Peachtree Corners is home to extraordinary families and schools which are nurturing bright, talented and community-minded young people. We sent out requests for nominations of students who find the time to make the world a better place despite their busy school schedules.
Not surprisingly, we were flooded with responses. So in addition to our “20 Under 20” selection, we’re including a list of “Up and Coming” teens who are making positive differences in peoples’ lives.
Cem and Alp Altikulac
“Cem and Alp volunteer their time through countless service projects and fundraisers to support autism awareness,” wrote Carolyn Tully, a volunteer coordinator who works with the brothers. “They serve as peer models, demonstrating the skills that teenagers and young adults with autism need to be successful in the community and play pivotal roles in motivating and mentoring. … Even in their busy lives as teenagers they have canceled plans with friends or returned from trips early to uphold their commitments to those in need.”
Cem, who’s 18 and a freshman at Georgia State University, and Alp, who’s 16 and a junior at Norcross High School, work with teens on the spectrum to master life skills such as how to manage a shopping trip or how to play a videogame.
“There was one kid who was 14 and I was teaching him to play [the videogame system] Wii because his mom wanted him to play Wii to connect with his brother, like other siblings, which is a natural skill for any other 14-year-olds,” Alp wrote. “But for him, it took two months of hard work and one broken TV screen to learn to play one simple Wii game. This memory always reminds me how we take everything for granted which we should not.”
Cem recounted teaching a teen who was on the spectrum how to go shopping. “We started with Walmart to teach him to shop for his basic needs and wants. The skills we planned to teach were reading off a list, finding the right aisle, identifying different brands, finding the price and paying at the cashier. He had a lot of difficulty to perform any of the skills at first, but after weeks of repetition of going to Walmart … he can go shopping for any groceries and find it in the store without much hesitation now. This memory gave me a warm heart because I impacted another person’s life who sometimes doesn’t get the same opportunities as me.”
Aubrey DeAugustinis, a 17-year-old senior at Wesleyan School, serves on the Teen Council at Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities and was named Top Fundraiser for the Teen Council in 2018. She also interned with the organization in the summer of 2018, supporting the marketing, finance and management services departments. Aubrey has worked with another Wesleyan student, her cousin Lizzy Stainback, to lead after-school enrichment classes, where lower school students learned about Ronald McDonald Charities.
“In our Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Enrichment club, we got the opportunity to visit one of the houses and take a tour,” Aubrey recalled. “I loved seeing the faces of the kids in this club as we entered the house that they had been learning about all year. We had taught them about the mission of ARMHC and done various service projects, but it was so special to see the mission in action.”
At Wesleyan, Aubrey has participated in high school theater productions, as a varsity cheerleader, on the prom committee and she has served as a Wesleyan student ambassador working with prospective families. In ninth and 10th grade, she served on Wesleyan’s honor council. She also has volunteered to play with lower school students before school every other Wednesday morning and will take part in a mission trip to Guatemala this spring.
Aubrey has been awarded the bronze medal on the National Spanish Exam and was awarded the Female Overall Achievement Award at Wesleyan in both ninth and 10th grades.
Wesleyan School senior Braden Thorne has excelled in school as a National Merit Semifinalist and member of the National Honor Society and in the community as an Eagle Scout. Also, Braden, who’s 18, and a friend recently pitched an online retail business concept to Atlanta Tech Village, a startup community in Midtown, and they will be launching the concept in the coming months.
At school, Braden is a member of the National Honor Society, has won two National French Exam awards and is a member of the math team. He is a member of the Wesleyan marching band, where he is serving as the drum major for the second year; has participated in multiple productions in the Wesleyan theater department; is a member of the high school chapel band; serves as a student government representative; and serves as a Wesleyan student ambassador working with prospective families considering Wesleyan each year.
This spring, Braden will serve on a Wesleyan mission trip to Costa Rica.
For his Eagle Scout project, he organized construction of two picnic tables at the trail by Tech Lake Park. “It was such an awesome experience to lead nearly a dozen other scouts in the construction and installation process,” he recalled. “I was so humbled to see many others jump in and unify with the common goal to serve the community.”
Camille Hollier is passionate about art and service. A student at Greater Atlanta Christian School for 13 years, the 17-year-old Camille recently won a Scholastic Art Silver Key National Award and is creating an AP Art portfolio called “Unexpected” to show everyday objects in unusual ways to demonstrate the people shouldn’t be judged on appearances.
She also is planning her third mission trip to Honduras through Honduras Outreach Incorporated, which addresses the physical and spiritual needs of the residents in order to have a long-term effect on the lives of people in that country.
“I can honestly say that one of the most memorable experiences of my life has been the opportunity to serve the Honduran people in their community,” Camille wrote. “This has impacted me on so many levels that it’s difficult to even put into words. Graciousness, kindness, gratefulness, dedication and love were just a few of the things I observed and experienced while there.
“Understanding the impact this has had on me makes me cognizant of the fact that there’s always a place where I can and must help and serve others—whether it’s down the road in Peachtree Corners or halfway around the world.”
Charlotte Burts, who’s 17 and a junior at Norcross High School, plays violin, rides horses, serves as a vice president of the Spanish Honor Society, is a member of the school color guard and is working on her Gold Award through Girl Scouts. She is an active member of Simpsonwood United Methodist Church and has taken part in five weeks of mission trips.
“One of my most memorable moments was when I had the opportunity to help Peachtree Corners Baptist Church and the Norcross Co-op with the Merry Market,” Charlotte recalled. “This program allows countless underprivileged families to give their children a nice Christmas free of charge. Many of these families do not primarily speak English, so it was also an amazing experience to be able to use Spanish to do something good for my community. This allowed me to contribute in ways that I normally wouldn’t be able to and see the kind of impact I had on the lives of others.”
According to Cathy Loew, a parent volunteer with Norcross High band, she always noticed the same girl helping at band events. “She helped at the band registration table, she helped with food at band camp, she helped with the uniforms. She seemed to be everywhere and happy!
“My daughter was new to color guard and she informed me that the girl was Charlotte Burts. When I asked if she was always so helpful, my daughter replied, “Yes, she helps me all the time in guard.” As the season progressed, my daughter informed me Charlotte continued to help the freshman and was always positive and affirming. Charlotte is exactly the type of person who will make the world a better place.”
At age 17, Norcross High senior Cimone Jefferson already has seen success in business. She founded and owns a skin-care product business (GloKit)—featuring a line of natural body scrubs—that came in First Runner Up in the inaugural 3DE program’s Business Creation Simulation.
According to Cimone, her most memorable moment so far has been creating the skin-care business in her 3DE business class at Norcross High School. “This opportunity has helped me uplift young ladies to be confident so that they can feel they can accomplish anything they put their mind to,” she said. “This brings me great pride in helping my community!”
In her junior year, Cimone was appointed Vice President of Media Coordination for the Future Business Leaders of America. She attended the National Student Leadership Conference for Business and Entrepreneurship at Yale University in the Summer of 2019. At the conference, she pitched an idea that won the award for best usage for technology.
