We were pleased to welcome Marius back to campus for an impromptu visit yesterday! One of our most memorable international students in recent years, Marius is from Germany and, upon graduation, he returned to his home country. So, our happiness to see him was compounded by more than a little surprise.
I took the opportunity to catch up with Marius as we toured campus – we have several new buildings and features on campus that I wanted to show him. He says he is jealous of the current students.
Catch us up on what you’ve been doing since graduation from The Hill.
The first thing I did after graduation was go on an awesome hike in the Alps from Austria down into Italy. My parents felt I earned an adventure and so did I. After that trip, I enrolled and began working at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Germany which led to a 3 1/2 year apprenticeship as an electrician specializing in devices and systems. This is the equivalent of earning a degree in electrical science in the U.S. I’ve recently become a nationally certified electrician which was my goal coming out of high school!
Has it been all work?
Well, this is interesting. My best friend at Oak Hill, Kyler Reed, had introduced me to some music production programs and French House Music, so since then, music has been a big interest of mine. I’ve been making music all through school and I’ve actually been able to be signed to several small labels around the world! (He’s very big in Croatia and Serbia). I record under the name Maiga and my music can be found on iTunes and Spotify. That’s been really exciting!
What do you look back on most from your time at Oak Hill Academy?
Of course I still keep in touch with several of my friends from OHA, so the close relationships developed there is a big memory. I also look back at how much I grew up here. The structure was something I needed – I became a lot more responsible and the dorm life gave me great habits I still keep today. Academically, my grade improvement opened the door for my acceptance to the program at Karlsruhe – it’s pretty prestigious in Germany, sort of like a version of MIT in the States. My love of history from Mr. Hebold’s class is still a hobby of mine, too!
In your opinion, what makes Oak Hill special?
Well, it’s not an easy trip for me to come back to visit, but the close relationships I made compelled me to come back. The teachers are especially personal and the small classes helped me become more confident and motivated.
As we went around today, did you notice changes at Oak Hill Academy?
Yes and No. The feeling of closeness among the faculty and kids is the same as I remember. Physically, the campus has changed for the better. The new amphitheater makes me jealous – firepit socials? Man, that would have been fun. I’m also jealous that the kids get their cellphones on weekends now – that would have been great. Several new dorms have been a big upgrade. I never did get to live in the brand new senior dorm because I was proctor of the 8th and 9th dorm my senior year and lived with them. But, I’m really glad the feeling on campus hasn’t changed because it works! The caring atmosphere is the same as I remember.
What’s next for you, Marius?
I have options. That’s sort of the purpose of this trip – to sort out the next step. My music is taking off to a degree and I have this awesome certification and educational background that is opening up job opportunities too. We’ll see, but I’m excited!
Andja attended Oak Hill Academy for her junior and senior years, coming directly from her native Serbia. She quickly became one of the most popular, engaged students on campus after settling in. She attended Iona College directly after Oak Hill Academy, in large part due to it’s proximity to New York City. She was a four-year starter for their women’s basketball program and won multiple conference awards during her career. Graduating in 2011 with a B.S. Criminal Justice, Andja spent a couple of years pursuing a coaching career while working as a business developer with a European graphic design firm. She has been employed at National Cash Register (NCR) in Belgrade for the past couple of years, primarily managing one of the biggest partnerships the international firm handles with Polycom, an international IT firm.
Andja admits that she “grew up a lot” at Oak Hill Academy becoming much more flexible and cooperative working with others. She credits the small campus, tight-knit student body and, above all, the relationships she was able to develop with her teachers with helping her mature quickly. She calls getting outside of her comfort zone and coming to U.S. as a turning point in her life. “For certain, growing through the experience of being so far from home, learning new cultural norms and maturing in general wouldn’t have been possible with the relationships I formed at Oak Hill.”
Oak Hill Academy has had a long history of providing a quality college-preparatory, nurturing experience for international students. Our smallness, where relationships are emphasized, and our safe location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia has provided the right environment for hundreds of international students to grow and prepare for college success over the years. Andja is a great example.
