This article originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Parker Perspectives, the School’s alumni publication. Read the full issue here.
Parker’s core values are the driving force behind our campus communities and what makes our student experience so unique. They are not just words on a page, they are embodied by our faculty, staff, and students every day. These values continue to guide our alumni as they complete further education, cultivate careers, and build remarkable lives. Countless Parker Alumni live these values every day. Here are six of their incredible stories.
Devan Diwanji ’11
Devan Diwanji ’11 is well on his way to making a meaningful difference for students. Alongside two friends, Devan founded Brain Camp @ UCSF—a free week-long summer camp at the University of California San Francisco, geared toward local Bay Area high school students from diverse backgrounds with the goal of enhancing the diversity of the healthcare workforce.
The idea for Brain Camp was born after Devan worked as a counselor at a medical-focused camp that carried a hefty price tag for its student participants. He and his friends wanted to create a similar week-long experience that would be absolutely free, removing any barriers to entry.
Brain Camp launched in 2017 with 13 students and a curriculum that included a mix of hands-on activities that reinforce lectures on neurology, psychiatry, neurosurgery, and other related topics. “The pilot camp was a resounding success, and our program has since grown with a longitudinal mentorship program, a junior counselor program, and expansion of our class size to 25 students per year,” Devan says. “We have served over 150+ local Bay Area high school students, and we are thrilled to see many of our students consider the health sciences as a career.”
Devan and his team ensure that the Brain Camp experience puts students first by providing appropriate structure and guidance to participants. “We acknowledge that our students come from varied backgrounds, and we pride ourselves on developing a curriculum that tailors to all educational backgrounds,” Devan states. “We promote an environment of inclusivity where questions are more than encouraged and the response ‘I don’t know’ is expected.”
To Devan, running Brain Camp @ UCSF is not about “making a difference in the world.” Instead, it’s about making a difference in the trajectory of a student’s life. “To make a difference in the world is to make a difference in lives. One life at a time,” Devan says.
Maddy Jennewein ’10
Maddy Jennewein ’10 took their academic career “as far as the mind can see” and translated their love of learning into a dream career.
After graduating from Parker, Maddy began their inspiring academic journey at Brown University, where they studied biology while dabbling in outside interests like sociology and Egyptology. After college, Maddy enrolled in the five-year Harvard virology program for graduate school, gaining hands-on experience in HIV vaccine development. And in the two years since their postdoctoral experience at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Maddy has realized their dream career of working to develop RNA vaccines.
“I always knew I wanted to go into vaccine development,” Maddy says. “You say you have a dream in middle school or high school…but it seems wild to be so young in my career and actually doing exactly what I always wanted.” Maddy credits their four years at Parker with helping spark their love of science. “Parker gave me flexibility with my learning to really push where I wanted to push. My mother actually talked [the School] into letting me into AP bio as a freshman,” they explain with a laugh. “Being given the freedom to really push and challenge myself in a way I hadn’t been able to before was really formative.”
Maddy’s journey has also mirrored Parker’s Academic Excellence core value in another important way—they have gone above and beyond to establish and cultivate learning environments where all students are seen, known, and valued. Actively involved in the trans advocacy group at Brown, they pushed for a gender-neutral housing system for freshman and trans-inclusive healthcare on campus. And at Harvard, Maddy ran the Queer Alliance for their graduate program.
“I see myself definitely staying in the world of vaccine development for at least the next 20 years…but I have some dreams about a second career of going to teach at a community college when I get sick of being in the lab,” Maddy says, showing that even after nine years of higher education, their love of learning remains strong.
Jamal Edwards ’12
“Technology doesn’t respect borders—what’s deployed in one country can very easily impact consumers in another country,” emphasizes Jamal Edwards ’12, who helps shape international-focused technology policy through his work at Microsoft.
Inspired by his English classes with Ms. Nancy Anderson at Parker, Jamal built the foundation for his future career by majoring in journalism at Duke University. “I was really captured by storytelling in undergrad,” he explains. “It was about going deep to understand the story behind why things happened.”
Understanding the “why” snowballed into Jamal asking the question, “What can I do about it?” He wondered how he could be a part of the rulemaking or policy process and shape the why and the how to ultimately bring about change. A master’s in International Policy from Stanford University proved to be the next best step and the technology sector the ideal place to create change.
“The tech sector is the fastest developing industry that impacts and implicates every aspect of everyday life,” says Jamal. “There was no more compelling place to start my career and do more action-oriented work.”
His work at Microsoft over the last seven years has included everything from shaping cybersecurity policy to protect the world’s digital infrastructure to working with the Secretary General of the United Nations as a policy advisor and speech writer to address the next generation of digital issues on an international level. Now, as senior manager for the Competition Policy and Market Regulation team, Jamal’s latest project has been working with 17 jurisdictions around the globe on the policy dimensions needed to clear the largest tech merger in history—Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to acquire video game giant Activision Blizzard, maker of popular games like “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush.”
“We are in an unprecedented era of tech stewardship,” Jamal explains. While the state of current affairs in tech remains complicated, he loves what he does: “Having a front-row seat, rolling up my sleeves, and trying to tackle these very thorny policy issues has been incredibly gratifying.”