Also in 2019, Cimone was named Norcross High’s Homecoming Queen. Active in cheerleading throughout high school, she acted as Cheer Captain and earned a spot as an All-American Cheerleader all four years and represented Norcross High at the Disney World Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Cimone has also served as a Junior Coach for the Freshman Cheer Squad since her sophomore year.
“Cimone has been a terrific ambassador for Norcross High School (and Peachtree Corners) and will continue to do so in the future,” Norcross Business Education teacher Twoey Hosch wrote.
Elle Dougherty has been curious about the ocean since she was little. She has other interests—competitive swimming, the Norcross High Band band’s color guard and Girl Scouts among them—but she has been so committed to ocean conservation that during a family vacation to the beach she spent time working at the Jekyll Island Turtle Sanctuary.
The 16-year-old now volunteers regularly at the Georgia Aquarium, and she was chosen to work summer and fall internships there. Elle’s favorite experience at the aquarium, she said, involved a family with young daughters.
“It was a quiet morning, so not many guests were in the building. I was in Ocean Voyager, the largest exhibit, with the whale sharks, … and a family of four came through. … The family was awestruck, which made me smile because I feel the same way every time I see it. …I began to talk to [the] daughters, who told me that they were interested in sharks and had never seen whale sharks up close before. They quickly began asking me questions about all of the animals and about the aquarium itself.
“One question that I vividly remember was when the youngest one asked me how big they get. When I told her that they could get to be about 13 times her height she was shocked. … I love being able to give people unique experiences as well as provide interesting information and awareness about the oceans.”
As drum major of the Norcross High School band, Evan Johnson does more than merely keep the beat, according to Jen Elliott Ehrhardt, a neighbor and friend who calls herself “Evan’s other mother.”
“His legacy to the marching band transcends the podium,” she wrote. “Evan promotes inclusion, leadership, and connection by living it. He praises band members for taking initiative, solving problems, and elevating standards. ‘We’re creating future leaders today,’ he explained of the culture he’s establishing. Evan’s vision for excellence extends beyond his immediate experience to future marching bands at Norcross.”
The 17-year-old senior’s leadership extends beyond the band. “As junior class president, then student body president, Evan’s platform has been inclusion,” Ehrhardt wrote. “Anyone can be kind, and Evan makes compassion cool.
“Scouting offered another context to prioritize engagement and giving back, Ehrhardt wrote. Evan honored servicemen and servicewomen, as well as first responders, through a letter-writing campaign culminating in his Eagle Scout ranking earlier this year. “Evan’s detailed list of activities and accolades spans two pages and is so extensive, I’m not sure when he slept,” she wrote. “But here is his essential message: ‘You belong.’ ‘You matter.’ ‘Let’s help.’ …
“I asked Evan why he’s spent so many hours volunteering. ‘Two reasons,’ he explained. ‘First, I love to help people. It’s a huge passion of mine. I’ve been given so much, and I want to improve other people’s lives. And second, I want people to feel like they matter. I belong to a family—biologically, community-based, and culturally. I want others to experience that belonging, too—it’s life-changing.’”
One of Evan’s memorable moments happened at a fun activity called Reverse Trick or Treating hosted by the Norcross High Student Council, he said. “We visit an elderly home in our community to give them candy and chat. As we were leaving the home this year, an elderly woman pulled me aside and thanked me profusely, telling me how this event made her entire week. It brought me joy to know that we were able to bring them a bit of happiness. I strive in everything that I do to make the lives of those around me better.”
Georgia Whitmer’s teachers rave about her. The Norcross High School senior draws high marks from her mentor on a summer research project as a NASA intern, who praised her “outgoing and confident personality” and predicted the 17-year-old will be successful “through her work ethic and willingness to learn and contribute.” Her physics teacher calls her one of the Top 10 students he’s taught in a 30-year career that has included about 3,500 students.
“I am excited about her future and hope to see her destination in 10 years because she will make an impact wherever that is,” Jonathan Crymes, her International Baccalaureate Physics Higher Level 2 teacher wrote. “Her grasp of physics is extraordinary and difficult problems prove little challenge for her work ethic. But she does not get by on just her mind. She works hard and she works tirelessly, and she is self-motivated and self-reliant. Her future focus is laser tight and she will put forth whatever effort is required to get her there. I’ve never said this before: she’s the perfect student.”
Georgia is active outside the classroom, too. She is on the community swim team, made the USA Swimming Southeastern Sectionals when she was 12, tutors other students voluntarily, is president of a service club called Dumbledore’s Army and participates in Technology Student Association Projects, Crymes wrote.
“My goal is to encourage others to go after their dreams and aspirations,” Georgia said. “I do this through leadership. As president of the Technology Students Association at Norcross High School, I help others to go after their goals in technology. Dumbledore’s Army gives others the opportunity to develop their own ideas about the world by offering them unbiased information.”
Her internship project, titled The Urban Green Space: A Habitat for Mosquito Breeding All Across the United States, incorporated NASA satellite imagery, GLOBE land cover and mosquito habitat data and her citizen science data observations, wrote Cassie Soeffing, her mentor on the project. “We were impressed with her timely completion of assignments, thoughtful and articulate analysis of the comparative study assignments, collaborative nature during this virtual project and her final project presentation,” Soeffing wrote.
Heather Flanagan helps younger girls find joy through dance. The 17-year-old Norcross High School junior helps host free weekly after-school ballet classes for first graders at Beaver Ridge Elementary who might not be able to take dance instruction otherwise. “At the end of the school year,” writes Cheryl Flanagan, Heather’s mother, “they join in a recital with Perimeter Ballet to perform a dance and show off their brand-new ballerina costumes.”
Heather says one of her favorite memories of the program was the day of the recital, when the young girls performed for an audience of several hundred people.
“One of the girls started to cry right before she went on stage, so one of my co leaders took the time to kneel next to her, give her a hug, and encourage her until she was ready to go on stage,” Heather said. “She went on to dance beautifully. The smiles on all of the girls’ faces, after they finished the dance, were so joyful. I love being a part of something that brings that kind of joy to people.”
Dance isn’t her only interest, her mom says. Heather’s also active at church, is an officer in two clubs at Norcross High, started a ballet exercise class for her peers, and is writing a book.
After researching food insecurity, Kaitlyn Williams proposed that her school, Greater Atlanta Christian School, could find an outlet to donate excess food from lunch to those in need. She and a group were tasked with making the idea a reality, which required school and food services administrative approval, health department criteria and transportation options. Since formally launching and partnering with Food for Thought/Second Helpings in August 2017, GAC has continued to donate surplus food every week to the metro Atlanta area.
The 18-year-old senior has contributed to her community in other ways, too. She organized a candy drive for orphans in the Ukraine, has tutored elementary age students who speak English as a second language and has been a team member for mission trips to Guatemala and Ecuador.
During the past two summers, Kaitlyn was a volunteer coach at Tavani Soccer Camp, a camp she attended when she was younger and where she shares her passion for the game with younger players. “I not only loved to coach the kids during the summer,” she said. “but when I see the kids during the fall season and they say, “Hey Coach Kaitlyn!” then I know I have made an impact on them.”
