Foss class of: 2010
Higher education: B.S., Symbolic Systems, Stanford University
Current job: Web Developer, LinkedIn (Mountain View, CA)
How Foss paved the way for success: The
unique features of the Foss IB program have stuck with Tonya Yu.
web developer at LinkedIn, Yu can tick off the classes and experiences that she
believes transformed the way she learns and thinks:
Extended Essay. Creativity, Action and Service hours. The Theory of Knowledge
philosophy first thing in the morning, Yu recalls today, was a game-changer in
her academic life. The class, she believes, helped her figure out how to
prioritize her studies in college.
Theory of Knowledge, she says, “was the time that my view of the world became
more mature and “adult”—I wasn’t as naïve about everything I read, and that
could I step back and see more foundational blocks on my beliefs and really
question what set them in place.”
the practice of the Extended Essay—one of the final assessments of the IB
program-- turned out to be a vital skill after she entered Stanford. Writing 20
pages on a topic was a “common occurrence” in college, she says, and having had
that experience at Foss gave her the confidence and know-how to tackle paper
Yu says she thinks of her time at Foss often, and encourages prospective
students to give it a try.
not just an academic challenge—it's a personal challenge and a time of growth
and bonding,” she explains. “It can be difficult, but you'll emerge feeling
much more confident about any educational opportunities that come your way
after high school.”
Foss class of: 2009
Higher education: B.S., Economics, The University of Pennsylvania
Current job: Derivatives trader, Belvedere Trading (Chicago, IL)
How Foss paved the way for success: Geoffrey Chen was in
ninth grade at a suburban Tacoma high school when his parents suggested he
transfer to the Foss High School International Baccalaureate program.
enthusiastic about the rigorous academics and the prospects for college
acceptance. But Chen resisted, reluctant to leave his friends.
Eventually, he agreed
and enrolled at Foss his sophomore year. It was, he says nearly 10 years later,
a pivotal decision in his life.
“I do think it had an
impact,” says Chen, who obtained an economics degree from the University of
Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “I attribute where I went to college
quite a bit to where I went to high school.”
Today, Chen credits
his Ivy League education with his ability to secure a job in the financial
sector, in a major business hub. Attending an elite college had long been a
goal, he explains. And the IB program helped him achieve it.
“The classwork is
more accelerated, and the program does a very good job of preparing you for
IB’s Theory of
Knowledge class, in particular, emphasized skills Chen found integral to his
college experience. Structured as a Socratic seminar, Theory of Knowledge
examines how people have built their understandings throughout history.
“It forced you to take
your thinking to another level, to see things from other perspectives,” Chen
says. “You’re looking at a broad spectrum of topics. You assess what experts
have said and determine what your opinion is. It prepares you for the kind of
thinking you need to do in college.”
Foss offers something
else Chen believes he wouldn’t have gotten at his neighborhood high school:
diversity. Foss exposed him to different people and cultures, which, he adds,
is what real life is.
Chen says, “Whether
your goal is just to go to college and be ready for it, or to get into a really
good college, I think the IB program can help a student get there.”
Foss class of: 2005
Higher education: B.M., M.M., music performance, Cleveland Institute of Music;
candidate in musical arts, Rice University
Current job: Professional Violist
How Foss paved the way for success: Aaron Conitz found a community at Foss. “That was one of the best things about IB,” says Conitz, who
commuted from his home on Puyallup’s South Hill. “It gave me a place that I
never had at any other school I attended. You get people who are intelligent
and motivated, from all sorts of different backgrounds, and everybody comes
Conitz especially enjoyed participating in Knowledge Bowl, a
Jeopardy-like, team-based, academic quiz competition among schools across the
state. That, he says with a laugh, gave him the opportunity “to be a mega-nerd,
which was the best thing ever for me.”
Orchestra was another highlight, Conitz says. A violinist
since age 4, he switched to the viola during his senior year at Foss and performed
in the orchestra’s two ensembles, as well as the Tacoma Youth Symphony.