I first met RJ as a somewhat shy, reserved rising 8th grader while he attended Oak Hill Academy’s summer basketball camp. RJ is a 2013 graduate who spent 5 years on The Hill and the growth I saw in him was phenomenal. 8th graders at Oak Hill are taken care of by the upperclassman and RJ was everyone’s little brother that first year. Through his career at OHA I saw him progress from the shy, but talented, Red Team Varsity player and an under-the-radar, but likeable student in the school building into a student government leader, mentoring upperclassman, who was a major contributor to some of the best Gold Teams in recent years.
RJ is entering his senior year at DePaul University in Chicago – not far from his hometown. He is a pre-law student and has spent his summer interning at a law firm (last check he was targeting the Los Angeles area) with the goal of becoming a sports and entertainment industry lawyer. He balances all of this while playing shooting guard for the Blue Demons.
RJ’s story reflects one of the greatest opportunities attending Oak Hill Academy has to offer: the chance to grow and discover confidence. Our small classes and student body really encourages students to take leadership positions, both formal and informal. Watching RJ grow over those 5 years was truly a highlight of my tenure at Oak Hill Academy.
Whitney earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of South Carolina and has been working for a non-profit in Charleston, SC, her hometown. She shares that she is very passionate about the work she does with pregnant teens in the area and that empowering young women is very fulfilling.
She plans to pursue he Master’s in Social Work in the Fall, continuing at USC.
On a personal note, she still enjoys running (she participated in cross country at Oak Hill Academy) and values her relationship with Christ. She credits OHA with helping her on her spiritual walk and believes “OHA shaped her into the motivated, compassionate woman she is today.” Whitney was a caring and involved member of our community and we are proud, but not surprised, that she has chosen a life in service to others.
Photos credited to Harris-Stowe State University Athletics
On June 20, 2015, Hana Haden ’10 was named the Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Harris-Stowe State University in Missouri. As a former player at Oak Hill Academy and, later, at Western Carolina University, Hana’s young age is balanced by a tremendous amount of experience. It is no surprise that Hana brought her intensity, infectious personality and interpersonal skill to the position and established quick success. Winning 18 games, the team established the most program wins since 2007 and received votes in the National Top 25 Poll. Three of her players won conference honors.
Hana’s story reflects many of the most successful Oak Hill stories. She came to Oak Hill with a very clear intention to maximize the opportunity. Already a strong student, Hana took many of the toughest courses offered and became involved with many campus activities–enhancing her inherent leadership skills. On the court, Hana soaked up the experience (the highs and lows) that prepared her for a college career that took her from Missouri back to the Blue Ridge Mountains. She attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis on a basketball scholarship upon graduation from OHA. From there she looked for a new opportunity to learn the game at Mineral Area Junior College, which also made her eligible to be recruited by Division I programs–a long-held dream.
Photos credited to Western Carolina University Athletics
Her career at Western Carolina University fulfilled that dream and Hana was a key component of some of the strongest Catamount teams in recent history as point guard and captain. Along the way, Hana never lost focus in the classroom and graduated cum laude from WCU in 2014. With a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Broadcast and Journalism, Hana returned to UMSL as an assistant to develop her coaching style. For Hana, each stop was seen as an opportunity to learn and grow in a new environment, which is something that she really values about her time at OHA. “Oak Hill Academy gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people that I wouldn’t have met in Springfield, MO, my hometown. I really learned a lot about the dynamics of a success-oriented community and team by attending a small boarding school. I wouldn’t trade the experience. By choosing to attend Oak Hill Academy, I learned the benefits of getting outside of my comfort zone to grow, and that lesson has never left me.”
Clearly, Hana hasn’t stopped growing and taking on new challenges. She is one of the fastest rising young head college coaches in the nation and we could not be more proud of her here.
Recently, Alexa Landsman, class of 2006, visited campus to catch up. I was delighted to hear that she recently has been putting her experiences and degrees to work for the Veteran’s Administration, and that she is going back to school to work on her doctorate. I taught her government class as a senior and knew that if she found something toward which to channel her passion for serving others, she would go far. It is very rewarding for our faculty to have these kinds of visits, and we encourage our alumni to make the trip to The Hill!
