Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Isaac

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

Isaac Stone, a recent graduate from LASA High School, was challenged by his engineering teacher to create something that involved engineering. For the past 2 years he has been volunteering with the non-profit group, Texas Rowing For All, which focuses on bringing rowing and paddle sports to people with varying disabilities or impairments. Both of these factors inspired him to create the Invisible Cane, which emits sound to help blind people navigate their surroundings. His work earned him one of the $10,000 HGU scholarships this year.

Two things stood out to him most when working with those with visual impairments. For them to get into a boat meant largely relying on someone else for guidance and the obstacles that they could run into while in a boat are not within reach of a standard cane, until it’s too late to avoid a crash. The Invisible Cane doesn’t have the distance limitations of a standard physical cane, which would help people who are blind or have visual impairments become more independent on the water. A primary goal of Isaac’s is to allow the people with visual impairments the ability to independently row in places where programs such as Texas Rowing For All don’t exist. In addition, this will allow program volunteers to devote more resources to the parts of the community where visual impairments don’t apply.

When Isaac first started on his project, he created a prototype for the Invisible Cane. However, through more research and feedback from mentors and those in the blind community, he decided to develop an app for phones. Doing this will solve most of the current issues associated with cost and scaling, as he won’t be developing a physical product any longer. The majority of Isaac’s programming knowledge is self-taught and he plans to learn more to be able to be able develop the app. In the meantime, he will continue to volunteer with the Texas Rowing For All community. He hopes that as time goes on, his app will become widely accessible, easy to use, and highly functional for those in the blind community.

Throughout this process, Isaac has learned a lot about himself and how to challenge himself in different ways. He has learned that being a risk-taker can help him achieve his goals, even on a time-crunch. He also discovered that he already has a network of people to whom he can turn to for help, which has been a great resource to help him understand what this kind of process takes. Currently, he is working on getting in contact with a woman in his area that works with people who have recently lost their vision. She helps them learn to use a cane and to adjust to their new situations. He is hopeful that she will be able to help him better understand what is most important for their navigation needs. In addition, he would like to conduct navigation experiments himself without the benefit of sight to gain further understanding on how he can be more effective and understanding. Isaac says that through this process, he has been drawn to people with ambitious goals, good work ethics, and an abundance of self-awareness. He believes that this has been the most valuable and encouraging outcome of his project.

Isaac will continue his education at the College of Engineering at Washington University-St. Louis. His hope is to increase independence and power of an often-overlooked group within our society with the Invisible Cane. He wants to help these people build their capabilities and put them on par with the general population, which will allow them to integrate into society rather than remain dependent on others for companionship and aid.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Lexi

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

With the degree to which our lives have become online, can you imagine the hindrance of being unable to navigate technology? Inspired by her Grandparents, Lexi Showalter decided to take action in her community and that is how CyberCitizens began. Her goal was to bridge the generational gap and facilitate the younger generation to teach senior citizens technical skills. Her work earned her one of the five $10,000 HGU Build A Better Future scholarships.

Lexi noticed how often her Grandparents would come to her for their technology needs; her friends and peers were also having the same experiences. Instead of doing it all for them, Lexi wanted to help them gain both independence and confidence. In the class she hosted for her project, she was able to interact with multiple senior citizens, with overall positive feedback. Participants appreciated that she was very direct and to the point. She was able to help them feel good about themselves as they learned skills that were out of their comfort zones.

CyberCitizens isn’t just focused on teaching tech skills to senior citizens. One of her other big goals is to to encourage the younger generation to take on leadership roles by teaching these classes. Lexi plans to target millenials who tend to know more about technology, giving them the opportunity to gain life experiences and learn to lead others by teaching these classes. She feels like this is a great way to better connect her community and hopes to be able to recruit both college and high school students. Creating this has helped Lexi to be more outgoing and she knows this can help her peers do the same. Lexi has also been able to get family members involved with teaching their grandparents and parents to interact with them in a different way. She feels like this has been one of the most positive outcomes of her program.

Lexi’s biggest hope for CyberCitizens is for her students to really pick up on the information that they are being taught and to make them more independent. She feels strongly that this can help with their overall quality of life, not only because of the skills themselves, but because of the way learning new skills helps curtail brain decline. Taking these classes will also help the social isolation issues that our aging population frequently faces. She hopes that one day, she will be able to teach classes at nursing homes where residents have little to no contact with the outside world. These classes could help them to interact with more people and to also learn ways that they can connect with their families with things such as Facetime and Skype.

