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Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight: Maddie Hawk (SP '10)

Maddie Hawk from the Spring 2010 Island School recently graduated from DePauw University with a double major in English (literature) and film studies. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Moarter Board and spent a semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark followed by a summer at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea as a research intern. She has also taught English and American culture skills to refugee immigrants in the Indianapolis area as an intern for Exodus Refugee Immigration. Most notably however, Maddie has received word that she is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and will spend the 2016-2017 academic year in South Korea teaching English. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and established in 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program competition aims to increase mutual understanding nations through educational and cultural exchange while serving as a catalyst for long-term leadership development.

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When asked to reflect on her time at The Island School, Maddie responded with:

“The Island School prepared me to immerse in any culture I might find myself in, which is imperative to being a cultural ambassador. Through community outreach programs, I knew how to engage with younger children and work with them in an extracurricular setting.  I remember Island School and my time there fondly. Just the other day, I was talking to my friends about SCUBA diving and reflecting on night diving and how amazing it was. I think that Island School prepared me for Fulbright in a number of ways. I’ve studied abroad three times, and Island School was the catalyst for it all. I never would have gone to South Korea or Denmark on my own without believing in myself. I can’t put into words how my time at Island School affected me, changed me. It prepared me to be an adult, taught me independence, self-sustainability, and gave me the confidence to tackle everything that is thrown at me. I don’t think I would have applied for a Fulbright without the Island School behind me. I approach the world differently, more openly. I remember one time, walking through the Eleuthera community, being completely un-phased by the many men carrying machetes. One family stopped a group of friends and me, offering to let us watch them skin a dead pig. I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I approached the situation openly, watching with rapt curiosity at a way of life so contrasting my own. The Island School granted me a confidence and security in myself, something that developed my comfort at approaching the world differently and seeing things through different perspectives. This mentality aligns perfectly with the mentality of a Fulbright scholar, someone who believes in the exchange of cultures and ideals with an open demeanor. Thank you always, Island School.”

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After her Fulbright experience, Maddie plans to continue her studies and pursue a Ph.D. in Film and Cultural Criticism. "My goal is to study how film interacts with culture, but also to explore the Korean film industry deeper as it is something that fascinates me. After my studies, I aspire to be a professor of film, and to begin a Korean cinema studies program at the university I teach."

Congratulations Maddie! The Island School cannot wait to hear about your adventures in Seoul and beyond!

Alumni Spotlight: Ginny Laurita (F'15)

ginny As an alum from the most recently completed Island School semester, Fall 2015, Ginny Laurita has already begun to make her mark in the wider world through service. For Ginny and others from her semester, the transition home is in many ways still ongoing. For many, the solution to transitioning back home is to keep busy. This is what Ginny has done and is continuing to do. When Ginny returned home, she “got my license, and threw myself into a school club I joined last year called Interact. Interact is the high school level of the Rotary Club, in which we do community service projects in the community. I began going to meetings, and volunteering for as many events I could participate in as possible.” In February, Ginny began to contemplate her future beyond high school. She “went on a college trip with my friend where we visited six different schools. The process of starting to look at colleges is exciting but also nerve wracking. Lately I have been going back and forth on the idea of doing a gap year. If I were to do one, I know that I would like to go with a purpose.” To fit her goal of working with a purpose, Ginny discovered an opportunity to go to Guatemala with her Interact group to work in Guatemala City for 10 days with a group called Safe Passage.

From the moment that Ginny discovered this opportunity with her club, she was hooked. She knew she had to go. Of course, there was a catch: “When I got back from Island School, the trip to Safe Passage was actually full. The sign up process had already happened, and the group had already begun to fundraise for their trip.” This meant that technically, Ginny was closed out from the opportunity for the year. However, after expressing her interest and dedication to the supervisor and other students on the trip, the group managed to open up a spot for her and she was set to go! The trip really resonated with Ginny because “after living on Eleuthera, I was able to experience the difference that education can bring to a place of poverty, and is part of the reason that going to Guatemala and participating in the efforts of Safe Passage spoke to me so strongly.” Safe Passage, the organization that Ginny’s Interact group would be working with, is located directly near the “Guatemala City dump, which is the largest dump in the area. A huge quarry that is filled with mounds and mounds of garbage, is the source of work for many Guatemalans. This dump used to also be where many lived, and found food, and clothes, until the law was put in place that no one was allowed in the dump during the night.” Naturally, the conditions of such a place are hazardous and unhealthy. Safe Passage serves to provide education, a safe place, and better opportunities for children and families who had formerly worked in the dump.