Kate Fuhr started figure skating at age 8. After a year and a half, she switched to ice hockey.
Now, at age 14, the Cornerstone Christian Academy eighth grader has been a member of the Atlanta Fire Ice Hockey Developmental Team for the past three years. She is one of only a handful of girls in the organization, and one of only three girls playing at “14 and under” Bantam level at the Cooler in Alpharetta. Kate is also starting her second year on the Junior Atlanta Thrashers, the Women’s Travel Ice Hockey Team.
“I’ve been part of the coed ice hockey team for three years,” Kate said, “and one thing that I’ve learned from Cornerstone Christian is how to get out of my comfort zone and make new friends.”
She’s interested in music, too. She has studied piano for five years, taken voice lessons for the past year and started playing the guitar and writing songs this past summer. She’s been a member of the Cornerstone Chapel Band for four years and a member of the Cornerstone chorus for two.
“I learned the importance of service from my parents, grandparents and other influential people in my life,” Kate said. “When trying to recall a memorable moment of service, the people around me stand out more than any one event. I think about one very special teacher at Cornerstone Christian Academy, Mrs. Katie Trapani.”
Unfortunately, Mrs. Trapani passed away in 2018 after a courageous battle with cancer. “She took us to the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that was very dear to her,” Kate remembered. “I learned first-hand what an impact we, even as kids, had on the lives of families supporting seriously ill children in the hospital.”
Kate said that she has been blessed with the chance to fill a number of leadership and servant roles in both school and church. “I see being of service to others as a privilege and try to get involved and give back whenever I have the opportunity.”
Lizzy Stainback, a senior at Wesleyan School, serves as president of the school’s chorus leadership committee, takes part in the high school chapel band and has participated in plays and musicals with the school’s Wolf Players.
Her interest in music continues off-campus, too. The 17-year-old recently volunteered as a counselor with Camp CreARTive at the George Center for Music Therapy. And every week, Lizzy volunteers with the Salvation Army Church in Lawrenceville as an assistant choir director. She works with children aged 6 to 12.
“As I started working at the Salvation Army, I didn’t know what to think,” she recalled. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be accepted by the kids and parents as I was a late addition in their chorus season. I was pleasantly surprised as I was welcomed with open arms, literally.
“Every Thursday after a long drive to Lawrenceville, I’m greeted with glowing smiles from 30 kids all shouting ‘Miss Lizzy! Miss Lizzy! I missed you.’ They are always interested in the events of my life and the cool things I’ve learned in school. I only hope that I bring as much joy to their lives as they bring to mine, and I’ve made as much of an impact on their lives as they’ve made on mine.”
And her community and school activities extend beyond music. She’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Teen Council and serves as a board student leader with Atlanta Ronald McDonald Charities.
Melina Jackson’s father suffered with Parkinson’s disease for many years before he passed away when she was 10 years old. As a fifth grader, she decided to take action to honor her father’s memory.
The first year, Melina’s goal was to raise awareness about Parkinson’s. She arranged for a representative from the PD Gladiators, a Norcross foundation that helps people cope with the disease, to speak to students at her school on April 11, 2018, World Parkinson’s Day. Students were offered an “out-of-uniform” day if they wore Parkinson’s colors, grey and blue.
Melina surveyed the students to find out what worked best. She then arranged for a school-wide Parkinson’s awareness event called “Pancakes for Parkinson’s.” She also arranged presentations so students could learn about Parkinson’s and what they could do to help friends or family who are suffering from a serious disease.
This school year, the 12-year-old seventh grader at Cornerstone Christian Academy plans to build on that, continuing to raise awareness, not just at school, but in the community, and possibly add some fundraising for Parkinson’s Research.
“The most memorable moment that I have of serving in my community was seeing how I had influenced my classmates,” Melina wrote. “After discussing with my school about different ways people could raise awareness to less-talked-about diseases such as Parkinson’s, a few of my close friends hosted a fundraiser for the disease at a local park. This encouraged me and my drive towards my goal for Parkinson’s because it showed me that what I had provided to the people around me was positive and impactful. That was 100 percent a moment in my life where I felt like I had done something and it meant, and still means, a lot to me.
Her work has impressed people around her, including Helen West, a teacher at Cornerstone Christian Academy. “If you spend any time at all talking with Melina, you will immediately be impressed by her poise and intelligence,” West wrote. “Although she has experienced great grief, she has demonstrated great initiative and maturity, far beyond her years.”
Although she’s just 11 years old, Myra Wu has built quite a resume. She’s an A student at Pinckneyville Middle School, performs on piano and French horn, and competes in the swimming pool and on the tennis court.
“Myra’s drive and ambition to compete individually and with her teammates is outstanding,” family friend Tanya Ayers wrote. “Her dedication during the school year and through summer vacation shows her passion and drive is unwavering as she sacrifices her time to practice and help others.”
Myra, who started playing tennis at age 5, according to robotics coach Hayley Hanson, ranks 35th in the G12 USTA Georgia standings.
She recently volunteered to be a ball girl at a Special Pops Tennis tournament, a competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. “It was great to help those with disabilities play the sport that I love—tennis,” Myra said. “Seeing their smiles made the experience well worth it.”
Nadia Jones is passionate about helping and encouraging others. The Norcross High School student has collected blankets, hats and gloves for the charity Hosea Feed the Hungry. She’s collected new and gently worn shoes for recycling and provided Socks 4 Seniors. She led a coat and toy drive with donations going to Norcross Cooperative Ministry.
She started a Girl UP Club in her middle school to build self-esteem, fight against bullying and encourage girls to be great. At 16, Nadia has been a Girl Scout for 11 years and now is serving a two-year internship with Girl Scout USA. She has committed hours to working on G.I.R.L. 2020, a conference expected to bring thousands of girls and their supporters to Orlando, Fla. next year for inspiration and to encourage their empowerment.
Bernina Jones, her mother, says Nadia said has been sharing her Christian faith with others in the local community and in downtown Atlanta through prayer, play and by spending many Saturdays visiting neighborhoods to deliver fresh bread and pray for strangers. She’s also sung carols at homes for senior citizens.
“A moment I will never forget is visiting a senior citizens home while on Christmas break,” Nadia wrote. “The holidays can be a difficult time of year for many, so to lighten the hearts of senior citizens in the community, who often don’t get to see their families, I visited them. It was an amazing time of fellowship and in those few moments, I shared smiles, laughs and prayers with many people who often didn’t get to experience them. As a small gift for the seniors, I gave them new fuzzy socks and I will never forget the bright smiles and a few teary-eyed responses of the people who received them.
“That glimpse of joy sparked from giving back to a community that so willingly embraced me is an incomparable experience that I will carry with me as I continue to faithfully serve my community. You never know how much of a change you can make in the world until you understand that just a little bit of service has the potential to change the lives of people around you forever.”
Riley Keller, a 17-year-old junior at Wesleyan School, plays varsity softball, basketball and lacrosse. She has played on two state championship softball teams and has been a counselor at Wesleyan summer camps for her three sports.
