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By Andrew Menke, Waterford Head of School

Two weeks into the school year we enjoyed our annual summer internship fair on a beautiful sunny day on the dining hall quad. Fifteen rising class XII students sat at tables with laptops and handouts eager to share their experiences ranging from an internship at the Orem Public Library to one working with the International Rescue Committee. Eight years ago, with the support of a then Waterford parent, we established a summer internship program with the University of Utah’s School of Pharmacology and then six years ago, compelled by one of our strategic planning initiatives – partnerships, lead by Erica Munson, long-serving English teacher and librarian, we broadened the scope of the internship program to include 15 summer opportunities for students who have just completed their junior year.

The fair was everything we hoped for: an opportunity for these talented Class XII students to share their passions for their specific intern experience with our community, a chance to “teach” faculty and students what they learned over the summer, and a time to build awareness and excitement for the next cohort of summer interns!

Midway through the fair, I happily stalled at Steven’s table. Steven spent eight weeks of his summer in the University of Utah’s School of Pharmacology lab working on the enzyme PARP2 to repair damaged DNA. My time with Steven was fascinating, inspiring, and a bit overwhelming…I am not a scientist! And, I was so captivated by Steven’s passion that I invited him into my office the following week to learn more! As Steven sat in my office earnestly, competently…patiently explaining his work, it was clear that he was on a journey of discovery about his purpose. Certainly internships illuminate interests that may translate into college applications and even courses of study, and in some instances career paths in fields first introduced in an immersive way through these summer opportunities, but equally important internships galvanize purpose.

Steven outlined his work alongside post-docs focused on encoding DNA and using AI to determine which molecules had the most significant reaction to a particular PARP2 enzyme. PARP2 repairs damaged DNA and may be helpful in disrupting the DNA of cancer cells specifically to fight breast and prostate cancer.

Steven talked about the foundation of his research skills developed in two of his Waterford Chemistry courses taught by our beloved Dr. Osipovitch. Steven’s introduction to the joys and satisfaction of lab work occurred in Dr. O’s class and, Dr. O’s passion and deep content knowledge ultimately inspired Steven to join the research team at the U. Steven excitedly proclaimed that he often used stoichiometry with his U of U lab colleagues ”another thing we learned in Dr. O’s class!”

Steven shared “What I contributed can be built upon to pursue cures for breast and prostate cancer and I’m really proud of that and I am super grateful to all of the PhD and post docs who I worked alongside all summer”

“I’m even a co-author of a published paper on PARP2!”

The lab experience deepened Steven’s aspiration to pursue a medical career. He’s not sure if he wants to be a physician and help individual patients or pursue research that could help many more.

Influenced by his time in Dr. O’s classes. Steven was inspired to dig deep, to go farther, and this illuminating experience opened up a new world of opportunity and possibility.

Steven gained confidence over time in the lab and a level of independence. He said that he made it his purpose to listen, learn, ask questions and fully immerse himself in the life of research, all habits, he said, learned at Waterford.

Purpose pursuit takes time, and hard work, grit and resilience, and it is often unglamorous…but it is so worth it.

I am continually amazed and always inspired by our purpose-filled learning community. As we think about this exciting year ahead, animated by our theme — Purpose, I am reminded of the time-tested tenets of our educational philosophy.

LEARNING is Waterford School’s reason for being, its passion, its whole point. Our students learn how to learn, how to be self-reflective within the process of learning, how to develop a robust repertoire of learning strategies, and how to deploy those strategies flexibly across a broad range of subject matter. In the process, students gain a self-competence that will sustain a lifetime of learning.

LEARNING at Waterford is enhanced by the recognition of responsibility. Our students value strong expectations that emphasize work, self-discipline, and dependability. As they practice personal accountability within the school context, they realize that learning is inherently communal and connected. Learning is therefore invariably indebted.

LEARNING at Waterford is inescapably moral, in the broadest sense of that term. Our students come to recognize that all learning bears on living and ultimately on how best to live. They embrace the natural imperative to learn, but they also recognize a deep responsibility to share their learning with others in hope that they will be lifted thereby, their lives made richer and more fulfilled. There is no end to learning nor is it itself an end. Rather, learning is the means by which we all aspire to the nobility of a well-lived life.

A well lived life!

Steven’s purpose(ful) journey may yet contribute to a cure to breast or prostate cancer and he is certainly using his broad liberal arts education — critical thinking, analysis, reasoning, and strong communication skills to pursue his passions. Here at Waterford, Steven has learned how to learn and it is abundantly clear that he loves learning. There is no doubt that his future is bright and will be filled with passionate, human-centered pursuits.

And this is the PURPOSE of a Waterford education.

Steven…is our purpose!

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