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While working at Safe Passage, the main goal for Ginny’s Interact group was to be integrated into the daily routine. A lot of time was spent in their “English classes, helping the teachers with activities and games as they learned their numbers, colors, and basic phrases. We worked with children in grades 2 and 3, as well as in middle school.” Ginny was blown away by the “excitement in each child to learn, as well as the energy from each teacher as they made every activity fun and enjoyable for the children. When we came to the school for the first time, and then every time after that, we were all immediately welcomed with hugs, smiles, and laughter. When we would spend recess with them, the amount of energy that each of those tiny children had was both refreshing and exhausting. It was so incredible to see the joy on the faces of these children who have been through so much in their lives.” Ginny firmly believes that she and the other members of the trip had a mutual exchange of knowledge with the children they were working with and that she was absolutely “amazed by was the amount of resilience (Editor’s note: Italics in original)that each of these children had.” The Interact club brought a project of their own which was to make puppets and decorate them with the children. The puppets were well received and Ginny was happy to see that “the kids all loved them, and it brought us all so much joy to be able to bring this light into their lives that have so much dark.”

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In addition to working with the children, Safe Passage also works with the adults in the community.  The program is called Creamos (creation) and culminates with the adults receiving a high school diploma. They are taught how to do accounting and learn English. One program for the mothers in particular, focuses on teaching them accounting alongside making jewelry that then goes into a store that these women are taught how to run. It was clear to Ginny how “hard working they all are, and how much they care for their families. These mothers were able to go to school, for the first time for some, and get an education that will open up a whole world of opportunities for both themselves and their children.” For all the good that Ginny and her Interact group were doing, they could not possibly help everyone who was living near that dump in Guatemala City. This was overwhelming at times because they were aware of the scale of help that was truly needed to benefit everyone, but, Ginny was greatly impressed by the resiliency demonstrated by everyone that she met in the city and thinks that, of all the people she met there, that they are “some of the strongest, most kind-hearted people I have ever met, and I believe that having the chance to meet them, and experience their lives, widened my worldview in a way I am still realizing even now.”

Looking ahead to the future, Ginny has quite a few plans and aspirations in mind. She has begun to tour colleges on the East Coast and plans to continue doing just that so she can get her bearings when it comes to what she wants in a school. She is thinking of doing a gap year and using that process to travel and get to know herself better. As a direct result of her travels to Guatemala, she has begun the process of partially sponsoring a child named Cristina in order to continue her connection with the program. Ginny has been bitten by the travel bug this year with her time at The Island School and in Guatemala and is looking forward to many more adventures in the future.

In closing, Ginny had a series of shout outs and thank yous that she wanted to send out to everyone:

I would like to thank everyone at The Island School who I met, and who made those the best 100 days of my life. I truly believe that each and every one there made my experience what it was, and I cannot thank The Island School enough for creating such a magical, challenging, environment where students can come to learn and thrive in the most amazing and supportive place. I'd especially like to make a shout out to S4 for one of my favorite experiences at The Island School, I think our group, and memories on that trip are ones I will remember my whole life. Also girl's dorm, for being so supportive when I was going through all the medical challenges I faced, and for becoming a family that we will all have forever. I'd like to thank my advisory, for awesome advisory outings, and a big shout out to Kat for getting me through the challenges I faced over those 100 days. I want to thank everyone who makes The Island School possible, and for giving me and all other students an experience to try new things, to meet new people that both have pushed and excited me for what might come next.

