Catherine S. Zucker
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
12th Grade
Alexandria, VA
Virginia – 1st Place Winner

Today’s High School Students: Creating, Communicating, and Collaborating

    Last spring, a county employee was arrested for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a local high school. Money originally intended to fund student activities ended up supporting a gambling addiction. I first heard about the arrest during lunch, when I logged on to my mini-notebook to download the latest draft of a paper. Five or six chat boxes popped on to my screen the second I logged in, each containing a link to details regarding the employee’s arrest. At the time, I assumed that it would take at least twenty-four hours for news of the arrest to circulate around the school. It turned out that I overestimated. Within two hours, practically every member of the 1,800 student body was privy to that information. Though unfortunate, this incident illustrates one of the greatest strengths of Washington D.C. area high school students: our ability to rapidly and effectively relay information by embracing technology. In 2010, it is this younger generation that is in the forefront of today’s information age. 

    Based upon my research, I have no doubt that students in the Washington D.C. area create, refine, and utilize innovative ideas. Today’s students are leading the way in many facets of scientific research and are contributing daily to the planet’s scientific body of knowledge. Moreover, students of the nation’s capital possess unique global perspectives, gained via international travel and maintained by a diverse polyglot population; this should not be underestimated in D.C.’s internationally based market. Contemporary D.C. area students are unquestionably the technological fountainheads of society; we routinely incorporate new technology into our lives more seamlessly than any previous generation. High school students are quick to perceive where the newest trends in technology are headed, especially the waves of future high-tech development. To top it off, students possess the collaborative networking skills vital to communicating new ideas to the world. Businesses should recognize that swift, accurate dissemination of information, mobile communication, and an inherent ability to utilize the most advanced technologies are the key attributes that set D.C. students apart from all others. 

    According to the Greater Washington Initiative, the D.C. metropolitan area is first in the world for government research and development spending per capita.1 Our region also houses more federal laboratories than any other area in the United States. 1 As a result, the nation’s capital is an important hub of businesses related to energy efficiency, biotechnology, defense, intelligence, and software design and development. By their nature, these industries continually stimulate innovation, employment and economic growth in the greater Washington region. Alongside leading scientists and researchers, area high school students are conducting compelling research of their own. For example, of the 300 semifinalists in the 2010 Intel Talent Search, 36 of them came from the Washington D.C. area.2 This is not at all surprising, as the greater Washington D.C. area has the highest-rated regional education system of any major urban area in the country.3 This honor stems from the fact that it contains sixteen of the one hundred highest achieving high schools in America.3 Washington D.C. is very much a knowledge driven economy. As indicated by their superb performance in both the Intel Science Talent Search and the Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition, today’s students possess the ideas which can power this knowledge-based engine. 

    In addition to fueling scientific research and development, Washington D.C. is also a major center of international trade and diplomacy. The Washington region contains more than a thousand foreign-owned firms from fifty countries.4Likewise, 180 embassies and numerous international banks call Washington home.4 There is no doubt that Washington’s global connections are a crucial component of its economic success. Business leaders cannot hope to remain competitive in diverse international markets if they do not understand the cultures which drive them. High school students have never been more in sync with international trends than they are today. Our metropolitan region alone contains more than sixty language immersion schools, where children, from a young age, grow up learning and speaking another language.4 Being multilingual is an invaluable business skill that underscores a competitive edge vital to communicating successfully in global markets. In increasingly large numbers, today’s high school students are acquiring overseas pen pals, studying abroad as foreign exchange students, and becoming more globally aware. As a generation which grew up with the World Wide Web, we are the most adept members of society at building virtual relationships with diverse groups of people. The ability of today’s youth to connect with and relate internationally is a crucial skill that any Washington businessman would be prudent to tap, particularly if they hope to succeed in the global economic arena. 

    Finally, the Washington region is one of the prime places where new, innovative ideas come to life, due largely to the presence of the federal government. Federal spending is higher in the Washington region than in any other state in the country, surpassing $74 billion dollars in 2008 alone.5 Our proximity to the federal government and its economic benefits helps make Washington teenagers some of the most high-tech, affluent, and educated people in the world. We have tremendous market impact and we help dictate the latest trends in technology. Ten years ago, no one had ever heard of a mini-notebook or iPod touch. Now, through purchase and acceptance by Washington teens, they are common place. It is obvious that today’s teenagers are the ones who utilize the latest technologies, the technologies unheard of just a few years ago. We understand society’s technological needs and we understand where such technology is headed. The future will only bring more opportunities for our ideas to become the focal points of an increasingly high-tech world. 

    So, how does the Greater Washington business community ultimately tap this great teen resource pool? How can our intellect and initiative benefit the business community as a whole? Obviously, all businesses exist to make a profit. Profitability ultimately depends on a company’s continued ability to develop new products and services, in order to retain its current customers and attract new ones. In this light, businesses need to preserve a stable source of income, no matter the state of the economy. There are two ways they can do this. First, businesses need to be innovative, and second, they need to expand their markets. The economy is global, and just because the United States is in the midst of an economic downturn does not mean that China is as well. Once businesses have targeted a market segment and developed competitive, innovative technologies, they need to be able to market and sell them. They need to create a buzz around their offerings. One of the best ways to do this is through smart advertising and strategic networking among the teen population. In essence, today’s high school students exemplify all the ingredients necessary for businessmen to make a profit. We are society’s rising crop of researchers and scientists, and we represent a goldmine of innovative concepts. Not only do we formulate ideas, but we constantly improve upon them. We communicate with people all over this region and all over the world. We are naturally born collaborators, utilizing the latest technologies to relay information. High school students have mastered the art of networking and the free flow of ideas. These are all concepts that Washington business—as an international center of commerce, a hub of innovative research, and the largest recipient of federal funding—can learn from. 

    In essence, as the second decade of the 21st century commences, we are very ready, extremely able, and more than willing to not only maintain, but also to expand our collaborative partnership with Washington area business as both prized contributors and willing consumers—right after we finish our homework, of course.