Zach’s Story: From Quest Forward High School to Northwestern University

Zach is an alumnus of Quest Forward High School, a college preparatory school that is supported by Opportunity Education. Quest Forward High Schools’ curriculum is based on the active learning and engagement resources and tools developed by Opportunity Education.

Journey to Quest Forward High School

I started high school at a large public school with more than 2,000 students. A school that size does not allow for individual growth, so my four-year plan was the same as hundreds of other students. I quickly found myself needing a more flexible academic environment to pursue my passions and interests, and to reach my full potential. My parents and I began searching for a school with the flexibility to push me out of my comfort zone. After researching our options, we chose Quest Forward High School (QFHS).


Unique Learning Experience

The QFHS pedagogy is to learn by doing, with a focus on teaching students the art of synthesizing ideas. Students apply what they’ve learned rather than just reading a textbook and memorizing facts. This model was engaging and I enjoyed seeing different concepts and ideas come to life through projects like developing potato cannons, creating robots, and extracting DNA samples. The practice of creating something and figuring out how it works is the best way for me to learn. (And also my favorite way to learn!)

As a QFHS student, I had the unique opportunity to participate in several internships. Some internships provided career-oriented learning experiences, while others were aligned with areas I was passionate about. QFHS facilitated an internship based on my interest in 3D modeling. I’m still using those skills to create my own products, and I currently have a patent pending. While at QFHS, I also took classes at my local junior college and conducted independent research. These classes and work experiences prepared me for the intense demands of Northwestern University, and taught me important teamwork and leadership skills.

Encouraged to Pursue Interests

QFHS is committed to helping students explore their interests in non-traditional ways. I am excited about the precision and efficiency of 3D modeling and manufacturing so when we studied rockets in a physics course, I used automated manufacturing and 3D design to create components. When we were applying Bernoulli’s principle of fluid dynamics to tangible projects in physics, my group used 3D design to make a water pump. Together we built a compact and portable pump that could be used by firefighters in rural applications.

I had many opportunities at QFHS to pursue my creativity through programming and robotics, including using 3D modeling for art projects. While 3D modeling, programming, and robotics are not typically thought of as creative expressions, I found that they could be and QFHS supported this atypical expression.

QFHS taught me to try things that are different and unusual, and to take advantage of all the opportunities at my disposal. Even outside of classes I was encouraged to pursue my interests, develop my ideas, and create new projects. I developed artificial nylon “muscles” by applying a special spinning and annealing process to fishing line. I created a proof of concept of a solar panel that could track the sun as a result of the nylon “muscles” contracting as they were heated by the sun. Used at full scale, this technology could greatly improve the efficiency of solar panels.

Excelling at Northwestern University

As I’ve gone on to college, I’ve grown to appreciate my experience at QFHS even more than when I was in high school. Today, I’m able to adapt to different environments, excel in a wide range of classes, and pursue my interests with confidence because of my time at QFHS.

I was initially worried that I wasn’t as prepared as other students just because I didn’t take a traditional path. But after getting to Northwestern, I realized I really am prepared and have unique skills from my experience at QFHS.

I attribute much of my ability to think and mesh ideas together to my QFHS classes and experiences. Lessons were not only about completing traditional assignments but also about finding what interests me and diving into that. Because I was passionate about what I was learning, I explored topics on a much deeper level. And the same is true of my peers that went to QFHS.

The projects I worked on at QFHS led me to pursue similar creative work at Northwestern. I’m taking advantage of resources that aren’t traditionally designed for undergraduate students, including an entrepreneurship studio called The Garage. There, students can experience the process of starting a business, including annual funding rounds and meetings with consultants and lawyers to get their company off the ground. Many startups have come out of The Garage. For me, it’s a great foundation to explore career options like entrepreneurship and business so I can bring my own ideas to fruition.

Final Thoughts

I’ve learned that there’s no shortage of students who perform well on tests and have a lot of textbook knowledge, but I don’t think that’s what universities and employers are looking for. I think they’re looking for students who can be creative, develop ideas, and connect with others. That’s what’s necessary for the future and for innovation, and those are the skills QFHS helped me to cultivate.


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