstage during the show because we just couldn’t contain our excitement.

We did it. We made it through smoothly. People enjoyed it! We made people think!!

I can’t imagine a better team of people to have been working with, and I’m so glad to have been a part of this process. I found myself doing lots of things I never had before from writing a script to crafting all of the light cues to thinking through marketing logistics, I really learned a lot from this process and am happy we put up with the stress it took to get here.

I’m still a little stressed and nervous, as one should be putting on a show, and especially one that you’ve directed… However, now I’m finally at a more normal show stress level where I truly believe it’s going to be something amazing, but don’t want to get over confident and not stay on top of my game.

Now we have two more shows left to really pull all of the bells and whistles together and truly make this show a show to remember. As my acro coach says, “The first time is to make sure you don’t die, now it’s time to do it for real with all you got.”