But ask her favorite memory and she recalls a birthday snow cone that led to an off-the-cuff effort to help people in need.
Her story goes something like this: “My parents rented a snow-cone machine for my birthday. It wasn’t due back until after the weekend, so we gave out free snow cones to kids in our neighborhood. All of the kids could have purchased a snow cone, but it was amazing how much joy it brought to people that we gave them away for free.
“This sparked the idea to give away snow cones in exchange for canned goods to stock the summer shelves at the Norcross Co-op. The number of Peachtree Corners families that participated in our Cans-4-Cones over the years is unknown, but there were a lot of smiles and we collected hundreds of pounds of food from a simple snow cone.”
That wasn’t her first charity effort. Through the National Charity League—which she has served as president, vice president of programs, attendance coordinator and chair of the Caring for a Cause event committee and other committees—she has worked with various philanthropies.
Riley is a member of Wesleyan’s Omicron Service Team, where she and other students serve organizations throughout the community, and she has been involved with mission trips to Alabama, Tennessee, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Riley also volunteered with Hope Heals Summer Camp to support families affected by disabilities.
“I have worked with Children Restoration Network over the past 10 years. We have collected, sorted and distributed school supplies, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas presents to some of Atlanta’s most vulnerable children and teens,” she wrote. “I love that I’m doing work for children and families in my community and it reminds me of how fortunate I am, but also that learning, giving and expressing gratitude are three essentials to life.”
Savannah Whitmer, a 17-year-old Norcross High School senior, is an award-winning member of the Technology Student Association, captains the school swim team and is percussion section leader in the Norcross High School Band. “Savannah’s work ethic and care for her peers makes her a standout from those around her,” Assistant Band Director and Percussion Director Corey Fair said.
She also is a Harry Potter fan. With her mother, Marilyn Whitmer, and her twin sister, Georgia, Savannah helped create the Harry Potter Garden at Peachtree Elementary School, which was inspired by the magical books that have attracted millions of readers. “Savannah and her sister designed and laid out a plan for the garden, including creative scenes based on details from the books to keep students interested,” Fair wrote.
“They relied on community members for donation of materials: Many people gave fence posts for bordering, used Realtor signs that could be painted and displayed, an old owl figurine to add a magical element to the garden. To know that Savannah was one of the masterminds behind this amazing service project shows her passion for education and for people.”
Savannah herself says she’s proudest of her work with the school marching band. “These past four years I have learned how to be a strong leader for my peers,” she wrote. “I had the privilege of being the one to make them smile when they were feeling down and to watch them grow into leaders themselves. Together we are a family, strong and unbreakable. I’m proud of all that we have accomplished together. But the amount that I’ve helped the band grow could never compare to how much they have helped me grow.”
Lee Conger, local school technology coordinator at Paul Duke STEM High School, recalled the first time he met Smit Patel. Smit, then a sophomore, was interested in drones.
“Smit walked into my office, introduced himself with a firm handshake and a steady gaze, and asked if I was helping to launch a program [at Paul Duke] focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). I told him I was … After speaking with Smit for just a few minutes, I found out he was heavily involved in JROTC and the Technology Student Association, and he served in a leadership role in both of those organizations. I realized how passionate and knowledgeable he was about UAVs, so I told him that if he attended Paul Duke STEM, I would love him to become a student leader.”
Smit took a flyer on the new STEM school. Now, as a senior, Smit has become one of the leaders of his class, Conger says.
“He is one of only 11 students participating in the joint cybersecurity venture between Mercer University and the FBI. In addition to being on the First Robotics team, Smit has been a student leader on the team which provides free aerial photography to schools in Gwinnett County Public Schools. He also led the team responsible for the unique drone ribbon-cutting ceremony at Curiosity Lab of Peachtree Corners last month.”
Smit plans on attending college and then the Air Force where he can use his knowledge of UAVs and robotics to serve his country. “It’s important to me to help other people. The drone club has helped us—me and my classmates—to begin to realize the opportunities that drones have for us,” Smit said. “I’d like to pursue a career in drone technology, most likely in the Air Force where I could fly drones on missions to assist and protect troops. The club has also been able to help two fellow students who are looking to start their own drone business.”
Conger said that when he thinks of students who will make Peachtree Corners proud, “Smit Patel is certainly at the top of my list.”
Trey Dixon sets the bar high for himself. The 18-year-old Greater Atlanta Christian School senior is a runner who helped lead the school’s team to the state meet. He’s a musician who plays piano and guitar. He shoots photographs of campus activities and helps devise sets and lighting designs for school events.
Trey also leads worship on Sunday mornings, tutors underclassmen and runs extra laps to encourage younger runners.
“One of my most memorable moments giving back to the community was through running the Peachtree Corners’ “Light Up the Corners” race along with my entire family,” he said. “I have run the race every year for the last three years, but I especially enjoyed this year because I was able to bring my friends to run the race with me and it supports a great cause right within our community.”
Autumn Clark, Powering through to a Strong Comeback (podcast)
Autumn Clark, a student at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), is a gifted athlete who has worked tenaciously to develop her talents. More than a year ago, she suffered an injury that sidelined her for a while — but not for long. She powered through her rehab and had returned stronger and more determined than ever. This accompanies the article that appeared in our recent issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine.
Timstamp – Where to find it in the podcast:
[00:00:30] – Opening
[00:01:40] – Autumn’s Background
[00:02:57] – A Huge Setback
[00:05:33] – Physical Therapy and Coming Back
[00:08:23] – Balancing Sports, Life, and School
[00:11:24] – How COVID has Impacted Sports
[00:13:06] – How Autumn Plays
[00:15:41] – Moving on to College
[00:17:06] – Autumn’s Other Interests
[00:22:15] – Closing
“I think that it’s important to develop grit and work ethic from early stages. Because those who don’t need external motivation, such as your parents or your teachers to get you to do something.. Just those little things can help push you a little farther ahead in life. And you’ll find that it just is an exponential growth of success. Once you do the little things, they build on each other to where you can be more successful in anything you put your mind to.”Autumn Clark
Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life, the podcast that talks about the city of Peachtree Corners. News, community, happenings, people that are in this community, and the stories that you might see in Peachtree Corners Magazine expanded on a little bit more in a follow-up podcast. So hopefully you guys will be getting, by this point, the latest issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine in the mail, or you can pick it up at your nearest restaurant in the city or other businesses. Because in that issue, there’s a lot of things going on. Obviously you could see the kids breaking through in the film industry. But we also have an athlete, a student, a young lady, Autumn Clark from Greater Atlantic Christian. Let’s call her a comeback athlete, because of the things that have happened to her. And her comeback, not only in volleyball, but as well in track and field. And this is a great time to talk about this because the Olympics, we’re in the middle of that right now. Which is great. I’ve been watching every night. It’s cool to watch these young athletes from the skate parks that are 13 year olds doing skateboarding, street skateboarding and stuff, to swim, to track and field. So just excellent stuff. So let’s bring on Autumn Clark. Hey Autumn.
Autumn: [00:01:39] Hi, how are you?