Alexa takes some time recently to walk down memory lane in the Ussery Archive Room.
I took the opportunity to ask Alexa some questions that can be answered best with the perspective of 10 years.
Please outline your educational journey since graduation from Oak Hill Academy.
I went straight into my undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte the fall after my graduation. I chose to major in Psychology and graduated in 2010. From there, I enrolled in the Masters in Public Health program at East Carolina University and I my career goals began to take shape through my internship at a rural health department in North Carolina. I knew I wanted to help individuals. I’ve worked a variety of jobs within my field and now the next step is to return to advancing my studies. In the Fall I begin a doctorate program at Pacific University outside Portland, Oregon. The program is called PsyD.
What have you being doing in your public health career?
After ECU, I relocated to the Washington, D.C., area and explored a variety of positions within the public health field, including researcher and administrator–all of which kept reminding me that my calling is in serving individuals personally. Life took me to Hawaii where a position with the Veteran’s Administration helped me realize my goal of serving people directly. I’ve worked developing PTSD treatment modalities and coordinating care plans. You could say I found my niche in serving the military population!
Let’s go back to the beginning. Why did you attend Oak Hill Academy?
I was struggling in a large public high school–falling through the cracks; not engaged because I could fly under the radar. My grades were poor because I coasted and didn’t really see the value in getting good grades. My dad, who is in education as a faculty member at UNC, identified that I needed a new environment to rediscover the love of learning and get back to being a motivated learner. I needed an environment where I would be pushed, and known. After a lot of research and talking to people, we found Oak Hill Academy.
Looking back, why was that a good choice for you at the time?
Well, most obviously, my grades improved and I think it was because it was more tangible at Oak Hill. The small class sizes and relationships with my teachers made the connection between effort and results. Good grades were the concrete evidence I was looking for to know I was capable. I began to develop confidence, and took pride in doing well. The teachers didn’t let me coast or shut down, and that meant being honest with me, which helped me be honest with myself.
I had been diagnosed with ADHD, but until this point in my education, it had never been really addressed in the classroom. But my teachers at Oak Hill Academy took the time to know me and teach to my best learning style in a very personal way. And, of course, looking back, knowing that I couldn’t hide in class and had to do my homework–that was the nudge I needed. The structure at OHA promotes the development of the executive skills that had been missing. Of course, I couldn’t have explained it that way at the time.
What do you miss most about your time as a student at Oak Hill Academy?
That’s easy to answer. I miss the community feel. Since OHA, I have never been in an environment that replicates that same type of special feel. I see my time here as laying the foundation for making me aware of how important community and being a caring human being is. Oak Hill is a very nurturing environment. It’s palpable–the interactions I see during my visit to campus now let me know that it is still like that. I’m proud of that and protective about it as a memory of Oak Hill Academy. As an adult, I know how uncommon and special such a positive environment really is.
What advice would you give to the 16 year-old you as you began at OHA?
Be open to change and take advantage of the resources there. Take this opportunity to learn how to become open to possibilities. The experience at OHA builds character if you let it. You’re going to meet people who will expand your view of the world and your view of your own capabilities. A quick example: I tried tennis for the first time at OHA and got to experience being part of a team. That’s an experience I never would have had at my large public school because I am decidedly noncompetitive! The “safe” social environment here was essential to allow myself to try new things. I’m glad I was open to it. The times that I’ve been able to take chances outside my comfort zone–I can trace that back to learning it at OHA.
What do you tell people about Oak Hill Academy?
I tell people that it was my foundation. The genuineness of the faculty and the comradery of the students is special. It didn’t matter if you were the nerdiest student or the basketball All-American, you were part of the same “family.” Never before or since, have I been in a more supportive environment. I needed that at that time in my life.
I was happy to catch up with Carlin, Class of 2011, recently. She graduated last December from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a degree in Psychology, and I was excited to hear Carlin’s enthusiasm about embarking on a marketing career. She reports that she landed a position with a regional retail company near Charlotte and has quickly risen to the position of Retail Marketing Director.
Carlin attended OHA for two years, and her love for the school is evident by her visits to campus over the last few years to check in and catch up. We love seeing alumni! Recently, I asked Carlin to reflect on her time on The Hill.
