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3 Weeks | 2 Prestigious Scholarship Awards | 1 Presentation to Educators: Megan, a Humble Leader

Mar 21, 2018 | All School, Impact, Maverick, Upper School News

In just three weeks, senior Megan Lienau experienced Morocco, was invited as a finalist to interview for and received  two prestigious scholarship awards — University of North Carolina’s Morehead-Cain Scholarship and Georgia Tech’s Stamps Presidential Scholarship, presented to educators at SCAD on behalf of MVIFI, and as Head Prefect led a safe and respectful remembrance of the incident in Parkland, FL.
Relive Megan’s experience in her own words:
Friday, February 23
I left for Morocco, understanding that I was diving into an exciting adventure during Interim Week. My favorite moments were when we were able to interact with the locals. On the second night of our trek we visited a small village and invited the children to play soccer with us outside of the village wall. We played for at least an hour. The second moment that stands out to me was being able to drum with our camel guide while in the Sahara. He taught me a few beats and we drummed together for a while. I left Morocco a day earlier than my group in order to make it home in time to attend the Finalist weekend for the Morehead Cain Scholarship at UNC Chapel Hill, traveling from Casablanca to make a connection in Paris and on to Atlanta was the furthest I had ever traveled alone.
Saturday, March 3
I woke up after sleeping the most I had in the past 12 days, which was about 5 hours, and I hopped in the car to get to the airport. The plane ride to Chapel Hill was definitely an indication of how exciting the weekend would be because there were other finalists on my plane. Immediately we all began talking to one another and learning about each other. The group on my plane was from five different states, and one from Canada. When I got to Raleigh I went through orientation and met my finalist team, a group of five girls who were finalists and we were all paired with a current UNC Morehead Cain scholar. Two of us were from Georgia, one from South Carolina, one from North Carolina, and a girl from England who goes to school in Kenya. It happened to be that our scholar team was all best friends so we ate dinner at their house off campus and got to see the more organic side of UNC life. After dinner and talking with everyone, all of the finalists went to the foundation building to watch the Carolina vs Duke game together. I­t­ was awesome to sit all together talking and watching and cheering. Unfortunately Carolina lost so we couldn’t rush Franklin street. What struck me most about this first day was the calibre of people involved with this opportunity. This group of finalists is astounding in their accomplishments, composure, and kindness. I guarantee that if you were to pull a group of random 140 high school seniors from multiple schools in our area and put them in a room together they would be looking at their phones and be mostly unsocial, at least for a period of time. That was not at all the case with this group of kids, from the moment I stepped into the lobby I was immediately involved in conversation about pressing issues and interesting topics, from world hunger and gun violence to entrepreneurship, these kids are astounding and I feel somewhat out of my league.
On the second day we learned all about the different experiences and opportunities that the Morehead Cain Scholarship offers: four years fully funded at UNC Chapel Hill, four outrageous summer experiences, a “Discovery Fund” that can be used for supplemental learning, access to the UNC honors college, an INCREDIBLE alumni network, and an immediate family on UNC campus including scholars and advisors. They definitely did a great job of selling me on this opportunity, if I am lucky enough to receive it. On this day I also got to go to lunch with current scholars, and had my interview!

I was nervous preparing for my interview and was not feeling confident in myself at all from talking with these other students. Their accomplishments seemed to overshadow mine and I needed a little bit of support from home to get myself ready. I had four short interviews that were situational, six minutes each. After that I had a longer panel interview with distinguished alumni and professors. The panel felt very short and I didn’t have a ton of confidence in my results. I­t­ seems unfair that they decide based solely off those interviews, but I am also glad that they do not assess you based on the entire weekend.
After the interviews the finalists were treated to an incredibly sophisticated banquet at the Wilson Library. I was seated with the Chancellor of UNC, the director of the Morehead Cain Scholarship and his wife, and the keynote speaker for the evening, Frank Bruni, a Morehead Alum and Journalist for the New York Times, also a fabulous author. I really enjoyed his message about the college process. I cannot get over the caliber of these people and how much fun it is to talk with them.
