Christina became a champion for a STEM field while at Potomac. As a junior, she joined LearnServe International, a local social entrepreneurship organization. Having grown up in Washington, she began thinking about how she could help students in the troubled DC school system. "I was blessed to go to Potomac," Christina says, "whereas I knew people from my church, orchestra, and elsewhere in the city were going to schools that were not preparing them for college."
A lot of schools talk about success. That's an important concept at Potomac, too, but we also like to think about significance. A Potomac education prepares individuals to have an enduring positive impact on their families, communities, professions, and the world. Just take a look at our graduates! From the personal to the professional, in their vocations and avocations, through leadership, service, creativity, and courage, Potomac alumni are making a significant difference. Check out some of their stories below.
"Close your eyes and picture a scientist," Olivia Pavco-Giaccia '12 told a room full of executives of Yale's Entrepreneurial Institute. "What do you see?"
At the time, Olivia was a freshman at Yale pitching a new science-related business venture she hoped the institute would help get off the ground. As she expected, her audience conjured exactly the image of a scientist that societal norms have dictated for years: a man, somewhat older, in a white lab coat and goggles, with Einstein-like wild hair.
It's a simple but powerful idea. When you walk in the shoes of others and feel their pain and hardships, their hopes and dreams, your life changes. And when you connect deeply with someone, the experience can transform you.
As Matt Stinchcomb '93 tells the story, his career as a business executive was born in a most unusual way. In 2005, seven years removed from his Oberlin College studies in art history, he was playing guitar in a New York indie-rock band and making ends meet with a side business in T-shirt screening and printing. A friend who had launched an online startup asked Matt to join the company and handle marketing.
"I don't know anything about marketing," Matt protested.
"Perfect," the friend said.
It's not always easy knowing the exact moment a school touches a child's soul, but Lorin Stein has a clear memory of how it once happened to him at Potomac more than 30 years ago. His second-grade teacher, Sarah Corson, had arranged a visit by Ashley Bryan, an African-American writer and illustrator of children's books. Bryan described the process of making a book—the writing, illustration, printing—and young Lorin was shocked at how long it took. But he was enchanted too: He loved making little books at home and dreamed of making bigger books.
During her senior year at Potomac, Lauren Banks Amos '94, a star runner, came to track practice one day convinced she was too sick to work out. She told her coach, John Drew, a beloved teacher and the founding father of the School's cross-country and track teams.
Growing up, Lina Gomez waited eagerly for her father, Christian, to return from business trips. An economist with the Inter-American Development Bank, he traveled frequently to South America, particularly Colombia, where he was born, each time returning home to Northern Virginia with candy or trinkets for Lina and her older brother, Christian Jr.
David Ritter '93 takes kids into the treetops and teaches them the rewards of a stiff challenge Head northwest from Washington, DC, into Maryland, past strip malls and Starbucks and onto a two-lane road dotted with stands selling sweet corn and fresh peaches. Turn onto a gravel road and drive onto a 165-acre farm that is like no other. Inside the barn is a giant climbing wall. Rappelling ropes dangle from the roof's support beams. Outside, an 850-foot zip line stretches over a pen of goats and a vegetable garden. A ropes course is tucked into a lush forest that backs onto the C&O Canal.
For many, the term "speech therapy" summons the sound of a stutter. But to Clay Whitehead '98 and the 3.5 million children who receive speech therapy each year, it's about so much more. "This is fundamentally about how you communicate with the world around you," says Clay. That's why he and his four-year-old company, PresenceLearning, are dedicated to connecting children with speech therapists around the country.
Educating girls in developing countries, says Holly Green Gordon '86, is not just good for girls, it's good for everyone. And that's the point of Girl Rising, the film at the center of the social action campaign 10X10: Educate Girls, Change the World, for which Holly serves as Executive Director and Executive Producer.
After transforming herself from Wall Street broker working at Goldman Sachs to jewelry designer in 2006, Monique Péan set about transforming the luxury jewelry industry. Her striking, nature-inspired designs and her use of sustainable, unusual materials (e.g., fossilized woolly mammoth and dinosaur bone) have garnered press attention most designers only dream of.
"Absolutely incredible" aren't words one typically associates with military deployment in Afghanistan. But Second Lieutenant Kevin Mayer '04 doesn't hesitate to describe his experience in glowing terms. Beginning in August 2010, Mayer worked as the Assistant Officer in Charge of a Police Advisor Team, training, advising and partnering with the Afghan National Police (ANP). "The time has absolutely flown by," he says. "I'm normally so busy that I don't spend too much time thinking about when we'll be heading home." Mayer emailed The Potomac Term from the Zad District in Halmand Provice about working, wrestling and joking with the ANP.
As a certified coxswain and Marine Seismic Acquisitions Engineer for WesternGeco, Laura Smith '01 spends five weeks at sea (sometimes passing through treacherous water such as these), followed by three weeks in an office in Oslo, Norway, and then two weeks wherever doing whatever she wants. On the job, she works to create three-dimensional maps of the ocean floor — maps that help oil companies find oil. Her boat tows eight cables, each about 5 miles long and equipped with miniature microphones called hydrophones. Every 10 to 15 seconds, air guns on the boat fire, and the hydrophones record the sound as it bounces off the ocean floor and the geological layers below.