As you look back, what are some of the main things that you took with you from OHA?
I really appreciate the time management and accountability I learned at Oak Hill. I was encouraged to plan my day around all of the responsibilities I had, such as homework, cheerleading practice, my work with the baseball team and leadership positions on campus. I carried this sense of accountability into college and it served me well! I also vividly remember OHA’s theme for my senior year, which was “resiliency.” The process–and it is a learned process–of adapting in the face of adversity is something I really needed in order to get through college. It is the skill I most value from OHA; there were many times in college I had to “figure it out,” so to speak.
Do you feel you “grew” at Oak Hill Academy?
Absolutely! At Oak Hill, I began to realize how capable I am. The fact that I was able to come to OHA and see it through with success still gives me confidence–it’s one of the most beneficial things I received from my time there.
Would you recommend OHA to the 16-year-old you, if you could go back in time?
I came to Oak Hill during my junior year because I was in a distracting environment. I was making bad decisions. I needed to restart and get back to good priorities. It was a tough transition and I cried because I was a little scared of a new start with “strangers,” and boarding school was not something on my agenda. When I graduated, I cried for different reasons: I was leaving a “family” I had been a part of for two years, and because I was proud of the success I found while there. So, YES, absolutely, I’d recommend it to myself!
What do you tell people about Oak Hill Academy?
That I’m so appreciative of the encouragement I received there. It was hard at times (growth is never comfortable), but Oak Hill is a really supportive community–and I’m talking about both the teachers and classmates. There is always someone to lean on and get positive reinforcement from. The training for the “real” world of being away from home and being held accountable is a huge growth opportunity. The exposure to different cultures and experiencing people from all over the world is a truly priceless part of the boarding school experience. Oak Hill Academy was a launching pad for me in terms of mental and emotional development. I’m thankful for every experience there and the people who helped me grow (and were patient with me!).
To put it plainly, I remember Haley as one of the most genuinely caring people I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Oak Hill Academy. As I got to know her in class and, in her senior year of 2011, as the manager of the girls’ basketball team, I knew she would find a niche that involved being others-oriented. I also knew she could become passionate about the things that interest her. But, as I opened an issue of Bicycling Magazine, I was shocked to see Haley, pictured in full cycling gear, giving her pointers in this gold standard publication. I mean, what’s Haley doing here among the Big Dogs of a sport that takes years to master? I thought I knew her, but she is a cyclist? Then I read on and it made perfect sense.
As I read, and later on from talking with her, I see that the sport she has fallen in love with fits her personality so well. It’s magic when one discovers their passion. Through cycling, Haley is able to be part of a team, yet immerse herself in personal accountability. But it is giving to, and inspiring others, that really makes this sport click for her, she explains. That’s the Haley I came to know at Oak Hill Academy.
I remember the weeks leading up to Haley’s graduation from Oak Hill Academy and how excited she was to be heading to Austin, Texas and to her dream school, The University of Texas. I thought, “cool town, – this is going to get interesting for Haley.” After seeing her article, I was anxious to catch up and see just how interesting it has gotten for her.
Mr. Rodgers: How did the magazine feature come about?
Haley Weaver: Ha! That article was funny. I just wrote some honest comments on a friend’s Facebook status update and then was contacted by Bicycling Magazine!
MR: As your Government teacher, I’ve got to know – What are you studying at UT?
HW: I am a double major in both history and rhetoric & writing. I’m hitting my stride and getting lots of A’s after pausing my college studies twice. I’m especially proud of not giving up.
MR: I can imagine that parallels the sport of cycling. Did your experience at Oak Hill Academy prepare you for these kinds of challenges – academic and personal?
HW: Yes, for sure. OHA gave me an understanding of the importance of personal accountability. In previous academic settings it had been very easy to hide poor academic performance from my parents, and even from myself. Oak Hill’s academic structure taught me to be honest with myself and not to try to slide by unnoticed.
MR: So, would you recommend Oak Hill Academy to the 16 year-old you?