Rico: [00:01:40] Good. Thanks for joining me. I appreciate you being on tonight. So let’s give our audience a little background about you. You’re a student at Greater Atlanta Christian, an athlete there. But not just there, you do club sports. So this, when we did a pre-interview, when I did the QA for the magazine, I didn’t realize how much time it takes for a young kid to put in to sports. Nevermind one sport, but two sports that you’re doing. Let’s start back a little bit and tell us how you got into volleyball, which I believe was the first sport that you really got into.
Autumn: [00:02:12] Yeah. So I started volleyball spring of my eighth grade year. I was pretty much unaware of volleyball. And my friend at a local charity event was just like, Hey, you’re kind of tall. Maybe you should try out at volleyball. So I went in there and I tried out at A5 volleyball club over in Alpharetta and ended up making a team. And my volleyball career took off from there.
Rico: [00:02:37] And if I understand right, A5 volleyball is a national team, a national club?
Autumn: [00:02:41] Yes. There are number one ranked nationally for the last two years now.
Rico: [00:02:45] So making that really made you feel that you were talented enough to actually continue in it, I would imagine.
Autumn: [00:02:51] Yeah, definitely. Making a team there was stamping my place that I had potential for volleyball moving forward.
Rico: [00:02:57] So you’ve been playing volleyball since eighth grade going into high school. But tragedy happened back in October? That sounded bad from when you responded on that QA. So tell us a bit about that.
Autumn: [00:03:09] Yeah, so basically in October of 2020, my junior season, it was going super well. Then I believe it was October 1st. We were playing Mill Creek and in the fourth set, I landed really awkwardly. Ended up tearing my ACL, both my meniscuses, my MCL, and I fractured my tibia in that landing.
Rico: [00:03:27] That almost sounds like that would be the end of any athlete. Hearing that it’s just unbelievable. So how’d you feel?
Autumn: [00:03:33] Honestly it was pretty traumatizing. It was senior night, so there was a lot of people there. Thankfully it wasn’t my senior night. But ended up passing out on the floor, woke up briefly afterwards. Thankfully my parents were in attendance at the game, so they were there. Helped me up off the court.
Rico: [00:03:49] And ended up going to the hospital?
Autumn: [00:03:50] Yeah, I actually ended up going. My athletic trainer was basically on phone with Emory and they put me in a giant immobilizer and then I went. It was pretty late at night by then. It was already about 10:30. I toughed out the night and then we went to an MRI in the morning.
Rico: [00:04:04] What was going through your mind when you were able to think about it?
Autumn: [00:04:08] The first couple of hours, I was trying to be optimistic. My trainer originally told me he was like, best case scenario, It’s just a hyperextension. But I’d never really experienced an injury to this degree. And I was like, I know something’s wrong. So later that night it definitely hit me more. I was like, I can’t walk. This is a huge change of lifestyle and I knew that it was probably going to be a serious injury.
Rico: [00:04:28] When these things happen, athletes, you’re working your way through it. And you’ve been doing it from eighth grade and all of a sudden, you’re hitting this. So recovery from that has to be torturesome almost, to do physical therapy because you got to keep doing it even in pain, I would think. So what did you go through with that? And where did you go actually? Who was handling your case?
Autumn: [00:04:48] Yeah. So I got my surgery done at Resurgence Orthopedics. And then now I’m at rehab at advanced rehabilitation. My physical therapist is Evan. He’s awesome. He’s helped me through a lot. Honestly, the first couple of months were really, big change of lifestyle, honestly. For, since October, basically until the week after Thanksgiving. So late in November, I was unable to walk. I was in a wheelchair. I really didn’t like crutches. So I opted for a wheelchair. And that was probably the hardest time. And since then, I’ve been going to physical therapy three to four times per week even to today.
Rico: [00:05:19] Even until today. Wow. And you learned how to pop a wheelie I think?
Autumn: [00:05:23] I did. Yeah. I have a really large campus, so I would always have friends pushing me around and learned how pop a wheelie with all my lower spin the chair.
Rico: [00:05:33] That’s funny. There’s another sport altogether. Alright, so you’re still doing physical therapy, but you know, at some point, I guess it was, I would imagine it was still difficult. Even going through it the first month or two, because you really didn’t get back to sports until mid year, I think this year. So how did that, did you go through, depression? What motivated you to keep going? To want to get back?
Autumn: [00:05:55] Yeah. The hardest part I definitely had to battle was kinda just being told no all the time. Like being so used to being able to do something and then suddenly someone’s like, hey, you can’t do that anymore. You’re used to your old kind of pre-injury self. And you’re just like, no, I can do that. So it’s just the big mental readjustment there. And then moving forward from that, coming back to the sport in mid spring. It did take a while and it was hard not having volleyball. I had to wait until, yeah about mid March to come back to the sport.
Rico: [00:06:23] And it sounded like you were watching volleyball on TV versus playing volleyball.
Autumn: [00:06:27] Yeah. I definitely had to rely on sports center to get through it. I had to really just kind of watch teammates get better. From an outsider’s perspective, get that.
Rico: [00:06:37] Did you visit some of the games or watch practices at school when you were there or?
Autumn: [00:06:42] Yeah so, the rest of high school season, I did attend all of the games. It was right after my injury. Basically the season ended four weeks post-injury for high school season. And then for club volleyball, I was able to attend all the tournaments. And so I was team manager in a sense, took stats, but could never actually participate. That kind of helped a lot too.
Rico: [00:07:02] Yeah, I would think that would be motivating too. You’re still part of what’s going on. You’re still part of that team like that.
Autumn: [00:07:07] Definitely. Having the team bonding aspect really helped me get through.
Rico: [00:07:11] I would think so. And your parents, obviously I would think were a great help during that time.
Autumn: [00:07:16] Definitely. Especially the time period being in a wheelchair. I drive myself and my sister to school, so it was a big adjustment. Thankfully, my mom works at the school, so it wasn’t too big of a deal. Typically she will go about two hours prior to school starting. So we just had to work our schedules into going at the same time. She had to kind of go out of her way to drive me to physical therapy. And my dad was a big help at home. He was able to help me navigate the house, make dinner.
Rico: [00:07:44] How old is your sister?
Autumn: [00:07:45] My sister is 16 right now. She’s a rising sophomore at GAC this year.
Rico: [00:07:49] Is she in sports as well?
Autumn: [00:07:50] She does throw with me in the spring. I would peg her as the more artistic type. We’re pretty much day and night different. She really loves the arts. She takes two art classes currently this upcoming year. I can only draw stick figures. But she does enjoy the throws with me as well in the spring.
Rico: [00:08:06] Alright, cool. So that didn’t really affect her when she saw you injured. I’m sure she was scared too, but she’s throwing versus playing volleyball. I’m assuming there’s less, there might be less injuries in discus throwing, maybe? I don’t know.
Autumn: [00:08:18] Yeah. I think there’s less severe injuries probably in throwing than volleyball for sure.
Rico: [00:08:23] So when you were playing and even now I think, you’re not just playing school sports. So now you’re playing volleyball, right?