Ginny, from all of us at The Island School, we wish you the best of luck and hope that one day your adventures might lead you back on our campus!

Alumni Spotlight: Max Porter (F'14)

max Max Porter of the Fall 2014 semester has been busy since returning home. He has joined a well-known and successful robotics team as the all-important operator of the robot and also earned his Eagle Scout award. Unfortunately, when Max arrived home, it was not to the perfect homecoming that some Alumni might hope for. Upon returning, he had to cope with the fact that his best friend since lower school had passed away while he was at the Island School. Eventually Max was able to work past that and move on to new pursuits. To start this process, he jumped into his Eagle Scout project. Before coming to The Island School, Max had already completed all of the necessary merit badges and paperwork so all that was left was for Max to do his final project. Max’s idea was to build a shed to store his town’s fold up hockey rink that was brought out every winter but had no place to be stored resulting in damage from exposure each year. Max himself designed the structure for this shed and then, with a team of fellow scouts, successfully built the shed for his town. After the completion of Max’s Eagle Scout project, he took a job at the Thayer School of Engineering as a machine shop assistant and TA. This position laid the groundwork for Max to become inspired to join his current robotics team. That same winter that Max joined robotics, he also joined a swim team and ended up qualifying for States. Recently, Max took a trip to Costa Rica with 20 other students to study the “local ecology and how it affects the economy in Costa Rica.” The group stayed with host families in a town called Monte Verde which is located near the rain forests. Together they learned all about coffee plantations and the food exports that the country produces. While in Costa Rica, Max received an e-mail notifying him of his acceptance into the Colorado School of Mines. Max has “decided to go there and will spend the next four years of my life in Golden Colorado.” Max plans on majoring in either aeronautical or automotive mechanical engineering during his time there.

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Max got started in the Scouting program at a young age as a Cub Scout. He loved all of the building activities that were part of the program. In particular, Max enjoyed building pinewood derby cars, rockets, and planes that he and his troop would race. Every year, Max was proud to say that his Pinewood Derby car earned a spot on the victory podium at the end of the event. After getting his start in the Cub Scouts, Max moved up the ranks and found that he enjoyed camping and learning survival skills. The Scouts taught Max to “be just as comfortable sleeping in the woods as I would be sleeping in my bed.” Carrying forward his love of building things, Max got into robotics while he was in 8th grade. He was having a bit of trouble finding an extra-curricular niche that felt ideal to him but decided that since he was into RC cars at the time that robotics might be a good fit. Originally, Max was a bit skeptical of the joining the robotics team because he “figured it would be a group of people with huge glasses staring intently at computers.” As it turns out, things could not have been further from that impression. Max describes his experience with robotics as a “50/50 mix of 25-35-year-old coaches and high school kids blasting rock music in a large shop. The adults were acting like kids and the kids were acting like adults. It was perfect.” 2012 was the year that Max joined up with robotics and the very next year in 2013 the team qualified for the world championship completion held in St. Louis. A little known fact is that more countries participate in this world championship than do in some Olympic games so this was a big deal for Max. In 2015, Max became the driver for his team’s robots and, again, they qualified for the world championship but unfortunately could not raise the necessary amount of funding to attend. That year however, Max’s team won a prestigious award because of the excellent design of their robot.

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Max learned a few things while he attended The Island School, but he credits one thing as one of the more important lessons. He says that the “main thing that I learned at the Island School was how to take something I learned in one class and apply it to another. This taught me to apply skills from Boy Scouts to robotics and taught me to take what I learned in robotics and apply it to math class.” It made him a better learner overall and allowed him to make stronger connections throughout his coursework. This will serve him well when he transitions to the Colorado School of Mines. Once there, Max plans to join their robotics and Formula SAE teams. This will allow Max to combine his enthusiasm for robotics with a passion for cars. In the future, Max sees a bright future in engineering and is looking forward to any possibilities that come with that.

In closing, Max had a few shout outs that he wanted to share:

“I want to give a shout out to the "Harkness Crew" and in particular Jack Kimball. He was my fellow Boy Scout at the Island School and shared my passion for designing and engineering. He has a booklet of all of his ideas for life-changing inventions.”

