Moffat County High School students past, present taking on the world
March 28, 2015
For many in Craig, venturing out of the city, county or state might be a rarity, but a number of those who got their educational beginnings in Northwest Colorado plan to soon move on to other parts of the world on the quest for knowledge.
Current Moffat County High School students and graduates alike have lined up a multitude of international learning opportunities.
For some, their passports won't be seeing new stamps for a while, such as several students planning a trip to Costa Rica through MCHS's World Language Club, a group that's new to the school and promotes immersion in other cultures.
Students McKenzie Aguirre, Jacinda Newkirk and Yancey Weber are in the midst of raising money for their journey, planned for summer 2016.
"I think it's an interesting prospect to see, hey, how do kids in other countries think, how do they feel, what is different from our culture to their culture and how are they the same," Aguirre, a sophomore, said. "I want to see what they live in and witness 24/7 that we don't in Craig, Colorado."
Newkirk, a sophomore, echoed that desire to see something new.
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"It's a whole different world there," she said.
Traveling abroad is something that hasn't been as regular a project for MCHS in recent years as it used to be, and adviser Jessica Knez, a Spanish teacher at the school, hopes to remedy that.
"This kind of program hasn't been run in many, many years, and I'm excited to be the one to start it up again," she said.
Knez has also striven to find fundraising options that will benefit those going on this trip as well as World Language Club as a whole.
While WLC won't be headed to Central America for more than a year, other local jetsetters will be hopping a flight earlier.
MCHS junior Jake Stewart and sophomore Pearl Wyman will both make their way to Japan this summer as part of the Youth For Understanding exchange program. Stewart will embark on his trip in June and Wyman in August.
Wyman first visited Japan in 2013 with her father and fell in love with the atmosphere.
"I felt at home, I felt comfortable, everyone was really nice, and even in the most populous city, it didn't feel crowded at all," she said. "Japan is a really safe country, and you don't realize that there's kind of an underlying tension in the U.S. as far as safety goes, but in Japan it's just gone, and it's an amazing feeling."
Wyman's account of applying for the program was what inspired Stewart to do the same. The two have an appreciation for the country's heritage, though mastering the Japanese language has been tougher than expected, and they likely won't get any special treatment in way of translation overseas.
"They kind of just throw you into the culture," Wyman said, adding that she has already reached out to her host family, who will hopefully introduce her to locations stretching from the northern area Hokkaido to the Okinawa archipelago to the south.
Whether it's in a metropolis or a small town like the one left behind in the United States, the time in Japan will be unique either way, Stewart said.
"It's something that I chose instead of something I have to do," he said. "I'll definitely get a broad perspective over there. I'll have a whole different view of the world. How many students can talk about worldly issues and have perspectives from two sides rather than just one?"
The idea of having more insight into the rest of the globe is one that also appealed to 2013 MCHS graduate Matt Hulstine, currently matriculating at University of Denver, majoring in history and international studies. It was the latter academic specialty that intrigued him to pursue an internship in Tajikistan with the U.S. State Department this summer, though the history element had a part as well.
Hulstine began studying the Persian language last year largely as a hobby and will now be furthering that pursuit in a location where it's used regularly. The Farsi dialect is what he has specialized in, though he will also become more familiar with Tajik, a style that reflects Tajikistan's distinctive status in the region.
The small landlocked country touches China and Afghanistan in addition to fellow former Soviet republics Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan also retains a great deal of influence from both Russia and Iran.
The need for more American scholars to approach such a nation is an effort Hulstine is happy to fill.
"We don't know very much about that area, and a lot of people haven't heard about Tajikistan," he said, noting that a predominant amount of Americans lump the many cultures of the Middle East and Asia as one when they vary a great deal.
The time Hulstine spends this summer bettering his comprehension of the intricacies of the language will be well spent as he works toward a career in diplomacy. A vacation in Turkey after completing high school opened his eyes to the many issues faced in and around the Middle East.
"If our relations with Iran ever got better, I think that would be a pretty interesting place to visit," he said. "I think this will be a good opportunity for me to try to work with the countries that are critical to our relations in the Middle East."
Another former Bulldog also has international work coming up as part of her career aspirations.
In December 2014, Anna Herring, MCHS Class of 2006, attained her PhD in environmental engineering from Oregon State University, and she'll soon be a research scientist at Australian National University in Canberra. Being an expatriate, her focus will be less on the people and languages Down Under and more on the technology and landscape at the facility.
Herring's doctoral work has been centered on geologic carbon dioxide sequestration, a process that, if perfected, would effectively prevent the release of CO2 from coal-fired power plants and similar operations by pumping the substance "into a confined storage reservoir of porous sandstone rock."
"My PhD was awarded to me in part because I developed a method of quantifying the connectivity of the CO2 plume and relating that to the mobility of the CO2 as it travels through the rocks," she said. "This research is useful because it will allow us to more accurately predict how much CO2 is trapped within subsurface rocks and where it will travel after it’s been injected underground."
Being on the campus of ANU, Herring will be among a new bundle of mathematics and physics experts and colleagues. Having done much of her research at Chicago's Argonne National Lab, now she will have access to what she refers to as "state-of-the-art geological sample characterization techniques" and different types of rocks that could factor in to the answers she needs.
The goal of ultimately reducing carbon emissions, whether she's in Australia or in the United States, comes back to her roots in Northwest Colorado and coming from a family in the mining industry.
"Growing up in Craig certainly influenced my career path and my research — I have first-hand knowledge of how industrial activity is vital to the local community and economy," Herring said. "However, I also had the opportunity to explore the natural environment around Craig, especially areas like Browns Park and Dinosaur National Monument, which really instilled in me a respect and love for the environment. I’ve decided to spend my career working to find a way to reduce or eliminate the conflict between industry and environmental protection."
The purpose of CO2 sequestration is not to bring coal power to a halt but in fact to keep it going, Herring said, noting that it would make for a "smoother transition to renewable and sustainable energy sources" as science improves on wind, solar, geothermal and other types of power.
The work she's doing is something that Herring believes could impact the entire world, regardless of which side of the debates of climate change and alternative energy sources a person stands.
"As an environmental engineer, I understand that climate change is a serious problem that has long-term global impacts, but as a Northwest Colorado native, I understand that the implementation will impact our communities on a short-term, local level," she said. "That’s a hard position for communities like Craig to be in, but I think that if these local communities anticipate and embrace this challenge rather than arguing that the problem of climate change doesn’t exist, they can thrive and grow their local economies while also contributing to solving the global problem."
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.