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Foss IB World School

Foss Almuni

Foss IB World alumni will tell you that their high school experience helped pave the way not only for college but for career. Our alumni span the globe working in just about any field imaginable. Read a few of their stories or find out more about the International Baccalaureate program and see yourself at Foss.​

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgAaron Conitz

Foss class of: 2005

Higher education: B.M., M.M., music performance, Cleveland Institute of Music; doctoral 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 together.”

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 diverse.”​

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgEduardo Penalver

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.

As a 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.”

“And I never felt the least bit disadvantaged.”

The IB 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.

Penalver 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.

Penalver speaks of his chosen path as one might speak of a calling.

We 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,” he says.

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgPamela Seng

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 Pamela Seng.

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.”​

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgPhilip Groves

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 airplane.”

Groves credits the IB program not only with preparing him academically for college coursework but also with gaining a broader perspective.

“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.”​

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Masumi Hayashi-Smith

Foss class of: 2006

Higher education: BA, Brown University. Completing Masters in Music, Holy Names University 

Current job: Music teacher and graduate student (Berkeley, CA)​

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 civil war.

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.”​ 

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgGai-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 school clubs.

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. 

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgGeoffrey Chen

Foss class of: 2009

Higher education: B.S., Economics, The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

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.

They were 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 college coursework,”

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.”

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgTonya Yu

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.

Now a web developer at LinkedIn, Yu can tick off the classes and experiences that she believes transformed the way she learns and thinks:

The Extended Essay. Creativity, Action and Service hours. The Theory of Knowledge class.

Debating 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.

Taking 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.”

Similarly, 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 after paper.

Still, Yu says she thinks of her time at Foss often, and encourages prospective students to give it a try.

“IB is 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.”

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Aaron-Conitz_crop.jpgYi Zhang

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.”​

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