STRENGTH OF CHARACTER
Ryan Austin ’18
Ryan Austin ’18 was 22 years old when he helped save a man’s life. An avid aviator since earning his pilot’s license while at Parker, Ryan taught private pilot students how to fly planes during his time in the aviation program at Embry Riddle University. And in July 2022, the unthinkable happened.
While flight instructing at a tiny, municipal airport in north central Florida, Ryan and his students witnessed another small aircraft take off, only for the pilot’s voice to come over the radio moments later. The words “catastrophic engine failure” crackled across the frequency.
After the small plane failed to make the turn back to the runway, it dropped off the radar and disappeared somewhere over the wild, surrounding swampland. With no one else at the airport, no air traffic control tower, and no response from the pilot, Ryan leaped into action. “I realized at that point that if I didn’t do anything, no one was ever going to find this guy,” Ryan says.
Ryan contacted local law enforcement—who remained skeptical that a plane had crashed near the town without any other witnesses—and finally persuaded them to deploy the trauma helicopter to the area for a search and rescue mission. He also directed other small planes coming into the airport to start circling and see if they could spot the plane.
When Ryan saw the helicopter hover over the swamp, he knew the downed pilot had been found. “He would not have been found without the helicopter,” Ryan explains. “When the pilot went into the swamp, his wings broke the trees, and then they fell back on top of him,” making the crash difficult to spot.
The pilot was airlifted to the hospital and survived despite his intensive injuries. “I’m just happy I was able to help. That’s what any pilot or aviation professional would do—step up when it’s necessary and help each other out,” Ryan says, his actions a true reflection of his strength of character.
The incident did not turn Ryan off from flying—he now works as a commercial pilot for Frontier Airlines, where he keeps 200+ passengers safe during each cross-country flight.
Sydney Thomas ’06
“I was drawn to venture capital because of the potential impact I could have on the world,” explains Sydney Thomas ’06.
After graduating from Parker, Sydney studied public policy at Duke University. During her business and finance classes, she began to wonder how she could help create more just and equitable systems that would increase access to wealth and healthcare for underrepresented communities. And after working in politics for five years and earning her MBA, she decided that working in venture capital would best maximize her ability to create change.
“I was so encouraged by the people I met and their interest in creating a better future through investing in companies that were creating the change that they wanted to see,” Sydney says about her time working at a VC-backed start-up. “Through working with them, I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do.”
With seven years of impactful venture capital experience under her belt, Sydney took the leap and built something that she knew needed to exist—a venture capital fund that invests in technology that makes life better for the 99%.
“Technology can reduce wealth inequality by raising access to products, services, and information that have enabled a few folks to get significantly wealthy in the past,” she says, explaining the reasoning behind Symphonic Capital’s focus. “There is a lot of power in the scalability of technology that can then help a large sector of society access insights and information previously unavailable to them.”
Committed to creating an inclusive communityhowever she can, Sydney also strives to bolster diversity and equity on a more personal level. “When I first got into Venture Capital, one of the first things I did was create a Women of Color in the VC community,” she says. But her commitment to fostering change does not stop there: The entire Symphonic Capital team is made entirely of women of color.
When asked about the future, Sydney has one goal— demonstrating that the types of investments made by Symphonic Capital can be both successful and create significant positive change for as many people as possible.
NO LIMIT TO BETTER
Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade ’86
“Parker provided me with the opportunity and the freedom to explore the unexpected path,” says Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade ’86, mother to alumni Carlos Ezquerro ’16 and Andie Ezquerro ’17. Yolanda’s varied and influential career path shows that there truly is no limit to what Parker Alumni can dream, do, or try.
Yolanda describes herself as a “Calibaja region-builder, a changemaker, and a binational influencer who grew up on both sides of the US-Mexico border.” Neil Morgan, the former editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune nicknamed her the “Voice of the Border” for her work as media liaison and interpreter for four Mexican presidents, Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel Laureates, and others as they worked through issues within the US-Mexico/Calibaja bilateral agenda.
“If I can effect change and channel our collective efforts into innovative cross-border projects in civic engagement and philanthropy, especially at such critical moments, I must rise to the occasion,” explains Yolanda about what inspires her.
Proof of her dedication can be found throughout her career—Yolanda was a founding member of the Club de Niños y Niñas de Tijuana and the Fundación Internacional de la Comunidad, and the San Diego Foundation. She is also a long-time host of the San Diego Latino Film Festival and has helped raise millions of dollars for regional organizations like San Ysidro Health and Fundación Fimbres.
Now, Yolanda runs This is About Humanity (TIAH), a humanitarian organization that supports vulnerable communities on either side of the border through initiatives like launching learning spaces in Tijuana shelters, supporting mental health for children and adolescents through grants, and running a food-relief kitchen that serves over 3,000 meals every day.
Even though she has already helped countless individuals on both sides of the border, she is motivated to do even more: “We have a duty and responsibility as individuals and as a society to give back—to our family, to our community, to the most vulnerable—and ensure a sustainable and flourishing Calibaja.”