Academically, the IB program’s emphasis on writing, in
classes and on exams, sharpened his skills for college. The experience, he
says, developed his writer’s voice and instilled in him the ability to, for example,
write an essay on demand. One reason he has thrown himself into academia, he
adds, is because he loves research and writing.
Conitz went on to pursue his passion for the strings at the
Cleveland Institute of Music. Today, he is working to obtain his PhD in musical
arts in hopes of obtaining a college or conservatory teaching position. He performs
in a variety of orchestras and teaches viola.
And he remains proud of his IB diploma: It represents more
than just test scores, he points out.
“I came away with a diploma that represents a complete
education. That’s where I get the most satisfaction: It was well-rounded and
Foss class of: 1990
Higher education: B.A., Cornell University; M.A., philosophy and
theology, Oxford University; J.D., Yale University
Current job: Law Professor and Dean of the Cornell Law School (Ithaca, NY)
How Foss paved the way for success: When the
Ivy League opened its doors to Eduardo Penalver, he was ready.
graduate of the Foss IB program, Penalver entered Cornell University in the fall
of 1990, surrounded, he recalls, by “students from the most prestigious prep
schools in the country.”
never felt the least bit disadvantaged.”
program had done just what Penalver had hoped it would when he entered in ninth
grade, after years of Catholic school: cultivate critical thinking skills, and
prepare him for college. The IB program is holistic, he says, challenging
students in the arts and sciences. Making the move to Cornell, he adds, was an
easy transition, and one for which he is grateful.
didn’t, however, end up in one of the fields he’d planned on when he left high
school: science or engineering. Instead, as an undergraduate, he discovered an
interest in history, and the law. He went on to get his law degree at Yale
University, practiced law, and eventually returned to his undergraduate alma
mater, now as dean of the Cornell Law School.
speaks of his chosen path as one might speak of a calling.
are a nation of laws, and anyone interested in having an impact on the shape of
our society and in making it more just must be attentive to its legal system,”
Foss class of: 2007
Higher education: B.S.
chemistry, Stanford University
Current job: Process scientist in Outsources Manufacturing, Gilead Sciences (Foster City, CA)
How Foss paved the way for success: Laboratories are like a second home for
Intrigued by science since she was
young, Seng likens it to a “challenging set of puzzles.”
“I think it’s fascinating how it
impacts the world around us and has the potential to improve the lives of
people,” she says.
A chemist for three years before moving
into a position that combines business and science, Seng is proud to be working
on an HIV treatment program—a far cry from when she first learned about
HIV/AIDS in elementary school, when, she says, “diagnosis was perceived
essentially as a death sentence.”
Seng’s undergraduate research at
Stanford was the springboard to a career in the sciences, but Foss was the
springboard to Stanford. Seng remembers her lab work at Foss—especially a lab
focused on the synthesis of aspirin—and notes that she repeated some of the
same experiments at her Ivy League college.
But Seng’s Foss experience wasn’t just
academic. A self-described “shy kid,” Seng says the IB program emphasized the
idea of supporting and participating the surrounding community, enabling her to
meet people from throughout the Tacoma area, and helping her gain confidence
and better time-management skills through the Creativity, Action and Service requirement.
Although the IB program is rigorous,
prospective students should consider it seriously, Seng says.
“You don’t need to be a self-proclaimed
rocket scientist or literature fanatic to be successful,” she adds. “It does
require a lot of hard work and some late nights, but being diligent and staying
organized is half the battle.”
Foss class of: 2007
Higher education: B.S., Electrical Engineering, University of
Washington; M.S., Engineering Management, USC
Current job: Software engineer, The Boeing Co. (Seattle, WA)
How Foss paved the way for success: Philip Groves grew up in Southeast Tacoma, but the Foss IB program
made him a student of the world.
His diploma took him to the University of Washington and to USC,
then on to Boeing, which, he points out, is both a local and international
company. There, he is a real-time software engineer for the flight simulators,
programming flight controls.