Autumn: [00:08:29] Yes.
Rico: [00:08:29] And you’re playing, you’re doing the discus on track and field. But that’s school sports, but you’re also playing club sports. Are you doing both of those?
Autumn: [00:08:37] Yeah, definitely, I do. So I technically I’m on four teams varsity high school volleyball, varsity high school track. And then I do club track with rock slingers over in Dunwoody. And then I play club volleyball with A5, as you know, in Alpharetta.
Rico: [00:08:50] Man, that’s demanding. Don’t they have their own trainings schedules and stuff?
Autumn: [00:08:54] Yeah, totally. Some nights I’m not home till about 11:30. So we’re just inching on the curfew for when I can legally drive. A lot of late nights for sure. But honestly, I love what I do and I don’t mind sacrificing another hour to stay up late doing my homework as a result of practice.
Rico: [00:09:12] And that hasn’t stressed you further physically, I would imagine? I mean, you’re still doing therapies you said before.
Autumn: [00:09:19] Yeah, definitely with constant athletic activity. It definitely, my parents do sometimes force me instead of weekends going out and going hiking with friends. They’re like, no, stay home. So my weekends are definitely my rest days. Friday nights are my hangout with friends night. I definitely do have to take breaks. But with being active so often I get in kind of a rhythm. So during the school day, I can relax. I can focus more on school and then my mental break comes with sports. So it’s kind of a nice balance.
Rico: [00:09:49] So that’s your mental break? The sports part?
Autumn: [00:09:51] I think it’s kind of like my freedom, like my release from stress. So I would say less mental stress.
Rico: [00:09:57] Interesting. I think when you do the things you love, it probably is less stress on that. And the fact that you’re doing two sports and you’re doing school and club. I think at one point, you’re doing weight training as well because you have to do weight training. And what was that three times a week? But during the season you doing it four times or five times. No, eight times a week, I think you said. Eight times a week. How do you split that up?
Autumn: [00:10:21] Basically I take a weight lifting class as one of my seven classes at GAC. So I take weightlifting class four times a week with my class. And then in the spring, during track season, we weightlift another four times per week.
Rico: [00:10:34] So wait, so you’re doing weightlifting obviously for volleyball, because that’s part of what you have to do. Different sets of weights, different sets for discuss throw?
Autumn: [00:10:42] Both really like to focus on the Olympic weights. So squat deadlift cleans are staples in both sports. Discuss is definitely more heavy on loading up heavier weights, trying to hit heavier reps while volleyball you definitely have more explosive. Like they want you a little bit lower weight. But more block jumps, more plyos, more sprints, I would say.
Rico: [00:11:03] So what’s the heaviest weight that you can dead lift?
Autumn: [00:11:06] I can dead lift 345 right now.
Rico: [00:11:08] 345. Wow. I can’t even do 100 I think. And you’re also running, I think as well? Or no. Any cardio activity?
Autumn: [00:11:16] Yeah. So I like, go for runs around my neighborhood. I’m not an invested long distance runner, but I do like to get the occasional jog in.
Rico: [00:11:24] Okay. Cool. So when you’re playing on club, you’re doing tournaments as well, just like school tournaments. Has anything come to a head with any of that this year? Probably not this year. I meant.
Autumn: [00:11:34] With COVID?
Rico: [00:11:36] Yeah. As far as how is it being handled? I know everyone’s, every school is doing it differently and things have changed again just this past week for Gwinnett county. Now they have to wear masks or at least all public schools have to. So how did that affect you? How’d you feel about that actually? Did that even change anything you were doing?
Autumn: [00:11:56] So for school it’s restricted people in the stands. So basically the only immediate family. So my grandparents couldn’t attend for most of it. So that was definitely disappointing. They love to attend the games. They love making a lot of noise, so a little bit lacking there. As far as the actual playing side they try to limit high fives, team huddles, closeness, and interaction with the other teams. So like traditionally in an average season, you would go up and high five or shake hands with your opponent. And then currently they like to keep us separated. Kinda just wave greet your opponent from a distance. Similar with club for traveling purposes we had, the only place we went this year, was Texas. Typically we’ll go sometimes up to Indiana, New York, et cetera for tournaments. This year, we kind of kept it close to home. And basically had COVID tests every tournament.
Rico: [00:12:43] Every tournament. Okay. And you were doing that, was that like a weekend thing or an overnight? Probably a weekend, I would imagine.
Autumn: [00:12:50] So there’s both. For club sometimes, when we had Texas overnight, tennessee it’s overnight, Alabama sometimes overnight. And then we have about five local tournaments, which will be typically at the World Congress Center. And those will just be weekend events probably about two to three days. And we’ll all commute.
Rico: [00:13:06] And what positions are you playing in volleyball?
Autumn: [00:13:09] I play outside hitter in rotation. So I never get off the court.
Rico: [00:13:13] And you like that I assume.
Autumn: [00:13:15] Oh, I love it. It’s awesome.
Rico: [00:13:17] Alright, cool. So obviously you started in volleyball you moved your way towards track with discuss. If you had your pick, if you had to pick, which one, which sport would you pick? One over the other.
Autumn: [00:13:29] They’re so different. I get this question actually a lot from my friends, because they’re like, you can’t have the same. So it’s very difficult to choose it obviously varies by the day on my mood. If I want to talk to people and hang out with others, I’ll choose volleyball. But if I’m angry and want to be alone, I will do track because track is such an individualistic sport. And your talent is more based off your numbers, and it’s easy to compare one another. Well volleyball, is such subjective team sport, where it’s difficult to judge your talent level. Obviously there’s difference between extremes, but it’s so hard to tell. I would say I probably like track better just because I can focus on training specific parts. And it’s kind of all on me. But I really love both. I wouldn’t, I don’t have anything negative to say about either.
Rico: [00:14:15] Sure, yeah. And I would imagine it is difficult in volleyball. I was just watching the men’s and women’s volleyball over the last few weeks last, this past week and the Olympic sport. And you really can’t tell, I mean, it really depends on that team and how many times you get the ball and so many variables in that to see who’s really a good player and who’s not. And you know what? You can be a really good player and still miss things. Just because the way things come at you. When you’re doing discuss throw, what’s your best throw?
Autumn: [00:14:42] I’ve hit 140 in practice before, but this past year, because I was throwing in a giant brace, my official mark is 125. The 125 was able to break my school record this past year, but my practice marks would blow that out of the water.
Rico: [00:15:00] Right. Wow. That is unbelievable. One legged. Is that what the coach called you? A one legged thrower?
Autumn: [00:15:06] Yeah at the awards banquet at the end of the season, the record board, they announced that they were going to change it because I broke the record and they were going to consider putting an asterisk by it. Done with one leg, because honestly, I couldn’t really with the brace. It’s so restrictive. It only allows you to bend probably about 30 degrees. So it’s just a disadvantage because you can’t get any torque in the lift.
Rico: [00:15:29] So Autumn Clark could have done better, but for the brace.
Autumn: [00:15:33] Yes. I love the brace because it allows me to do what I love in this state. However, I hate the brace because it’s so restrictive.