On the third day I attended some classes, and talked to some professors with my scholar host. I ate lunch in the dining hall and attended a club sponsored speaker series. That night for dinner we had a fun food truck rally and talked with current scholars and finalists all together for a few hours. We also attended the UNC theatre to see student performances, then to close out the weekend we played the most intense game of capture the flag I have ever experienced. Strong bonds have been formed over just a couple of days because while we are all like-minded about progress and action, we have a wide variety of interests that makes conversation so fun.
Tuesday, March 6
I made my way home and took a long nap!
Wednesday, March 7
I woke up around 4:30 a.m. to write my presentation and make slides for the Social Impact and Design workshop today at SCAD. The week that I left for the interim trip to Morocco, Mr. Bo Adams, Chief Learning and Innovation Officer and MVIFI Executive Director, asked if I was interested in sharing my story as it relates to the topic of Social Impact, at a workshop: The Social Impact Design Workshop, hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design and organized by Mount Vernon’s R&D lab –  MVIFI, and Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, CA. I agreed, excited by the discussion that would occur as the other sponsor was the Hillbrook School and all of the attendees were educators, all excited by the idea of experiential learning and design thinking, a topic that I can speak with authority on thanks to MVIFI and the Innovation Diploma Program.
This is the presentation I shared at SCAD:
Social Impact is the fancy way of saying causing change in a community. Change in a community. Progressive change is made to solve a problem, to right a wrong, to improve on a situation, and a community is a group of individuals who have some reason to spend their time with one another. However, by the nature of the word these individuals are unique, each member of a community is painted a different color, drawn with different characteristics, and is able to think and feel of their own volition.
So what brings these people, these freethinkers, together? In our case it’s a desire to learn and a desire to educate others in pursuit of knowledge and empowerment. So now that we have defined our community, what kinds of progressive change can or needs to be made? To answer this question I turned to one of the readings provided for this event and a certain quote stood out to me. “Social impact happens when you can see problems and organize responses.”
My big question for you to wrestle with today is, “How might we empower students and educators to be better at seeing problems and organizing responses?” Now I’m going to share with you a story from my past few years as a high schooler that might help you think about how to become active in forming a real response to my question and the three main things I want you to take away from my story are to Embrace Diversity, Develop Team Culture, and be Intentional about Action.
Five or so miles from where we are right now, there is a group of people working incredibly hard to have a positive impact on each life that they interact with. This place is the Frazer Center, and is a non-profit preschool and adult care facility that provides education and resources for children with and without disabilities and for adults that are struggling with disability. In my junior year I was connected with the Frazer Center and tasked with designing a plan for development in the nearby forest that would allow the students and adults with disabilities to be able to safely use this space to grow and learn while surrounded by nature.
At first I struggled with the project due to my own fear. Fear that the task was too large, fear that I did not have the right skills to help, but mostly fear of interacting with those that were different from me. I had absolutely no experience with people dealing with disability and I was pushed out of my comfort zone upon my first visit to campus. I felt uneasy because here I was speaking to and observing human beings that were in some cases, twice my age and were unable to do what they wanted to do simply because their body or mind was not letting them. I felt incredibly powerless because there was not much that I could do to remove that obstacle. I believed that because I was a teenager and not a doctor, I was unable to relieve these people of their disability to allow them to lead what in my opinion a normal life would look like.
I spent a couple of days on Frazer Center campus, experiencing the lives of the students and adults in this place, trying to wrap my head around this new environment. I was speaking with an adult member named Alicia, a woman who has spent nearly every day of her adult life at the center, when something clicked in my mind. Alicia has a condition that stunted her brain development, and is a child stuck in an adult body. She has trouble understanding the world around her, however she loves people, and during our conversation she looked at me and said “I just want to be friends with everybody.” In that moment I realized that I had been solving for the wrong problem, I did not need to relieve Alicia of her disability, I didn’t need to make her life more like mine, I needed to meet her in her own life and influence change that would enable her to “make friends with everybody”.
