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EDI Fellows Gain Valuable Insights From Norfolk Academy Alumni

Engineering, Design and Innovation Fellows learned valuable lessons over the summer that are paying dividends – including tips from a young Norfolk Academy graduate who is already running his own successful business.

Ten Fellows from the classes of 2020 and 2021 traveled to California between July 15-19. Their faculty leaders were Dr. Robert Call and Dr. Tenaya Vallery, co-directors of the Batten Leadership Program’s EDI Fellows.

During their time there, the students explored a wide variety of scientific topics. Among the places they visited were:

  • NASA Ames, where they walked into the world's largest wind tunnel;
  • Carbon, a 3D printing startup that helps companies such as Nike reinvent their products; and
  • Stanford University, which is home to a research lab that works with the Navy, Air Force, and other agencies to pioneer systems that augment the Global Positioning System.

They also gained knowledge from Academy graduates who have carved flourishing careers in Silicon Valley. They enjoyed time with Garrett Weinberg ’96, an engineer and designer who has worked for several years for Apple Inc., and Michael Dekshenieks ’85, who has held senior executive positions for various digital companies.

Mr. Weinberg showed them around Apple Park and talked about his work on the user experience of Siri. The two alumni then went to dinner with the current students, answering questions and building relationships.

“We received a lot of insight into Apple’s corporate culture and the inner workings of one of the most influential companies in the Valley,” said Nik Yanek-Chrones ’20, who wrote about the trip on EDI’s blog.

Maguire McMahon ’20, thought talking with Mr. Dekshenieks was invaluable.

“I enjoyed my conversation with him greatly and learned a lot about ROTC, college, start ups, and life,” Maguire wrote.

Another highlight for the students was meeting Greg Mulholland ’03. He is co-founder and CEO of Citrine Informatics, a company that studies past experiments and analyzes data to find ways to improve discovery and production of advanced materials. In 2015, he made Forbes' list of 30 impressive people younger than age 30.

Mr. Mulholland shared lessons he learned at Norfolk Academy that prepared him to thrive in the business world. Surround yourself with the best people who give you honest feedback and clearly communicate, he said. Strengthen your writing skills - avoiding the passive voice was important for putting together convincing proposals. Also, be driven and try new things. He particularly credited Tom Duquette’s advanced statistics course.

Students have enjoyed recent meetings with alumni, Dr. Vallery said. Mr. Mulholland made a strong impression because of his success at a young age.

Meeting him helped show them that “it’s not such a far-fetched idea that they might be in similar shoes in just a few years,” she said.

Keon Tavakoli ’21 was inspired by Mr. Mulholland’s lessons. He’s keeping his lessons on writing in mind as he goes through this school year.

“It helps me get more out of each class,” Keon said.

AJ Keels '21 has gained similar value. He’s applying the lessons not just to the classroom, but more broadly as he thinks about life in general.

“I feel very lucky we were able to go out there and meet him,” AJ said.

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