Rico: [00:15:41] Yeah, I would think. Obviously you excel in sports and stuff. You have a great attitude. It sounds like. Even going through what you did and you’re coming back. Are you a senior now?
Autumn: [00:15:49] Yes, I am.
Rico: [00:15:50] You’re a senior, right? Yeah. Because you’re being courted by Ivy league schools at this point, it sounds like. Any particular school that you’d like to go to? And we’re talking Northeast, are we talking Midwest? What are we talking?
Autumn: [00:16:02] Yeah. So I’m definitely gonna stay in the east coast. Just kinda for school preferences. Definitely have the Ivy leagues coming after me for track. A couple of the smaller ones as well. Both my parents were Auburn grads, so I potentially considered going to Auburn, just as student there and potentially try to walk onto their track team. Basically how their track team works there is you have to get into the school first and then maybe they’ll take you on the track team. They don’t really actively recruit.
Rico: [00:16:27] Oh, really. Wow. Okay. I didn’t know that. And I’ve had friends of friends, their kids go walk on for football and that’s a tough thing to do anywhere. So, alright. So there’s a lot of good local schools. So even though there might be some Ivy league schools you might stay in Georgia. What is it that you want in a school?
Autumn: [00:16:45] Yeah. So I look at my three personal pillars. Academics one, athletics two. Every morning I turn on sports center. So I just want some form of even like clubs for that I can go watch, like every day. And then three, kind of social life. Clubs around campus things I can get involved on the weekend. So just those three pillars are what I want in a school.
Rico: [00:17:06] Cool. That’s strong things to want for sure. Now, academically speaking though it was surprising a little bit too. You and your dad, who’s a aerospace engineer, but flies for Delta decided that you guys were going to build actually a 3D printer yourself. That was 2019, during COVID?
Autumn: [00:17:23] Actually the year prior, before COVID we built it. And then during COVID this past year, we ended up adding some more. We made a laser printer as well. We added onto it. It was an addition to the original plastic filament of the printer.
Rico: [00:17:38] Interesting. That was fun. That was something that you and your dad did. Obviously you have some scientific, science bent or interest there with that.
Autumn: [00:17:46] Definitely.
Rico: [00:17:48] Does that run in the family? Maybe that runs in the family?
Autumn: [00:17:50] Yeah so, my dad’s dad is also an engineer. And my dad’s an aerospace engineer. So I would defer a little bit, probably going the bioengineering realm with hopes to end up in medical field, pre-med.
Rico: [00:18:02] Oh, that would be cool. Biofabrication is the future of science. So you want to do that, right? What’s your favorite subject now in science?
Autumn: [00:18:09] Currently chemistry. But right now I am enrolled to take AP bio and dual credit physics. This will be my first year of exposure to physics. I’m really excited to take that course this year. My dad and I always liked talking about Newton’s laws and studying him. So it should be interesting to dabble in that this year. And so my favorite subject might change we’ll see.
Rico: [00:18:27] Interesting. Where are you going to be doing that dual enrollment?
Autumn: [00:18:30] Colorado christian is the college that my school associates duel credit with.
Rico: [00:18:35] Okay, cool. So eventually when you do pick a school, though you’re looking. What’s ultimately your goal for your degree and what you want to do in the future?
Autumn: [00:18:44] Yeah. So my ultimate goal would be to be a surgeon. However, I have to dabble in the surgery field too. But I lean probably more orthopedic. My surgeon who works at orthopedic or sorry, Resurgence orthopedics has offered once I turned 18 in October to potentially shadow him and see what he does. And so I think I’m going to do that this coming year, come October.
Rico: [00:19:09] What an excellent opportunity. Now you got interested because I think if I remember right, it was because you dissected a frog in science class and you thought that was cool to be able to see that.
Autumn: [00:19:19] Definitely. It was honestly, it was the anatomy and like kind of the bone structure that really struck me as interesting. They had to pull it away from me. We only had a 45 minute slot and I was like, doing a little skin graft. And I was like, I can see it’s bone. And cause we were only supposed to do the gut to see the basic anatomy of the frog, but I wanted to see more. Definitely that sparked my interest.
Rico: [00:19:42] Excellent. That’s great. Going a little further than what they wanted you to do and pushing the envelope there a little bit. I would go through your day in the life of Autumn Clark but it’s so packed with stuff. When you guys listen to this, you should either pick up the magazine and go online and check out the digital edition. Because her school day, it’s just unbelievable. I asked the question, when do you rest? And the weekend. Yeah. I could see that, but like you said, you go until 11:30 at night sometimes. That’s, when do you eat? Do you eat dinner? That’s funny. Yeah, you have so many hours that you’re putting into this and it’s good that you’re passionate about it. What is your favorite meal? What would you say your favorite meal is going through that?
Autumn: [00:20:30] If I want it to be like fancy, I’d always go steak and baked potato at Outback steakhouse or something. That would be like, that’s like my birthday dinner meal. But I would say like more of a common meal that I have more often is a lemon peppered wings and Mac and cheese from buffalo wild wings. Like I said, my parents both attended Auburn. So football day is pretty big in my house. So we usually do wings on Saturday.
Rico: [00:20:54] Oh, that’s funny. Okay, cool. What’s on your playlist currently?
Autumn: [00:20:58] Ooh. My mom calls me a boy band fan. So definitely all of the one directions, all of the five seconds of summer, got some Taylor stuff on there. I got some Camila Cabello on there. Very pop. And then of course I have my country playlist as well, a big Jason Aldean fan, big Thomas Wright fan as well.
Rico: [00:21:13] Cool. Do you listen to any of that as you’re training or is it?
Autumn: [00:21:15] Yeah, county’s like my car ride and then pop will be my workout slash sports playlist.
Rico: [00:21:22] Cool. You skateboard as well?
Autumn: [00:21:24] Yeah, I like to skateboard and rip stick with my friends. When I have free time, a big parking garage is at a town center across the way from Peachtree or sorry from the forum, is a really great spot to skate in the summertime.
Rico: [00:21:38] That’s cool. I think the city at some point should probably get a nice big skate park. There is one at Pinckneyville middle, but it’s small I’m told. So a lot of kids do Brooke run, which is way bigger. It’s a nicer place. Favorite book? Movie genre?
Autumn: [00:21:51] Definitely Harry Potter. Loved the series, even though Voldemort scares me every time in book four. Especially in the movie. It’s so well put together. Yeah, that’s definitely my favorite series. And I also love the Hunger Games as well. So kind of action, fiction books are definitely my favorite.
Rico: [00:22:07] What was your favorite Harry Potter book?
Autumn: [00:22:10] Ooh, tough one. I’ve gotta go four. It’s just so much, so action packed.
Rico: [00:22:15] Alright, cool. We’re at the tail end of what we’re doing here, a podcast with you. And I do appreciate the time you’ve given us. Is there anything you want to share with maybe young athletes that are younger than you? Athletes that might’ve faced the same type of you know, injuries and having to come back. Anything you want to share with them?