Embracing the diversity around me and understanding the stories of those I was serving allowed me to see the bigger picture, allowed me to see the real problem.
So at this point I was inspired to help and excited make something happen to help the students and adults of the Frazer center achieve their personal goals. However my excitement did not change the scope of the problem, and I still needed some help. Unfortunately my team had not experienced the same awakening that I had and was not motivated by the road ahead. Real change is made by passionate people and I realized that I needed to share my excitement for this opportunity in an effective way so that they too could feel the call to act.
During our next visit to the Frazer Center we toured the forest that was currently unable to be used by the children and adults we had just met. I posed my group with a question, “Would you rather come back to this spot in five years and find it exactly as it is, or come back and find that the patrons of the Frazer Center have been able to work past their disabilities and find curiosity in this forest, possibly using swings and cultivating a garden that you designed for them?” I found that by giving this team of people a tangible example of the possible positive outcomes of our work an optimistic attitude took over our conversations.
After this initial spark of excitement our team’s culture became incredibly empathetic towards our users and seeing life through their eyes allowed us to respond intentionally.
With passion now driving us we were intentional in our actions. This meant spending countless hours at the center to understand our users, interviewing as many as we could, spending time in the space we were designing to understand the problems and the terrain, and researching the philosophy and structure of other successful models of outdoor learning facilities. We got up from behind our desks and went to the places that were doing the things that we wanted to, we met with forward thinkers in the field, and then we actively made our ideas visible by prototyping our designs. After dozens of cycles of reiteration and adjusting to meet the needs of our user, we finally selected a design and presented it to our client in June of last year.
Throughout our process of product developed we kept our user in mind, Alicia and the other patrons of the Frazer Center were at the heart of every decision that we made and in that way we knew that our final product was sure to make progressive change in this community.
So, “How might we empower students and educators to be better at seeing problems and organizing responses?” I challenge you to Embrace Diversity however you can, Develop your own team Culture, and to be Intentional about Action.
Thank you.
We toured SCADpad, which is super-cool. It inspired me to be creative. Bennett Shaw (pictured at right), Hillbrook graduate now at Emory, talked about how the projects he did in high school outside of the classroom have been more impactful in his life than some of the things he learned in the classroom. I followed him and talked about social impact and how to approach getting students and teachers to see problems and organize resolutions, using the Frazer Center as my tangible story. After me was a woman from Lynn University who started a social impact center. When the speeches were over, we went through a design challenge routine about building a program or project for students to explore social impact. My group focused on ethical and intentional consumption and production and designed a program in which students follow the life cycle of a product to learn what it takes to make a single t-shirt, and who is involved in the process. The workshop was an incredible experience. I had a rare opportunity to speak with those who are actually making the decisions about the future of education. I feel humbled to have been able to advocate for students and share my own experiences with this group, hopefully my message will help them to see the importance of the work they are doing and encourage them to engage more intentionally with their own students when designing for the future, as the students are the real users of their designs.
Friday, March 9
I woke up early and drove to Georgia Tech for the Stamps President’s Scholarship Finalist Weekend. It was interesting to go by myself to both of these weekends and especially to drive to this one, other students all brought their parents and are coming from further away. Today we had a breakfast, a tour of GT, and a major-specific tour where I got to see some very intense experiments and equipment like lasers, high pressure gas guns, and 3D printers. We attended different presentations about the Stamps scholarship, classes at Georgia Tech, and their living communities. That night we also attended a banquet at the Georgia Tech hotel. It was very elegant and I really liked the scholars at my table. One scholar alum spoke about why she chose Tech, why she loves Tech, and then gave some candid advice about being in college and looking for a job. I enjoyed what she said about finding a job, about being professional and having a bias to action. After the banquet we watched a student acapella performance and had a donut social in the Clough Learning Center.
