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Finding Motivation and Direction at Boarding School – David Uponi, Oak Hill Academy Class of ’13

I first met David through the admission process at Oak Hill Academy.  He had very good intentions; habits he wanted to improve; and, beyond his love of basketball, he was largely unclear where his passions lay.  In many ways, David was the quintessential student, and person, we seek to enroll at Oak Hill Academy–one with good intentions, but needing structure and a relational environment to gain confidence and motivation.  During his time here, David embraced small boarding school life–he took advantage of the opportunities at Oak Hill to be engaged in the classroom, on campus in leadership positions, on the basketball court and in the weight room.  I recently caught up with David to find out what he’s been up to since graduation.

                                                                  

David attended the University of Waterloo in his native Canada since graduating on The Hill in 2013.  Now, in an Honours Bachelor of Arts Program (the equivalent of grad school in the U.S.), he is wrapping up a Sports Business Major and picking up a minor in Corporate Entrepreneurship.  “I’ve taken advantage of the robust Co-Op education program here and have gotten to work with some amazing companies in real world situations–sort of an internship experience,” he explains.  As you can see in the photos above, David had the tremendous opportunity at one of his placements, Microsoft, to make some valuable connections and add to his resume.

David points to his experience in Oak Hill’s Leadership Program, and the collaborative aspects of a small student body, as inspirations to make a contribution at Waterloo.  “I’ve also started a student organization that has helped students in my program get internships in the sports industry.”

One of his goals at Oak Hill Academy was to see how far his passion for basketball could take him.  He played for the Oak Hill Red Team (second varsity) for two years and found an outlet for his talent and desire to work hard.  He was a member of the Men’s Basketball Team at Waterloo for a couple of years, before his academics became more focused, and demanding.

I asked him how his experience at Oak Hill Academy, in hindsight, impacted his future.

Oak Hill really helped me unlock my potential.  After living away from home, studying at OHA, and being part of a small community where I could develop my confidence, I became more independent, and more analytical about my future and the opportunities in front of me.  I also became more in tune with my faith (OHA is a Baptist boarding school).  It really helped prepare me for what was to come in university and in the “real world.”  21st Century Skills, a focus at OHA, means that our small student body gives everyone an opportunity–and encouragement–to develop skills in working in groups, speaking and presenting, and taking on responsibility beyond themselves.

What advice does David give to any student considering or beginning as a student at Oak Hill Academy?

Lock in!  OHA puts you in a great situation to succeed, and the faculty and staff care for each student’s individual success. There’s a lot of meaningful activity going on on campus.  If you buy into what is being taught and take an active approach to your academics, you can really do something special at Oak Hill Academy.

U.S. Boarding Schools for International Students: Baaba O, Oak Hill Academy ’14

We were excited to hear from Baaba recently that her graduation from Liberty University is fast approaching and that she has been accepted into Johns Hopkins to continue her post-graduate work!  Baaba is remembered fondly on The Hill for her sincerely kind and warm personality.  Baaba, originally from Ghana, was very involved on campus during her two years at Oak Hill in activities ranging from cheerleading to taking a leadership role in our Youth Group.  Her love of God shined through in all her relationships on campus and we couldn’t be more proud of her.  Baaba was also very serious-minded about her studies and took great advantage of the resources available to her–it was not uncommon to find her visiting her teachers during 8th-period tutorials.

Oak Hill Academy is proud of the success and long tradition of our international students.  Our quiet location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia leads to a campus community that is very tight-knit, and we rely on each other to make community.  Our international students have always played a big role in this sense of closeness, and Baaba is among the best examples.  Although homesick at times, Baaba truly invested in the relationships here among her peers and faculty and was, in turn, fully embraced by Oak Hill Academy.  In a recent letter back to our Dean of Girls, Baaba shares the special place that Oak Hill Academy holds for her:

“Hi, Mrs. Crede! I hope you are doing well. I miss you all so much and hope to come visit this summer! I wanted to let you all know, and hope you can extend this to all the teachers who taught me, that I am graduating with a B.S. in psychology this May!!  And I got accepted into Johns Hopkins this fall to continue my master’s degree in clinical mental health.  Oak Hill really changed my life. Meeting you and all the other faculty on that campus is how God turned my story into something beautiful, a story I can be proud of. I treasure every memory I made there. It is an honor to be part of the Oak Hill family, and I look forward to seeing you all soon!

In a follow-up conversation with Baaba, she shares with me the powerful idea that the most lasting impact is the confidence that she developed at Oak Hill Academy .  She relates, “OHA was the first place I ever had teachers believe in my capabilities, and they made me see it, too.  I remember the moment, in summer school Algebra, when Ms. Sargent made me believe in myself.  I’d never been good at math, and she actually taught me to an “A” on my final exam!  She took her time and taught me as much about myself as about formulas.”

(Oak Hill Academy offers a summer school session that is often a great place to start.  For more details visit here:  http://oak-hill.net/summer-school/ )

For Baaba, it was this confidence that was her Turning Point.  “I can’t stress enough how prepared I felt heading off to Liberty University.  It (college) was harder than I thought, but I wasn’t scared.  I knew that I could develop relationships with my professors because I’d done that at OHA.  Campus life at Liberty wasn’t overwhelming because of my experience of campus living at OHA.  I was ready!”  Baaba also mentions that she was able to graduate from Liberty University in three years, largely due to the college credits she earned her senior year at OHA through our dual college credit program.

Baaba’s choice of Liberty University proved to be a tremendous fit.  She gives a lot of credit directly to the Oak Hill Academy College Planning Department, and in particular, Mrs. Groves.  One of the attractive features at Liberty University was the spiritual opportunities they offer.  Baaba sees that as an extension of what she experienced at Oak Hill Academy.  “I definitely feel that I was able to grow closer to God during my time at Oak Hill Academy.  I think the structure and the quiet times offered gave me much needed time to think.  I became very thoughtful and intentional in my spiritual life while at OHA.”

We look forward to Baaba’s coming back to campus for a visit soon!

U.S. Boarding Schools for International Students: Andja Ivkovic ’07

Andja

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.

 

Oak Hill Academy Stories: RJ Currington, Class of 2013

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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.

 

Oak Hill Academy Stories: Whitney Dorociak, Class of 2010

 

Whitney

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.

Oak Hill Academy Stories: Hana Haden ’10


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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.

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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.

Oak Hill Academy Stories: Alexa Landsman ’06

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

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.