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Going beyond the bounds of high school

Andrea Ciccocioppo
October 30, 2014

For many students, school is the place to meet new friends, strive to succeed and discover their passions while building a foundation for the future. But for some kids, school is supplemental to another learning experience beyond textbooks and white boards.

Take Evan Tonkin, of Harrisburg, for example.

Looking to the future

Evans LinkedIn profile would make many adults feel inadequate. At just 16, Evan has run his own private-server gaming network; programmed $20,000 robots; programmed paid Bukkit plugins for Minecraft; teaches other students programming; has been on TV (WGALs Brain Busters) and studies Mandarin and Chinese culture. Oh, and he plays piano and coaches Special Olympics teams, too.

And hes primarily self-taught.

When I was 8, I got a computer and my parents gave me unmonitored access to the Internet, Evan said. It gave me tons of ways to learn new things.

The junior at Commonwealth Connections Academy is able to blend his education with his passion, even before he graduates and heads out into the work world.

The reason I do all that is I enjoy it, Evan explained with a grin. And colleges look at [a student] holistically, so its good to stand out.

After high school, Evan hopes to attend MIT or Carnegie Mellon University to study information systems security, with the goal of working for the NSAs Tailored Access Operations unit.

Working in the present

Courtney Thurston, of Mechanicsburg, has already begun her career. A 16-year-old senior, Courtney has worked as a contractor for NASA and the U.S. Navy and has founded Magikstra, a technology start-up that aims to help high school students connect with mentors.

She also encourages middle school-aged girls to pursue STEM careers through ProjectCSGIRLS.

Concerned about the future, she has also worked on designing a drone that could increase the efficiency of farms through precision agriculture. Were running out of space on earth and as the population increases, we need more food, but has less space on which to grow it, she explained.

After graduation, Courtney has her sights set on studying aerospace engineering at MIT or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Giving back

Leah Franklin wanted to be an astronaut when she was little, but now, shes discovered her true passion will require her to keep her stylish heels on the ground.

The 17-year-old senior at Commonwealth Connections Academy is focused on combining her passion for fashion and interest in business with helping her community.

Leah, of Harrisburg, wants to own her own retail business, bringing affordable fashion to an urban environment in her hometown.

I love clothes. I love putting stuff together and having my own look, Leah said. I want to make nice stuff affordable. Ive seen first-hand how you can be teased because of what youre wearing.

Leah is already learning on-the-job about what it will take to own that business. She is a store associate at Urban Xpressiona youth entrepreneurial training program through Jump Streets WheelHouse program.

The store located in Strawberry Square sells artwork, repurposed furniture, custom T-shirts and photography, and students provide live music and artwork and is staffed entirely by students.

Leahs job includes typical retail duties such as greeting customers, stocking and running the register as well as finding talent, organizing events.

She said her inspiration comes from the fashion sense of her 2-year-old niece. She puts the ugliest things together, Leah said with a laugh. Shes so funny. I dont judge.

Andrea Ciccocioppo is editor of Central Penn Parent.

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