High School Advice: Meet Experts Akhila & Makenna

For high school students, maneuvering through your four years can be quite a challenge. With extracurricular activities, loads of homework, and to top it all off with college applications, days can feel hectic to say the least! Feeling stressed? Meet Akhila and Makenna, two NCWIT members, recent grads and rising college freshmen with some extraordinary accomplishments during their time in high school. In collaboration with Cyberweek.org, these girls gave us the rundown as to how to tackle the challenges high school presents and some valuable advice to keep in mind along the way. 

Akhila Boda is an eighteen-year-old gender equality activist and STEAMnist. In 2016, she founded Metro Girl Up club, a UN Foundation campaign club that advocates for female empowerment and girls’ education in third-world countries. Due to her work with Girl Up, Akhila has been named a 2020 Coca-Cola Scholar, a Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Ohio State Honoree, and a Syntero Catalyst for Positive Change Awards Recipient. In the Fall of 2020, Akhila will study Biomedical Science at The Ohio State University and knows that with the help of everyone, global gender equality is not a dream, it is a vision.

Akhila, how did you maneuver through the college application process? 

“The college application process was most definitely grueling, but rewarding at the same time. Going in, I knew that the first couple of months would be challenging, but the long hours of writing essays would pay off in the long run. Remind yourself to stay organized, I utilized spreadsheets and made sure to keep all important deadlines in one place. I also recommend for rising seniors to look into scholarships beforehand because a lot of scholarships have deadlines in early Fall!”

How should one plan out their HS schedules–should they focus on pursuing our interests or taking an “advanced” schedule? .  

“Take courses that demonstrate academic rigor, but also align with your interests. For example, if you are passionate about studying neuroscience, take courses such as biology, anatomy, or psychology. Additionally, don’t feel discouraged if your school does not offer a certain course because colleges do take this into account. Look elsewhere for activities that demonstrate your interest in a subject, as it will help you explore whether or not you truly enjoy that subject. There are many free resources such as Coursera and edX that will allow you to develop your skills in a subject further.”

Where did you find support in HS? 

“Surprisingly, I found support from my friend groups that I had during high school. Over the years, I participated in many programs/camps, and the friends I made really pushed me to be the best I could be. However, speaking to adults like your counselor, club advisors, etc., also really helps in clearing your thoughts every once in a while.”

How to deal with stress/pressure that HS brings? What are some tactics you used?  

”I was able to destress by being a part of my school’s cross country team. While there were some days where we had extremely tiring workouts, I could forget about my schoolwork for those two hours each day. In the months I didn’t have cross country, I occasionally went on walks to clear my mind. I definitely encourage everyone to take a walk every now and then to immerse themselves in nature and destress.”

What would you consider to be your best piece of high school advice? 

“Engage in activities that bring a smile to your face. For me, this involved starting a club to advocate for gender equality, and being associated with organizations that promote STEAM education for girls. Don’t simply sign up for activities because a person said that that activity helped them get into X,Y, or Z college or program.”

What would you say was your biggest transition from a freshman to a senior?

“Over the past four years, I definitely went through many ups and downs, but the experiences I’ve had have made me into a stronger person. One quality that has kept me confident in myself is to stay true to who I am. I think it’s very important for all of us to understand that we are unique and we should embrace that uniqueness.”

Finally, what is one piece of advice you would share with your younger self? 

“Don’t be afraid to say “no”. I’ve always been ambitious regarding my aspirations, and I have always found ways to fill my schedule with amazing opportunities. However, over the years, I’ve realized it is perfectly normal to step back and say “no” when feeling overwhelmed.”

Akhila took leadership through WiSci – a fully-funded study abroad STEAM camp hosted in the Republic of Georgia that she participated in where she learned different STEAM principles from mentors at Google, Intel, American Society of Microbiology, and more.

Makenna Turner is a recently graduated senior from Boulder, Colorado who attended Peak to Peak Charter School. She will be attending Stanford University next year pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science! Makenna is a 2019 NCWIT National Aspirations in Computing Award Winner, became a published researcher in the Computer Science field at 16, and is a 2020 Coca-Cola Scholar, Ron Brown Scholar, Amazon Future Engineer, and Elks Scholar.

Makenna, what advice do you have to the class of 2021 as they venture into the hybrid school year? How did you learn to stay positive and motivated? 

“Whenever I get this feeling of “missing out” I try to remember that everyone else is also going through this simultaneously and that I can only be accountable for myself. So I tell all students to only worry about what they spend their time doing and not to feel like they have to do things that don’t make them happy to please others. Do what you love and you’ll be motivated to continue.”

How did you tackle the college application process? 

“I started my apps August 1st and finished all 14 by September 1st. This stopped me from burning out once senioritis hit late September. I stayed organized by using Google Keep and Google Calendar together and making sure that EVERY deadline was in BOTH.”

How should one plan out their HS schedules–should they focus on pursuing our interests or taking an “advanced” schedule? 

“100% based on interests. I took classes people told me not to and didn’t take ones others told me I had to—  I’m so glad I listened to myself and focused on my own goals rather than doing things how others thought I should.”

Where did you find support in HS? 

“Older students/upperclassmen and peers were my greatest resource in understanding the opportunities open to me and how to do/plan for different things throughout school. But I recommend exercising every resource available! There’s no such thing as too much help.”

How to deal with stress/pressure that HS brings? What are some tactics you used? 

“I like writing or taking small mid-day naps. Helps me reset. Always keep an updated calendar and planner, it leads to half the stress there would be otherwise.”

What would you say was your biggest transition from a freshman to a senior? 

“I was definitely more creative back then, less organized, and more of an underdog. I’m graduating as more of a figurehead and have perfected my organization, but I wish I could get back that creative energy. Across my four years in high school I’ve become more driven to excel in the areas that matter to me, and make good on the promises I make to people in my work.”

What is one piece of advice you would share with your younger self?

“Realize your resting face isn’t a smiley face! Nothing wrong with a blank face, it just intimidates folks…”

Makenna is an enthusiastic rising freshman looking forward to all new opportunities that college has in store.

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