May 30, 2024

Pursuing Physics, Beyond Boundaries

Sienna’s enthusiasm for physics began at a young age. “I think my interest probably began in elementary school. I did a lot of hands-on work in physics.” She moved to Los Angeles from Israel in 9th grade, and her curiosity blossomed as she began freshman year at Oakwood. Physics teacher, David Kelsey has played a pivotal role. “In 10th grade, I had the opportunity to work with David because he teaches many of the advanced physics courses at Oakwood, and I feel like it’s helped me make so much progress with my physics skills.”

David describes Sienna as a self-starter, “Sienna has the internal motivation to understand and the follow through to do the work and keep up. I can push the limits of what a high school student can do, and that’s what we have been doing.” Sienna is finishing Honors Physics with Calculus this school year, will be taking Advanced Studies Physics, and engaging in another independent study with David in the fall. “She has a thirst for knowledge. Last year, we went through relativity, and she wanted more, so now we’re tackling quantum mechanics. She’s incredibly interested in it.”

The Oakwood Advanced Study (OAS) program provides a range of options for 11th and 12th-grade students interested in pursuing the most rigorous courses of study in a given subject area. David describes OAS Physics as the opportunity to dig into some very difficult concepts. “It is hard content—electricity and magnetism. It can be abstract, and at times, you have to lead with a mathematical description and build on the physical intuition.” OAS offers the option to raise and respond to complex questions while conducting deep inquiries and investigations. David feels that the most significant piece for his students is finding their passion. “What I believe students should be focusing on is getting interested in something and whether they can put their focus into it and have the ‘sticktoitiveness’ and perseverance to push through some failures to keep going.”

David shares more on his journey with Sienna: “One thing that can sometimes get in the way, if you want to keep going in theoretical physics, which is what she’s currently interested in, is that you’re going to hit a point where there are roadblocks due to the math required. Especially for a high school student, it’s rare that a high school-level student is doing what we’re trying to do.” Sienna completed OAS Calculus this school year and feels grateful for the opportunity to continue in math. “I think Oakwood’s approach to math is amazing and doesn’t get enough credit. The teachers are there to help with self-study, which is a very important skill. I’m grateful to have been able to jump so far ahead.”

According to Math Department Chair William Thill, “Advanced Studies courses in math allow students to delve into a subject at a university level and tackle complex topics at the pace and complexity that they would expect at a top university.” Bill values finding joy in this journey and feels that the Oakwood approach to high-level math supports students in their quest to explore. “I want students to think critically, I want them to value the thoughts of others and hold themselves to high standards of precision and accuracy in their communication and listening. I want them not to judge themselves for not seeing things as quickly as the person next to them, but also have the confidence and the perseverance to recognize that, with practice, they can always improve.” 

Advanced Studies courses in math allow students to delve into a subject at a university level and tackle complex topics at the pace and complexity that they would expect at a top university.

William Thill, Math Department Chair

Sienna will be taking Bill’s OAS Number Theory this fall, and he is eager to support her on this journey “I hope that the environment around her is inviting and that she continues to find her voice, discovering and enjoying her mathematical strengths.” Bill shares that one department goal is to connect Sienna with other talented individuals, including professionals and alumni, so she can build on her strengths and make meaningful connections for her future. 

Sienna is excited for her next challenge at Yale this summer. “It is a six-week program, in which we are assigned a research project and a professor to work closely with us. We will collect data about different phenomena and write a research paper. If the professors approve it, then we can actually publish it,” she shares. Sienna feels confident that her Oakwood courses have prepared her for this moment. “I’m in Honors English right now, and since we have to write a research paper, help with English is crucial.” Sienna adds that her independent study courses in relativity and quantum physics with David should help her work in astrophysics this summer. “David has been great. I see him as a mentor and am so grateful for the opportunity to do Independent Studies at Oakwood. It has been amazing.”  

As senior year approaches, Sienna is uncovering her interests and contemplating future plans. “I know I want to be a physics major in college, but my minor is yet to be decided. Career-wise, I’m very interested in quantum physics and the cutting edge of technology, but I’m still learning and exploring what I like.” Her advice for fellow students seeking to expand their academic horizons is simple: “It may not always be easy, but if you’re passionate about it, fight for it.“