Ultimately, Lexi plans to do extensive work in taking CyberCitizens from what it is now to a non-profit business where multiple classes are offered. In these classes, she would like to focus on topics such as photo sharing, communication, online safety, and social media. She hopes that she will be able to trademark the flip-books she created for CyberCitizens, and develop more flip-books that are focused on the different classes being taught. Lexi recently graduation from Normal Community High School in Illinois. She will be attending Illinois State University in the fall, where she hopes to connect with more people to join her in CyberCitizens. Since her new school is in the town she is from, she will continue to grow CyberCitizens as she goes to college.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: William

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

William Rand has a great passion for physical, emotional and mental health and felt concerned about the current student wellness climate at his high school. After hearing interest from fellow students and teachers, as well as having past experience with wellness groups in his community, he was inspired to create OHBreathe at Ottawa Hills High School. The goal with this organization is to promote student wellness, and in doing so, he earned one of the $10,000 2018 HGU Build A Better Future scholarships.

OHBreathe has been fortunate enough to receive support from the school community as a whole. While the program this year performed with great success under a small budget, the dream is to expand the reach as well as the resources. The local school foundation has already pledged to support ventures to bring in wellness speakers high in their fields and to do so, William will be writing a grant later this year to ask for specific funds to be set aside for this purpose. OH21, an organization that promotes family wellness in his community gave their support to OHBreathe this year by purchasing t-shirts for the entire school and are already on board to make to the same donation for next year. OHSPAA, the school’s parent association, has also pledged to provide additional support TBD. However, William’s personal goal is to gain their support of the wellness day by helping to bring in local youth empowerment specialist Jon Schoonmaker to do a fully immersive wellness experience with all of the students at the school.

William’s biggest hope is that this will be less of an institutional program and more of a culture shift over time. He also hopes that they will reach enough people to be able to implement OHBreathe into more schools in the community. The community support thus far has been overwhelming. It has become clear to William that his community craves more immersive, in-depth experiences which has inspired him to gather all possible resources.

Through OHBreathe, William organized student-teacher workshops such as yoga, meditation, cooking, team building exercises, hiking, knitting, and gardening. William has sensed an overall positive impact on the participants and on the school as a whole. He hopes to gain a larger physical presence by placing posters and artifacts from each session around the school in hopes of having more meaningful symbols to remind students what it means to live in wellness every day.

William has developed several new skills over this process, including organizational skills, budgeting skills (within major financial constraints), and communication skills. He also learned to gain the attention of an entire auditorium by playing the emcee for OHBreathe assemblies. Most importantly, he learned how to remain calm and collected under the pressure of organizing hundreds of people. William uses music and meditation to release any trapped emotions, which helped him function when problems arose on the days of OHBreathe sessions. For William, as personal as the entire project became, he discovered that he can maintain a healthy internal separation from the drama of project management and learned to be okay regardless of the success or failure of the initiative.

Now that William has graduated from Ottawa Hills High School, he is confident that with the students taking over for next year, OHBreathe will continue to grow and inspire students along the way. He will be attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota in the fall. The college has a wide selection of student run organizations and William is excited to see what is available. He hopes to implement something similar to OHBreathe to promote wellness, culture and a sense of community.

Announcing Our 2018 Design A Better Future Scholarship Awardees!

Over the last 6 years of running this scholarship, our program has evolved from an essay contest, to a multimedia project, to now a 3-round Design Thinking community improvement project. We can say with confidence that this year’s application process has been the most ambitious yet!

We certainly asked a lot of our 2018 applicants: a full project proposal, an artifact or prototype, and a final reflection including video. And we have been inspired by the determination of these students to strengthen their communities in diverse ways. While it was extremely difficult to make the final decision, we are very pleased to announce our final awardees are as follows:

Bryan Banuelos: Warrior Dream Program ~ Our top awardee who will receive an additional $5,000 toward another iteration of his project

Austin Fitzgerald: MindStrings free violin tutoring for low-income students

William Rand: OHBreathe wellness workshops at his school

Alexis Showalter: CyberCitizens tech class business for seniors

Isaac Stone: Invisible Cane device to assist the blind to navigate surroundings

Full details on their projects will be published on our Past Winners page within the next few weeks. Thank you to all the schools and administrators that helped spread the word on our scholarship, and thank you to every student that applied! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“I thought if I took away the iPads & phones, they’d grow up to be normal people.”

With kids asleep and husband out of town, I thought I’d settle down for some stereotypically comforting chocolate and HGTV. And it was. Until the person getting a newly renovated boat said something I’ve heard in many different forms over and over:

“I thought if I took away the iPads & phones, they’d grow up to be normal people.”

Normal people?

There seems to be a long history of the older generations criticizing and fearing the youth for their abnormal interests.

