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Through the Lens of Sophia Hwang

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
Attending Northeastern University

Sophia Hwang ’23 didn’t expect to find herself in San Diego for high school. Her family moved from Shanghai before freshman year so her older brother with autism could receive care and support unavailable in China. It was a culture shock. She missed her friends and old life but decided to make the most of her circumstances by diving into LJCDS life and getting involved with Mock Trial, fencing, design and innovation, activism, photography, community service, tennis, neuroscience and more. 

Sophia shares her experience below.

Discoveries in the Innovation Lab
My first design and innovation class wasn’t until junior year. It was a slow start, but I got completely into it once we began our laser-cutting unit. I started building things and working with flexible wood. It was an outlet to explore my creativity and escape from all the traditional academic work I was focusing on. I was in the lab constantly because I loved learning about the different tools like the laser cutter and 3D printer.

There’s something about the lab; it makes me want to stay. The atmosphere welcomes you, and you feel like you belong. I do all my schoolwork there because it’s my safe space. It's a place where you can sit and think about ideas, and then it comes to life, which is cool.

Creating Community Through Shared Experiences
I’m immersed in the disabled community because I have an older brother with autism and a younger sister with learning disabilities. My family is involved with the autism community in San Diego, so when I heard the founder of SibStrong speak at a conference, I wanted to bring that to school. SibStrong is an organization that connects and provides support and resources for siblings of people with disabilities and their families.

I wanted to meet other people that have siblings with disabilities because it’s a whole different lifestyle that other people may not understand. So I went to SibStrong and said, ‘This needs to be implemented in high schools.’ They were like, ‘You know what? You’re totally right.’ So they created an entire document to set up SibStrong in high schools and asked me to help, and now it’s on the SibStrong page.

I made SibStrong like an affinity group at Country Day, and we incorporated it into the HOPE Conference. We sat in a circle, leaned on each other, and discussed what programs are needed and what we use. We must take care of our siblings in the future. There are a lot of therapies and other things our parents do for them now. Those are the challenging topics we have to discuss.

Merging Passions
I'm taking Advanced Design to Open Entrepreneurship this year. We have been working with the Helen Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children, part of Rady Children's Hospital. There are patients my age with severe physical disabilities who are immobile. Some can only communicate by a minor movement; maybe it's a twitch of a hand or even breathing. We were challenged to create a way for them to display their creativity. 

There are inputs they use as their source of communication, and I’ve been making sure they’re safe. For example, I created a sheath to go over a typical clamp that hooks on wheelchairs. It can be manipulated to hold an iPad or something else so that they can see without holding it. Another thing I've been working on is creating eye-tracking glasses that will communicate with a controller so that they can play a video game with their brain. 

The Future is Bright
I don’t know if I had a plan before I came to Country Day. I knew I wanted to do something in the neurodiverse world related to autism and that meant going into the neuroscience or cognitive science fields. But last year, after the intro class, I wanted to do something related to design and innovation. I thought, “Why not combine the two?” The main aspect is community service toward the neurodiverse world. How am I going to do that? Neuroscience with design and innovation.

In the past four years, the number one thing I've grown in is confidence, and that's how I've been able to do all these things. I didn't expect to learn about design and innovation in high school. I didn’t realize I would take advantage of all of these opportunities. If I hadn't put myself out there, I wouldn't be where I am today.

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