HW: Yes, in some form or fashion, I think about Oak Hill every day. Without the habits, resilience and discipline that I was able to form during my time there I would not be where I am today. I rely on that mindset not only with school, but it definitely set the stage for my interest in cycling.
MR: For you, what was the greatest strength of Oak Hill Academy?
HW: Learning accountability through the structure and small environment. Everything is fairly predictable at Oak Hill: If you do “X,” such as forget your homework or leave your room messy, “Y” will happen without fail.
MR: What is it about cycling you find fulfilling? What else fulfills you these days?
HW: I really enjoy helping people step up their cycling game and realize that they are 100% capable of kicking butt and taking names in a sport that is initially intimidating to a lot of new riders. I especially enjoy bringing women into the race community and empowering them on the bike. I remember how scared I was. Oh, and I also like to cook – but wouldn’t that just be “filling?”
MR: I thought I knew you! How did you get into cycling?
HW: Austin, as you know, is a really cool town and easy to get around. However, the rules for obtaining a driver’s license there (I’m from N.J.) hung me up a bit. I began biking to commute and gradually became stronger. A friend guided me into racing and introduced me to the competitive and ultra-supportive cycling community. I’m a competitive person and now I’m addicted!
MR: What do you remember most about Oak Hill Academy?
HW: The people, for sure. I made some real friendships. Some of the classes I took and the relationships I made with some teachers – Mrs. Richardson’s (now our school Principal) English class, Mr. Rodgers’ Psych and Government classes, Rev’s World Religion, and Art with Mr. Hill stand out. I also get nostalgic for the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Oak Hill Academy. I grew to love those mountains – they are strong and consistent – their presence commands respect. The Austin area, on the edge of “Hill Country” in Texas, is amazing too, but I know someday I will return to Oak Hill Academy and I’ll bring my bike, of course.
Please see Haley’s feature in Bicycling Magazine. Go to: http://www.bicycling.com/training/tips/how-to-handle-getting-dropped
I first met Chase when he entered my first period class as a mid-semester enrollment. “The new kid.” He was not thrilled (an understatement) about the big change a new school meant and, although respectful, he was not quick to engage.
But, as is so often the case at Oak Hill Academy, the “new” kid quickly began to be accepted by his peers and settle in socially. The academic settling in was not so instantaneous. Chase had been told in his old school to lower his goals. He had struggled to find engagement in the classroom. His self-image had eroded. In short, he was feeling quite “beat up,” despite great support from his family. His Mom was at her wit’s end to provide an opportunity for Chase to realize his potential when she contacted Oak Hill Academy.
Flash forward a few months and Chase had begun to take pride in staying on top of his work; he found ways to engage socially and in extracurricular activities, and was showing more confidence in the classroom. I will always remember the day, in class, when he offered to be the manager for the Lady Warrior basketball team which I was then coaching. I knew two things at that point: 1. He had committed to coming back the next year and was even looking forward to it–a huge step from when he had arrived–and 2. I would be spending a lot of time on the bus and on the road with this kid!
From this relationship, I learned a lot about Chase’s evolving goals for himself. I watched as he went from a kid who had been told to lower his expectations for college, who had correspondingly shied away from responsibility and structure, to a young man who began exploring future plans that included applying to The Citadel, a very prestigious and selective college institution. To make it at The Citadel, tremendous discipline and perseverance is required. It is not for everybody. This represented the change from a kid who ran from responsibility to a young man who was now running toward it! He was not choosing the easy path.
I’ve kept in touch with Chase as he goes through his journey at The Citadel–knowing where he came from and taking immense pride as he passed each milestone there. He’s told me many times that the relationships (I’m happy to be included here) that he made with teachers and peers at Oak Hill Academy was his turning point. He came to believe in himself because others around him did so first.
–Mike Rodgers, Director of Admission
Recently, Chase’s Mom shared this with us:
We just spent the most glorious weekend at The Citadel watching Chase get his ring. Looking at the picture below, I bet if Coach Smith knew he had that kind of verticality, he may have signed him up!
As usual when we have these milestones in life, we reflect on times when things were not as good/easy. Then, we always come back to OHA and the positive effect that had on his trajectory and life. He graduates in May, so it will be interesting to see where life takes him next. For now, we are relishing this moment, and realize it wouldn’t have been possible without you folks. Please know the difference you are making in these young people’s lives every day.