The job at Boeing, he said, combines his interests in computers
and airplanes, “not to mention I get to play a giant video game for flying an
Groves credits the IB program not only with preparing him
academically for college coursework but also with gaining a broader
“Its main contribution was its shaping my mindset toward the
international system that is the world,” he says. “It truly broadened my
horizons beyond just my personal world and helped me down the path of seeing
how interconnected the world is, especially as globalization continues.”
Investigating the IB program when the application arrived in eighth
grade, Groves added, was the first step on his career path.
“It's never too early to start planning out your life,” he says.
“It becomes easier the earlier you start.”
Foss class of: 2006
Higher education: BA, Brown University. Completing Masters in Music, Holy Names University
Current job: Music teacher and graduate student (Berkeley,
How Foss paved the way for success: “Foss definitely started the whole process of critical
thinking that continued in college and after,” says Masumi Hayashi-Smith, a
2006 graduate from Foss IB World School.
Hayashi-Smith transferred to Foss from University Place due
to her parent’s desire to find a school that paired a top-tier academic program
like International Baccalaureate with a diverse student body. She quickly
signed up for challenging courses and joined clubs such as the Junior Statesmen
of America debate team and the international choir.
Since leaving Foss, Hayashi-Smith graduated from an Ivy
League school, Brown University, and completed a Fulbright Scholarship in Sri
Lanka where she researched how history is taught in a country long divided by
After originally planning to go into international
development policy, Hayashi-Smith realized her passion lay in teaching choral
music, a skill that especially draws upon her experience in Foss’ international
choir. “We sang in countless languages from countries I’ve never heard of,
which is very similar to what I’m doing now,” she says.
“It was absolutely the right decision to choose Foss, Hayashi-Smith
says. “I appreciated the challenge of the IB program and it was an important
part of my development to be around people from all walks of life. The kind of
friendships I made there are really important to me.”
Gai-Hoai Thi Nguyen
Foss class of: 2005
Higher education: BA, Pacific Lutheran University, MA, University of Washington
Current job: Associate Director, University of Washington
Center for Human Rights (Seattle, WA)
How Foss paved the way for success: “Foss had wonderful teachers who helped push me to
where I am today,” says Hoai Nguyen, a 2005 graduate from Foss IB World School.
Nguyen took advantage of the full range of classes and
extracurricular activities offered at Foss. During her four years as a Falcon,
she took several IB classes, played two sports and took leadership roles in
Participating in Spanish classes and the Spanish club at
Foss helped prepare Nguyen to major in Hispanic Studies at Pacific Lutheran
University, where she loved taking literature and history classes in Spanish. Nguyen
continued her education with a masters in Southeast Asian studies from the
University of Washington. She now helps run the Center for Human Rights at the University,
which promotes human rights research and engages with international
organizations and policy makers.
Nguyen’s English teacher particularly stands out for pushing
her to succeed at a high academic level. “We did a lot of research projects
where we were required to do more in-depth work, which helped me to do research
projects later on in college,” she said.
Foss class of: 2006
Higher education: BA, Wellesley College
Current job: Social Innovation Programs Director, VIA (San Francisco, CA)
How Foss paved the way for success: “The IB program was rigorous and doing many extracurricular
activities was incredibly eye-opening and enriching,” says Yi Zhang, a 2006
graduate from Foss IB World School.
Zhang decided Foss was the right place for her after taking
a school tour shortly after moving to Washington from California. On her tour,
she learned about Foss’ strong International Baccalaureate program and
discovered that she could study Russian.
While at Foss Zhang took a full course-load of IB classes, learned
Russian and earned a three-week trip to Russia by winning a local language
competition. When she enrolled at Wellesley College, an elite women’s college
in Massachusetts, she double-majored in Russian area studies and history.
Zhang now works for VIA, a California-based non-profit
dedicated to increasing understanding between the United States and Asia
through service and education. The rigor of her IB classes and elite college
education assist her on the job, but it’s also years of participating in theater
at Foss that helps her now, she says.
“I’m able to stand in a room and have a stage presence,
project my voice and make my teammates look good,” she said. “I don’t know if I
would have predicted how helpful those skills would be when I was going into
theater in high school.”