When Joan Holliday and I wrote our book three years ago, we called it “The Story of Kennett” as an homage to Bayard Taylor, but it was really the people of Kennett who told their story in our interviews. Joan and I agreed to take any earnings from the book and give it back to the community in the form of an award to the graduating senior from Kennett High School that exemplified the spirit of Kennett that we found in our work, the spirit of “volunteerism”.
The first year the award of $1,000 went to Edwin Castenada whose mother had graduated from Kennett and he was the first in his family to go to college. Edwin was the Treasurer of the school’s Humanitarian Club and the Mini-thon, which raised money for Childhood Cancer research.
Today he is a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school, class of 2021. This summer he is doing an internship with a Wall Street bank in New York City. A highlight of Edwin’s journey was Kennett’s own “Bill Gates”, Michael Bontrager, who mentored him. Mike met with Edwin during his high school years and it must have had an effect. At Penn, Edwin is thriving, even starting up his own business on the side with his brother, selling tacos.
Last year, Erin Duffy, a president of the Humanitarian Club, won the award. She helped with providing lunches for the low-income kids during summer school. Then she helped with the Kennett Mini-thon. During her high school years, she helped raise over $100,000 for childhood cancer. She is a member of the class of ’22 at George Washington University where she does volunteer work on top of her studies. This summer she is at home doing a Legal Services internship.
This year’s award went to Molly Kathrine Hohner. She was excited about Kennett High School’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) program. As a sophomore, Molly found herself in a STEM class entitled Principles of Engineering with 15 boys and no other girls. There was something very wrong with that picture. As a member of the Robotics team, she learned about the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and she set up an SWE club in the school. This included finding an advisor, writing a constitution and recruiting members.
She says this is a lot harder than it sounds. We are hard-wired when it comes to a number of gender roles. I remember when I was trying to get my five year old daughter to consider Med school, she responded; Daddy don’t you know girls are nurses and boys are doctors. I hadn’t even considered engineering for my own daughter with only two girls in my Engineering class at Penn State out of 1,000 students. Only one graduated out of 500.
I was on the Learning Factory board at Penn State and we realized that the best way to improve the quality of the Engineering College was to get the women from the University who had the horsepower to be engineers to take engineering. We found only women who had someone significant in their life, like a father or brother who was an engineer, would take the risk of being a minority in the field of engineering. Only 14% of engineers are women today and much less than 1/3 of the PSU Engineering graduates are women. We have a way to go, but with leaders like Molly we will come closer to gender equality in STEM education. If for no other reason than with globalization, mechanization, and artificial intelligence, that is where the jobs will be in the future.
Watching Molly as President of the High School Robotics team, you can see what a great job she would do in leading a team to Mars, providing Uber with a car that runs on artificial intelligence, starting up a Fusion Power plant or providing a sustainable artificial heart.The opportunities are boundless.
Molly will be going off to the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State to major in Industrial Engineering. Penn State has the oldest IE department in the country and it is always in the top 10. I know, because that is my old department. It is now called Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. It deals with the systems and processes of creating wealth, a handy education if you want to create a better world. .
In the last week, I have participated in three events recognizing graduating seniors in our communitty. To quote Melinda Gates from her new book, these kids are “Ready to Launch”. Thanks to our community’s willingness to pay for first-rate educations and some very talented educators; these kids are hitting the ground at full speed and taking on the world. I have no doubts about their results, creating places that will be great to grow up in and grow old, just like Kennett.