What has struck me so far about the Stamps program is that the students they are looking for are different than the students that UNC was looking for. Stamps is focusing more energy on selling the finalists on the benefits of being a Georgia Tech Student, and less on the benefits of being a Stamps scholar, besides graduating debt-free and being connected to a national network of Stamps scholars at other schools. The finalists here are more technical in nature, more intense in their interests and focused on detailed knowledge more than the students I encountered at UNC. Again though, these finalists are from all over the world and are incredibly smart and accomplished kids.
Saturday, March 10
We had breakfast in the Student Success center that overlooks Bobby Dodd Stadium. At breakfast we talked to current scholars and current GT students, it is so nice to hear from current students about their experience and the benefits they feel most from Stamps and being at Georgia Tech . After a while they split us up for group interviews and panel interviews. I had the group interview first. I­t­ was not at all what I had expected. I was expecting them to give us an ethical problem to solve like funding for clubs or something, a discussion question. But when we walked in there were planks of wood on the table of different sizes with notches cut into them. The task was to build a complex puzzle out of the pieces, matching the picture on the guide, and then come up with a way that the puzzle could be built within 25 seconds then take the puzzle apart and put the pieces the way we found them, then use our algorithm to build the puzzle again in 25 seconds. I­t­ was fun, and challenging, I­t­ took our team 20 minutes to complete the puzzle, then 5 minutes to come up with an algorithm. And apparently our team was only one of two that was able to even complete the puzzle, the other team did rebuild in time though. My panel interview was in a skybox over the 20-yard line. I­t­ was so neat to be able to see the field like that. My interview was very good, the questions they asked me were more difficult than the Morehead questions though, some of them I had never been asked before but I left feeling very good about all the questions. As soon as I left my panel interview for Stamps, I was in the stairwell going downstairs back to the lobby and I checked my phone which I had been avoiding all weekend because I knew that the Morehead decisions had come out…THEY OFFERED ME THE MOREHEAD! GO HEELS! After pictures with “the wreck” and Buzz I drove home to celebrate with my family! Now I wait until Friday to hear from the Stamps, I already feel incredibly humbled to have been afforded this opportunity.
Wednesday, March 14
On this significant day, I took part in the national walk out. Those who felt motivated by discourse about gun control were allowed to take part in the walk out. We walked out to the 17-yard line for 17 minutes. We were silent for a while then had group discussions about gun violence and gun control. Near the end, I stood in front of the students and read aloud the names of the 17 students who lost their lives in the parkland school shooting. I cannot imagine coming to school and leaving with 17 less friends. I urged everyone to take the rest of the time to talk about gun violence and changes that need to be made in this county and how we could be part of that change.
I walked out today to honor those who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting and to serve as a visual reminder of all that is at stake. I wanted to talk with members of my community about what was bothering them and what specific difficulties they were having in terms of gun violence and gun control. I think that these 17 minutes were an incredible opportunity to remind myself and the rest of my student body that we have the ability to affect change, and that we have a voice. In this specific issue we truly do have a voice because the implications of gun violence in an educational setting are devastating and it is up to us to either command the conversation or let it die, and today especially I did not want to let it die. It is not right that students have to walk in fear from class to class and while I do not personally feel that fear in our community I do not ever want to and I believe that in order to ensure that I will never fear losing 17 of my best friends there does need to be change in the way that our country handles firearms.
Friday, March 16
Around 9:00 a.m. I found out that I got the Stamps Presidential Scholarship at Georgia Tech! GO JACKETS! I cannot believe that I have been awarded both of these incredible opportunities. I have lots of decisions to make now, and I feel so incredibly supported by the Mount Vernon community, which makes it easier to decide.
I feel kind of different after these past three weeks. I feel more mature and older.