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Q&A With Austin Jamias (SHP ’21)

The recent grad reflects on four years at SHP where his interests included STEM, robotics, and athletics
SHS: What were your favorite classes at Sacred Heart Preparatory (SHP), and why?
Austin Jamias (SHP ’21): One my favorite classes was geometry honors freshman year, because the way my teacher taught the class was entirely different—he gave us homework that we didn’t know how to do. He didn’t grade on precision, or ‘right or wrong,’ he graded on whether you tried the problem. The next day when we would get to class, he would put the questions up on the board, and for the first 10 minutes, everyone would add their homework notes to the board and discuss as a class, to see if anyone got the same answer or found the answer differently.  
One time there was a challenging problem that felt really satisfying when I solved it at home. I came in during lunch before class started to put it up on the board, but then I saw a bunch of my friends doing it already—it was like a mini competition between my friends to see who could get to class first and finish the problem.
AP biology my junior year was also really fun, because of how Ms. Diane Sweeney, [SHP science department head] taught it. I remember she used songs, she danced for us; she was very visual with topics so we’d easily understand the material. The class was also really friendly, we would come during office hours and we’d all ask, ‘what did you think of this question, or, how did you solve this;’ we struggled through the class together, and that’s what made me strive to do better. Ms. Sweeney made her own diagrams, she made songs and dances so we could sing it in our heads or visualize, ‘this is the structure of alpha glucose, or beta glucose, or fructose—those individual molecules.’
Talk about the extracurriculars or athletics you participated in, what you liked about them, and how they helped you grow.
Throughout my four years at Sacred Heart, my three main groups were cross country, track and field, and robotics. In cross country, most people say it isn’t a team sport, but when you start running with your team, all your teamwork comes into practice; you’re cheering each other on, trying to push each other, or have a friendly competition, and when it finally comes to race day, you tell yourself, ‘OK, you’ve been running against your teammates for the past week or two weeks, now it’s time to leave it all on the field.’ So, you forget everything else that happened in school that day, you forget the homework assignments or test assignments, and just run—run your best; and that goes the same for track and field.
For robotics, during the first robotics competition season we’d build a giant robot—it required a lot of time, effort, and commitment. We had people working on it together before school, during office hours, lunch, after school, and after [athletics] practice until 7 or 8 o’clock at night—we would even eat dinner there. It was a great bonding experience, coming together to solve a common problem—that was a major reason for everyone to work as hard as they could.
Tell us about a favorite project—what were the most valuable take-aways?
This year, my senior year, I participated in the Senior Honors Independent Study (SHIS), which was a really tough first-time experience for me because I’d never done independent work before where I had to come up with my own curriculum for an entire semester. I feel like without that experience, I wouldn’t be as prepared for college, I wouldn’t be as prepared for research opportunities. AP classes, although they’re college-level courses, don’t feel very different from a regular course. I’m not discrediting it or saying that it’s easy, or that people don’t deserve the extra boost to their GPA, but I feel like those opportunities that you’re given, like SHIS, are the opportunities that prepare you for college. 
Describe what you’re most proud of achieving during your time at SHP.
I’m most proud of learning how to learn, if that makes sense. Being able to learn on your own—let’s say you’re given a topic to write about, and you’re given limited resources, that ability to research on your own is really important and something I cherish. And on a social level, I became more open to people, and more extroverted. Coming into Sacred Heart my freshman year, I was really introverted. I was one of only two people who came from my middle school—I’d never been the new kid before, so meeting people and talking to people has gotten easier for me. When I came here, I felt like I was going to have a rough time inserting myself into already-formed groups, but I was sure that there were a bunch of other people going through my situation, so I befriended them, and befriended people from cross country and track and field, and from robotics; they’re my best friends who supported me throughout high school.
How would you sum up your time at SHS?
Sacred Heart is a place where you’re challenged academically, but it also gives you a lot of chances to grow yourself as a human being. This school isn’t just for academics, it’s also for how you’re going to mature throughout your time here, how you’re going to find relationships and build connections, how you’re going to be able to [address] problems in the world through social justice. This school also makes you look for those opportunities that not only seem good for college, but that make you a better person overall.
What were some of your most memorable service opportunities?
For service during my sophomore year, I participated in the Swim Buddies program, where we teach special needs kids how to swim in the pool. During that time, I was exposed to an entirely different population of people; it makes you reflect on yourself and how to help others, it makes you acknowledge their position and challenges. For my junior year, we worked at a food bank to sort food for distribution to homeless people; another group of friends worked at a clothing store sorting clothes for the underserved. Afterwards, we all came together and discussed poverty here in the Bay Area. Activities like these at Sacred Heart allow us to realize the world is so much bigger and there are issues right here that we need to change; it made my experience in high school meaningful.
In college, I’m going to be the best I can be to all those around me—my dorm mates, classmates, and teachers. And whenever I have another realization, ‘Oh, this is happening in the world,’ I’m going to follow it closely, and do whatever I can to help.
What are your plans for the future, and how has SHP prepared you for it?
I’ll be attending Boston University to major in computer science, and I might want to do something in cognitive science or the medical or health field. I’m planning on coming up with computers or devices that rehabilitate people or help people be able to do more things.
I’m ready for college, because I feel like SHP beat me down and brought me back up as a new person, as a person who’s grown a foundation built on rigorous coursework, limited time constraints with athletics, clubs, and a long commute.
Lastly, I’d like to point out how the teachers here are very different from the traditional, ‘you sit and learn from a lecture, you take notes, you take the test,’—instead they make it fun and interactive. It’s not just taking notes from a teacher, rather it’s the student having a conversation with the teacher, that’s what I appreciated so much about Sacred Heart.
Where Scholarship and Values Matter
Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12