Even as a teenager, Burke Brownfield '00 wanted to keep people safe. "I decided my goal was to become a police officer," he says. "I liked the idea that I would be the person coming to save the screaming woman, the person to go towards the danger when everyone else was running away." Today, Burke works for the Peace Corps as the Regional Safety and Security Officer for South America and the Caribbean. Based in Lima, Peru, he regularly travels to eight different countries overseeing volunteer safety, sampling the world's best coffee and learning about his own country by visiting those of others.
Whenever he can, Andrew Hebeler '85 finds time for flying high over the Mozambique Channel, body harnessed to the tail of a taut kite. Hebeler, a self-described kitesurfing addict, first took up the sport in 2006, when he began working to promote natural resource conservation and tourism in Mozambique. If the country isn't yet synonymous with "vacation destination," maybe it should be. "It has incredible beaches, bush, game parks," says Hebeler, who lives with his wife and three children in Maputo. "If you're a beach bum like me, this is paradise."
Despite below-freezing temperatures, Colby senior Claire Donegan '08 has found in her college lacrosse team a warmth that reminds her of home. "We always say Colby is just a colder Potomac. There's that same sense of community," says Donegan, who, along with Dori McAuliffe '10 and Catherine Kahl '09, helped the team post 15 wins (and only five losses) during the spring 2011 season. Their winning ways kept them among the top 10 Division III teams all year long.
Now a sustainable architect in San Francisco, Lewis Butler '72 remembers his time at Potomac as formative. "Our science classes at Potomac were very geared toward the effects of phosphates and DDT and [other chemicals] on the environment," he says. "It was an environmental era, and Potomac was leading the way."
In her spare time, Dorothy Phoenix '02 is developing a Legend of Zelda-like video game that transports the user to a fictitious but factually inspired locale in 19th-century Southern California. Like Juana Maria in Island of the Blue Dolphins, the heroine and her father are the last surviving members of their tribe. But in Phoenix's virtual world, the heroine returns to the island and goes on a quest to recover her tribe's cultural and linguistic artifacts, relics that will prove and preserve her culture for years to come. Phoenix says, "I've reimagined it like I would have liked it to happen."
Michael Emory '01 is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Stanford University working in the field of computational fluid dynamics (CFD). That means he uses computer models to study how liquids and gases behave in motion — for example, how air flows around the nose of a speeding bullet train. His research is contributing to the development of, among other things, a hypersonic engine designed for flight at eight to 10 times the speed of sound. If all goes as planned, 20 years from now a trip across the world might take no more than a couple of hours.
Today the meteorologist's role is more important than ever. Although we still look to weathermen and women to tell us when to carry umbrellas, we now also seek their expertise on a weightier topic: global climate change. Jason Samenow '94, founder of the Capital Weather Gang blog and weather editor at The Washington Post, has been communicating the science of climate change for more than a decade. He now leads a spirited team of meteorologists who engage readers with storm-naming contests, heat wave humor, video Q&As, history lessons and more.
When Sasha DiGiulian '11 won the overall gold medal at the 2011 Climbing World Championships in Arco, Italy, last July, she enjoyed a fleeting moment of reflection as she stood in front of the crowd and listened to the first chords of a familiar tune. Standing on top of the podium with the American National Anthem playing was an incredible feeling of satisfaction and pride," she told me, "not so much personal, but more pride for the journey and for realizing that when you set your eyes on a goal and believe that it is possible, it is a truly momentous force that is pretty hard to hinder." Of course, it would have to be about the journey, because what else really matters to the climber?
Alex Ross '83 has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. He is the author of The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, which was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award. His second book, Listen to This, is a collection of his essays for The New Yorker. Alex says in his opening essay, "I hate 'classical music': not the thing but the name." Music, whether classical or popular is for Alex a central expression of the human condition, "It encompasses the high, the low, empire, underground, dance, prayer, silence, noise."
Jody Goehring '99 is at the helm of a revolution. His location: New York City. His title: director of operations. His mission: to make buying menswear such a tailor-made experience that the term "shopping" assumes a brand new identity.
In June 2011, Whitney Tymas became director of the Prosecution and Racial Justice Program at the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit center for justice policy and practice. Tymas began her career as a public defender with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. She later worked at the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York and as a prosecutor in Richmond, Virginia. She also ran the Gun and Gang Violence Prosecution Program and the Southwest Border Crime Program for the National District Attorneys Association. Tymas holds a BA from Barnard and a JD from New York University.
One of Variety's 10 Directors to Watch in 2012, Zal Batmanglij '98 has been on a wild ride since submitting Sound of My Voice to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The ultra-low-budget film garnered significant buzz: a "terrific and engrossing venture into speculative fiction," glowed the Hollywood Reporter; "bracingly ambitious" and "forward-thinking," wrote The Washington Post. The attention piqued the interest of Fox Searchlight, which acquired the film in April 2011 and released it nationwide on April 27, 2012.