Max, good luck in Colorado! We here at The Island School are excited to hear what you do or build next.

Congratulations Cristin McDermott!

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Cristin McDermott of the Spring 2002 Island School semester completed the Pittsburgh half marathon Sunday, May 1st alongside Ed, her father! Cristin credits The Island School for sparking her passion for running and her completion of today’s race saying “It started with you!"

 Cristin returned to Eleuthera after her semester to help run a teacher conference and interned as an Island School teacher before enrolling in medical school in Pittsburgh. She plans to complete her residency in pediatrics, adult psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry in June of 2017.

From all of us at The Island School, keep it up Cristin!! To all other Alumni, we would love to hear and share your stories of running, swimming, triathlons and other competitions and triumphs!

Alumni Spotlight: Devin Gilmartin (F'14)

devin Recently, The Island School had the chance to catch up with Devin Gilmartin of the Fall 2014 semester. We discussed a range of topics from his time on island to his current project with Recover Brands where he developed a t-shirt made from 100% recycled materials in honor of the recent Paris Agreement, a revolutionary document crafted by the nations of the world at the United Nation’s COP 21 meeting in Paris last year which was signed by 177 countries on Earth day this year. Devin will be attending the London College of Fashion this fall with the goal of transforming the fashion industry into a paragon of sustainability. Below is a transcript of our interview that was simply too powerful to cut up into a standard article. 

Q:  Could you give an update on yourself and what you have been up to since returning home from your semester?

A:  Returning from The Island School was perhaps the only thing more surreal than the experience itself. It was a spark of energy that will last my lifetime. When you spend 100 days so emerged in every aspect of a place, it's a lesson on how you should treat everything in life. No aspect of living at The Island School goes unconsidered. That's been my approach since. Just trying to soak up as much as possible from every experience. It's the best way to live, appreciating everything for what it is and why it is. I think that's what happens when you're pushed to what you think are limits in the 100 days there. There's a system in place that allows you to thrive. The people and the resources are there and it's up to you to decide how to use them.

I tried to really push my limits physically at The Island School. Taking on both the super swim and the half marathon and taking the forty-eight-hour solo experience to fast and feel what it would be like to live only on water for two days, I learned it's mind over matter. You learn that very quickly on Eleuthera.

Carrying that over to post Island School life, it was running the Brooklyn Half Marathon in the spring of 2015 and then, in November, running the New York City Marathon.

Having had the opportunity to graduate high school a semester early, I am spending the second semester of my senior year of high school working at Milk Studios as a social media content curator. It's an amazing job that I would say consists of what I would have been doing in math class anyway. It's about curating images and inspiration and creatively presenting that in the most beautiful way possible to an audience.

The Island School was about realizing the potential people have to do things that can make a difference. The 100 days you spend there are about developing that realization within yourself, that you are capable of being that type of person. When the 101st day comes and you leave the island, that's when the real Island School journey begins. The opportunity to apply what you learned to your life and have it make an impact on others. model

Q:  How did you get involved with Recover Brands and what inspired you to create the 2020 Vision t-shirt?

A:  A collaboration with Recover had been on my mind since I first heard about it. Having always been interested in fashion, it stuck out immediately to me as a brand to learn more about. I of course had this really intense relationship with the product before Chris even introduced me to Bill Johnston (President of Recover Brands). Wearing it every day from sun up until sun down, I learned how it felt, how the fabric performed and how it looked. It was our uniform and for everyone to feel like they were part of The Island School down to even what they were wearing, that it carried the same message of sustainability and mindfulness, it was powerful. I think that's what really made this collaboration so natural.

