Expanding Decision-Making Opportunities


y nephew spent a weekend with our family recently. "Little John John" as I call him, earned his master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Idaho last spring and now works for Intel in Chandler.

Along the way, he did research for NASA and Ames Research in a couple of little-known schools like UCal Berkeley and Cal Tech. As we sat drinking coffee one morning, I queried him about Intel's philosophy.

He said, "Everything revolves around a set of core values including safety, risk taking, self-discipline, creativity and the notion that it must be a great place to come to work."

He added, "... And they do expect you to work -- I mean work!"

"So, do people buy into those core values or are they just something that the company has out there for the stockholders?" I asked. He looked me in the eye and said, "Absolutely. We want to make this company better because it only helps us."

As our conversation continued, I asked him what advice he would give to my students. Here is his response, "The first stepping stone to success is working hard in high school. My dad would always tell me, ‘The harder you work and the more successful you are, the more decisions you get to make as opposed to decisions being made for you.' While I have not always been perfect, I worked hard and found my dad's words to be true.

"When people see you working hard, they recognize it. This expands your opportunities to make your own decisions. I worked really hard in high school to get prerequisites out of the way so I could take college classes. I would take AP calculus at a zero hour and drive to North Idaho College at night (in between I played basketball). As a result, I had several scholarship options and got to make the decision about where I would go. I decided on the University of Idaho.

"Once I was there, I worked really hard in my math and engineering classes. A professor noticed and took me under his wing. With his help, I was made aware of summer internships at some prestigious universities. I decided on Cal Tech because they had a great robotics program. I worked really hard on my project.
"As well, I continued to work hard over my next year at U of I. The following summer I had several offers and was able to make another decision for Ames Research.

"Ames Research is an arm of NASA and has a series of programs in all of the Idaho universities, so when I applied to graduate school, they offered me a great graduate research assistantship overseeing those programs for Ames.

"One of my bosses there graduated before I did and went to work for Intel. He told Intel about me and though I had lots of opportunities, here I am."

Obviously John held tight to some core values, the most important of which seemed to be working hard on things he thought would expand his ability to make his own choices.

How is this pertinent to Payson High School? We've had some great successes lately: $800,000 in scholarships including a Flinn Scholar and West Point appointment. Highly performing for three years running, 23 percent of our students are taking at least one Advanced Placement class and expanded offerings in dual credit college courses to name a few.

I spoke to a parent the other day who thanked me because her daughter would start at NAU next fall with more than 50 college credit hours.

Though we still have much to accomplish before we are noted as one of the top high schools in Arizona, I believe our success is a result of stubbornly clinging to a vision of our commitment to students, combined with what we value in candidates who aspire to teach at Payson High School.

In future columns I'll be spending time sharing our vision statement and values with you. Until then, note that my nephew's dad's words became John's vision statement that ultimately shaped his future.

I hope you will never forget the deathless power lies in the words of a parent.

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