Autumn: [00:22:31] Yeah, so definitely from the injury side really quick, I think it is important to take your time to rehab, but coming back too quick, can extend your injury farther. Kind of prolong it. Especially at the beginning stages when you’re told no that you can’t do anything. I think is really important to focus on being able to understand that it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just that you are still healing. And that’s still something I struggle with even, it’s been nearly, it’s coming up on 11 months post-injury. And I still struggle with that. So with knee injuries, it’s a really long timeline. And then I guess for just student athletes in general or any younger high school students, honestly, I think that it’s important to develop grit and work ethic from early stages. Because those who don’t need an external motivation, such as your parents or your teachers to get you to do something. Going out of your way to ask the coach, Hey, what can I work on after practice or going to the teacher after class and asking what you should study, how you can do an assignment better. Just those little things can help push you a little farther ahead in life. And you’ll find that it just is an exponential growth of success. Once you do the little things, they build on each other to where you can be more successful in anything you put your mind to.
Rico: [00:23:54] Well said. We’ve been with Autumn Clark student at greater Atlantic Christian, a volleyball player, a discus thrower at track and field. The young lady that has come back from injuries. And is doing really well. And has broken her school record on discus as a one legged thrower because of her brace. I appreciate you coming on with us. Thank you Autumn.
Autumn: [00:24:14] Thank you for having me.
Paul Duke STEM student Teams Up with KSU & Curiosity Lab to Advance V2X Technology
Last year, Curiosity Lab and Kennesaw State University (KSU) entered a strategic partnership to advance research in vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology applications. Led by KSU assistant professor of computer engineering Billy Kihei, the first collaboration focused on open-source Dedicated Short-Range Communications Units (DSRC).
Nicknamed the “Owl Box,” these DSRC units can track data such as how fast vehicles are moving, roadway specifications, GPS data and much more, creating opportunities for startups, entrepreneurs, and municipalities/road authorities to test and explore emerging V2X technologies.
KSU selected Curiosity Lab as one of its primary test locations for the Owl Boxes due to the Lab’s autonomous vehicle test track and commitment to supporting and facilitating innovation.
While Dr. Kihei’s research team has primarily included KSU undergraduate students over the last year, Curiosity Lab also connected a Paul Duke STEM High School student with Dr. Kihei. Paul Duke is Curiosity Lab’s STEM partner and is just a mile from the living lab.
Last year, at the start of her senior year of high school, Jordan McEntyre started working with Dr.Kihei. Jordan was taking an AP Research course and reached out to Curiosity Lab to find a research mentor as part of her coursework. Curiosity Lab connected her with Dr. Kihei, who served as her mentor in V2X technology.
Dr. Kihei sent Jordan an Owl Box to configure and tasked her with writing applications for the Owl Box to solve a specific problem. After months of development, Dr. Kihei and Jordan then took her Owl Box on the road at Curiosity Lab to test her applications in a real-world environment.
“The Owl Boxes allowed me to work with open source technology and make a functioning product out of it, which is an extremely useful experience to have,” said Jordan. “Field testing at Curiosity Lab proved that my program works, but certain factors that came up while testing in this environment gave me ideas to improve my program. I would love to implement those ideas and test it again in a real-world environment.”
Dr. Kihei applauded Jordan’s work as she learned the values of patience and planning.
“It was a long and challenging process for Jordan working with open source technology, but it is important for researchers to be exposed to and work through those types of real-world problems,” said Dr. Kihei. “For example, while a researcher may have an idea to implement, your technology doesn’t always play nicely. It’s not always straightforward.”
Dr. Kihei and Jordan plan to publish a paper together soon, and Jordan plans to start at KSU this year as a computer science major, concentrating on cybersecurity and software development.
“It is crucial for today’s technology leaders to support the education of the next generation of innovators,” said Betsy Plattenburg, executive director of Curiosity Lab. “Through our partnership with Paul Duke, Curiosity Lab is committed to providing Peachtree Corners’ youth with exposure to real world testing of intelligent mobility and smart city technology.”
Source: Curiosity Corner Newsletter
3DE Changed My Life: How Former Norcross High Student Justice Zabel Turned a Business Curriculum into a Small Business Reality
Practical education that works effectively in the real world proves in short supply in many public-school environments. Norcross High School (NHS) sought to equip their students with business knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit, so the 3DE by Junior Achievement program was introduced to students six years ago.
Former NHS student Justice Zabel took part in the inaugural 3DE program at Norcross, which culminated in the creation of A-Z Landscaping, since renamed Prestige Landscaping ATL. Zabel was part of the first graduating class of 3DE at Norcross, which also happened to be the second graduating class ever for the state of Georgia.
“Essentially what 3DE did was just kind of help me to get on track,” Zabel said. “They provided us with business classes, finance classes as well as certifications. We had to get a Microsoft Office certification, a PowerPoint Certification and a Six Sigma certification. Just all these different levels of help for being a good entrepreneur and a good business manager as well.”
In addition to managing his own business, Zabel is a rising sophomore currently pursuing a degree in Accounting at Georgia State University. He appears to be running full speed ahead with the lessons he learned in the rigorous four-year 3DE system.
“We were given a project that we had to do, to create a business idea with a business plan,” Zabel said.
With his class partner Gerardo Angeles, the “entrepreneurial jumpstart” of what is now Prestige Landscaping ATL took off. Prestige has been in business for two years now and provides lawn maintenance and care, hedge trimming, pressure washing, leaf pickup and debris removal at reasonable hourly rates, depending on the job needed. Angeles now serves in active duty for the Marines, but Zabel has continued to carry the baton of this small business.
3DE is a radically different type of educational paradigm in that it takes students from their freshman year of high school to senior year and helps them to form tangible personal and business goals.
Students, like Zabel, who take part in 3DE typically commit to the full four years of the program, as each year’s instruction builds upon the next and culminates in a Senior Experience project at its conclusion. The 3DE Norcross High program is spearheaded by its Director Eric Ashley and Assistant Principal John DeCarvalho.
According to the 3DE Norcross High curriculum site, student learning in 3DE is focused on six core competencies applicable to school, career and life. These competencies consist of Creativity & Innovation, Cultural Agility, Self-Direction, Effective Collaboration, Engaging Communication and Critical & Analytical Thinking. Throughout their work in the first three years of the program, students complete case challenges that develop their understanding in the six core competencies.
The case challenges begin with an introduction from one of the business partners working with the 3DE program. Students then work on the problem and present their solutions. In addition, for many business partners, students are able to make a site visit to learn more about the company they are learning from.
For example, a few years ago a group of Norcross students visited the Atlanta Hawks headquarters.
During the 12th grade year, students use the skills honed in 3DE to successfully navigate and perform in a professional environment. During the fall and spring semesters, teams of 3DE students work as consultants to businesses to work though larger and more complex problems with business partners or to create fledgling business ventures of their own.
The entrepreneurial spirit appears to be alive and well at Norcross High School, thanks to 3DE. For more information about 3DE at Norcross High, find the 3DE Curriculum page under the ‘Academics’ tab at gcpsk12.org/NorcrossHS.
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