When Bill and I first started speaking about a collaboration, it was a general conversation about how we could approach a partnership that would appeal to an audience that was currently outside of Recover's reach. I felt like I had something to offer in that regard and so we bounced ideas around. That was early in the year. It was really a few weeks ago that the idea for 2020 Vision came into fruition. I follow climate change and environmental issues closely so the opportunity to release a collaboration on Earth Day and the day in which the Paris Agreement, the first ever universal climate agreement, was going to be signed, it was perfect. I proposed the idea to Bill and Chris, they approved immediately, and the designing began. The name 2020 Vision comes from the idea of a vision of the future coming to life with the Paris Agreement in place. It's up to us to bring it into existence.

For the graphics, I collaborated with a very good friend of mine, Luis Lizarraga. He has a multidisciplinary approach to design and his Paris based studio, Studio LGLR, had the perfect aesthetic for what we were going for. With the time difference between New York and Paris, it was hundreds of emails and texts between the two of us in the past few weeks, just going over getting everything from the font to the colors right, that lead to the final decisions on the graphics.

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The front of the shirt features eight recycling symbols, representing the eight plastic bottles it takes to make one Recover shirt as well as text reading 2020 Vision. The back of the shirt pays homage to the island of Eleuthera.

What really made 2020 Vision go from a simple t-shirt to what really became an art project, was the message behind the photoshoot we did. My good friend and photographer Davon Chandler photographed the shirts on Charlotte S. McKee who did a great job portraying the attitude of the collaboration.

I also added a few textile pieces I wove using Saori, a Japanese weaving technique. The three pieces feature recycled fabric scraps and even cut up metrocards as an ode to a place I get so much inspiration from, that being the subway and the people I see on it.

The set of the photo shoot really put the finishing touches on the project. It was a juxtaposition of nature and pollution, using recycled water bottles as vases for flowers. It's a subtle detail but perfect for pushing the idea of reintroducing one thing as something completely different, presenting up-cycling as a lifestyle. model 2

Q:  How long have you been interested in what the UN is attempting to do in the fight against climate change? 

A:  Climate change has become this topic that people enjoy debating but at this point, it's no longer a debate. Its time to come to terms with the fact we are facing a potential disaster in our lifetime. It's no longer a situation we can just ignore and say "That won't happen for a while".

In the fashion industry, that ignorance is also a marketing scheme. The idea that every season needs to be represented with more and more clothing and pre collections that end up sitting on shelves, it's become a real problem. I think it's unfair to place the blame on consumers at this point. The world is set in its ways because the people in power don't want to risk their positions to try to initiate change. For that same reason, the fashion industry has suffered tremendously from a lack of awareness. The old guards of fashion need to be overthrown simply because it's unrealistic to continue as an industry in such a manner. It sits only behind the oil industry as the most polluting industry in the world. The "Eco-friendly" marketing schemes of companies like H&M should make consumers angry. It's a play on the nature of buying goods for pleasure. Conspicuous consumption is easier to stomach when you feel like the product is made responsibly. The truth is, though, it's not the case. The people making the clothing are in unimaginable conditions and these huge companies ignore that. That's the reality.

Q:  Did the Island School play a role in furthering your interests in the environment and humanities role in it? Was this something you have always found interesting? 

A:  The Island School made me realize there was an opportunity to merge my passions to help the world. It was through being provoked to consider fashion through this lens that made me realize the amount of opportunity that lies within the subject of sustainable fashion. It's an issue that needs immediate attention, attention that can only be brought by this generation.

Q:  What is next for you? Do you see yourself doing another t-shirt in the future or something entirely different.

A:  This t-shirt is the smallest check mark I plan to check off. It's my way of saying its "our" time. When I say "our", I'm speaking for all of the other kids that know how important this issue is and are ready to tackle it with their creativity and talent. The future of our planet is in the hands of this generation. A t-shirt cannot save the world. Great ideas can. This is step one of a much larger plan for making "sustainable fashion" become "fashion". In other words, the need to say "sustainable" will be unnecessary because it will simply be the way it is.

The problem has been identified. It's up to us to solve it and I look forward to being a part of the solution. model 3

Devin, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. We look forward to hearing about the changes you bring about in the industry. You can check out the 2020 Vision tee here.  When purchased 20.20% of the profits from the tee go back to The Island School itself.