Like when the Scientific American railed on the insidious game of chess in July 1859:

via Wikimedia commons/Public Domain

“A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages…chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises–not this sort of mental gladiatorship.”

Or when an earl complained in an 1843 speech in the House of Commons:

via Wikipedia/Public Domain

“…a fearful multitude of untutored savages… [boys] with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits…[girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody…the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.

Not to mention society’s habit in general to believe:

“that “the good ‘ol days” are behind us and the current good-for-nothing generation and their new-fangled gadgets and culture are steering us straight into the moral abyss. “There has probably never been a generation since the Paleolithic that did not deplore the fecklessness of the next and worship a golden memory of the past,” notes Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist.” (Why Do We Always Sell the Next Generation Short?“)

Excessive screen time, of course, is a legitimate concern. But if we truly believe the adage that the youth are our future, we must temper our tendency to demonize the new and unknown and instead provide encouragement for the possibilities it provides.

We should take care not to allow our fear of change to limit our children’s capacity to influence the future. That includes leading them to believe that if their childhoods look different from ours, they won’t lead “normal” lives.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

2017 Scholarship Awardees

The time has come to announce the 2017 multimedia scholarship winners!

The Winners:

  • Creative Writing: Chloe O’Donnell
  • Music: Caroline Guske
  • Video: Sunny Turner
  • Art: Joshua Hineman
  • Photography: Matthew Zarrelli

Each prize consists of a $1,000 check to their college in their name. To see their beautiful work, visit our Past Winners page!

The Stats

This year’s submissions came from 44 states. 75% of our applicants were female, and 40% were in the creative writing category. 93% of our applicants were high school seniors.

If You Didn’t Win:

Try again next year! Watch for the 2018 scholarship requirements this summer!

Please know that it was not easy to decide on our awardees this year. We were amazed and moved by the passion and talent that you shared with us!

Thank you everyone for your participation!

Examining Learning vs. Education: Introducing the 2017 HGU Scholarship

Ownership over learning. My favorite element of 21st century education. It stands for much of what has often been missing in the history of formal schooling: encouragement to pursue personal meaning, challenges to take risks, empowerment to share a voice.  As I carefully selected this phrase in one of last year’s prompts, I hoped to witness some of these moments of authentic student ownership through our scholarship’s five creative mediums.

Though the efforts of last year’s applicants were inspiring, authentic, and reflective, it quickly became clear to me that this notion of true ownership over learning is still a mirage for too many of our students. Too many have been trained to believe that ownership is simply working hard enough for the grade, or otherwise looking outward for the measure of success.

But with companies like Google completely abandoning typical hiring standards like GPAs since they have found no correlation to successful employees, and other companies looking for digital portfolios instead of resumes, the traditional model of schooling is quickly becoming less relevant. As Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte stated:

“Companies want someone who thrives on challenge [and is] willing to learn something new.  [They want] a seeker of information, willing to adapt. If you’re the type of person that wants to be told what to do, you might be a straight A student. In fact you might even be a better student than the other type of person.”

And of course, it’s really much less about what 21st century companies want, and much more about cultivating personal authenticity. It’s just that fortunately, it seems the world is starting to recognize the convergence of the two.

So instead, for this year’s scholarship, we’re asking students to examine the issue themselves. The 2017 prompt is as follows: Represent your views about the concepts of education vs. learning.

It is my hope that it will encourage greater reflection and dialogue on what matters most during the many years we invest in formal schooling.

For additional information on our 2017 creative multimedia scholarship, see the overview here (note the graphic at the top–for someone with a longstanding awkward relationship with creativity, I’m grateful for opportunities for growth like these as I try to lead out in pushing my comfort zone), and detailed FAQ’s for each medium here. It is available to high school seniors and college students with at least one year left of school, and has a deadline of April 16, 2017.

Finally, my reflections from last year’s participation have prompted me to also share a list of some do’s and don’t’s. These are meant to help promote the creativity, rather than to impede it (not to mention, to make sure that we will actually be able to review your submission)!

DO:

  • Do have a great time expressing yourself through your medium! The joy always shines through!
  • Do double/triple-check the sharing settings so we can view your file. There were quite a few that we could not evaluate last year because of this.
  • Do choose a creative title to help your piece stand out and to do it justice!

DON’T:

  • Don’t try to force a medium for your piece that isn’t a natural fit (ie, submitting a video that is really just you speaking would be better suited as a written piece).
  • Don’t submit a random assignment from a class. The lack of meaning and connection to the prompt is always apparent.
  • Don’t submit a formal ESSAY! This is a creative, multimedia scholarship. The creative writing medium is for creative pieces, including short fiction stories, poetry, screenplay/scripts, monologues, etc.