That’s Chase in middle, getting some serious air!
Some of the many sides of Keith Hornsby at Oak Hill Academy shown above
When Keith graduated in 2011, I knew he was going to have an interesting path ahead of him. As the president of the senior class, a student in my class and key component of some of the best teams in recent Oak Hill basketball history, I knew his presence would be missed. I had come to know Keith as a sixth grader attending Coach Smith’s summer basketball camps and had seen how, when he puts his mind to something, he finds a way to achieve it. My pleasure was getting to know Keith well off the court as a student and part of the Oak Hill Academy campus community. I knew the combination of personality (he has a ready smile that often hides how driven he really is) and work ethic was going to bring big things his way.
Keith has been relatively easy to keep up with post-graduation as much of his journey has been played out with media coverage. After a very successful two years at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Keith took the rather controversial step of fulfilling his potential of playing at the highest levels by transferring to LSU and a much higher athletic profile. As per NCAA rules, he sat out a season but, true to form, did not “take a year off,” instead transforming his body and skills in preparation for making an impact on his new team. His 35 minutes of playing time per game, ranking among the top in the SEC, indicates his value to the team. Along the way, Keith has been taking care of business in the classroom as well. As a mass communications major, Keith is gaining a tremendous amount of on the job training in front of the camera. Becoming a fan-favorite on a successful team in one of the biggest conferences in college basketball (and hitting some game winning shots!) means a lot of media attention. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Keith’s poise and humility in front of the cameras as I frequently see him on ESPN and I take pleasure in knowing that his success on the court and in the classroom has not been handed to him.
I recently caught up with Keith to discuss his experiences at OHA and the perspective of that time that 4 years have given him.
In what ways did your Oak Hill experience help you grow?
The thing that stands out to me, looking back, is that it forced me to build social skills. Because the student body is so diverse, I really enjoyed learning to relate to so many different kinds of people. Of course, learning to live without your parents looking over you is a necessary development too. I really look at it now as a true “pre-college” experience. For me, college was not as big a jump as it would’ve been otherwise.
Is there anything specific that Oak Hill did to help prepare you for college success?
I had teachers like Mrs. Bonham who were demanding. She was tough but it made sure you got the job done. However, I really learned that having a relationship with a teacher is key. That really prepared me to take the initiative with my college professors even though, college is, obviously, a much bigger setting.
What are some of your favorite memories of your Oak Hill days?
It’s funny, I was just looking at a yearbook and remembering the fun we had. The weekend activities were great – I appreciate now how hard the staff works to provide those off-campus trip opportunities to haunted houses, movies, local attractions, etc. On campus, I really remember Karaoke Night as a great time. Remembering Spirit week brought a smile to my face. Also the devotions in homeroom. I remember some really thought-provoking messages. I also remember the experiences I gained in public speaking at Oak Hill, which obviously helps me in my major (Mass Communication). It was a great training ground for being a leader in that it was small enough to know I could really make a difference. In fact, I’ve continued in that having been selected by my peers last year to serve on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at LSU. I also remember the plays at Oak Hill which, little known fact, I was in the Theatre Department at UNC-Asheville before I transferred. All of that stuff started at Oak Hill for me.
What do you feel makes Oak Hill Academy unique as a boarding school?
At first the restrictions on cell phones and technology seemed like a punishment, I’m not going to lie. However, having limits on that really produced a beautiful thing: we became such a tight-knit student body – like family – and I don’t think many people get to go to a school with that kind of bond between classmates. I still keep in touch with many of my classmates – not just my former teammates – but people I share the Oak Hill bond with. There’s a pride that comes with being an Oak Hill graduate because it is a pretty exclusive club. You really don’t understand how beautiful it is to be part of something like unless you come to Oak Hill. I truly miss how simple and pure life was at Oak Hill without a lot of the distractions that typically face kids.
We wish Keith much continued success on the court and in the classroom. His many fans in Mouth of Wilson, Va will be rooting for him and the Tigers this upcoming season, his senior year!