When Alan Lai graduated from Renton Prep and started Bellevue College classes with Running Start, he admits he felt a little lost. He started as a business major, but found it wasn’t for him. He switched to chemistry but decided four years of chemistry wasn’t something he wanted to do.
It took time for him to pursue his passion: computer science. Now, Alan is a peer educator for a computer science class at the University of Washington Bothell. At 18 years old, he’s in his senior year of college classes and grading coding projects from students about the same age or older.
His years at Renton Prep and interacting with technology in the classroom — including a bit of time coding — propelled his interest in a career in tech.
“Being around a technology-based environment and even taking a field trip to the Microsoft campus, it just sparked my interest and made me realize this is something I want to do,” Alan said. “Renton Prep definitely help set me up for what’s next.”
Experiential learning and collaborative classrooms from early childhood to 10th grade helped Alan accelerate his learning. However, he didn’t yet realize how different the experience in college classes would be.
At Renton Prep, Alan was part of class trips that visited Vancouver. He presented at NCCE 2017 in Portland and the Texas Computer Education Association conference in 2017. Class field trips to downtown Seattle were the norm.
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In college, it wasn’t the same. Long lectures, tough grading, and fewer opportunities to express creativity became his day-to-day. It was all new for him when he started in Running Start at Bellevue College.
Those drastic changes came with nostalgia for his experiences at Renton Prep.
“Now that I’m in college, I realize what we did at Renton Prep was quite extraordinary,” Alan said. “I realized they have a really special culture — it’s not your typical bland classes. Everything is hands-on and all about experience. Every day when I was there I was always excited for the next day, the next class session, and what we were going to learn next.”
After a bit of wandering and discussing with his twin brother, Alan came back to the things he had learned at Renton Prep: creativity, individualism, and the technology-based education.
That technology-based education included using Microsoft Surfaces and OneNote in the classroom. It meant hands-on experiences with technology in the classroom, like testing out HoloLens and class projects in the puzzle-platform video game Portal.
Reflecting on his time at Renton Prep was part of what propelled him to major in computer science during his sophomore year of college.
“I could have only had that experience at Renton Prep, because they actually let you experience technology hands-on,” Alan said. “We were always interacting with technology.”
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At UW Bothell, Alan became a peer facilitator. After a semester as a peer facilitator, he’s now grading student projects in CSE 143, a Java class. While Renton Prep and Running Start have put him ahead of the same-age peers he’s grading, Alan wasn’t intimidated.
In fact, he welcomed seeing unique ways students approached the coding projects and validating the grades with valuable feedback.
“I didn’t jump into this job feeling like I’ve never done it before, because we did plenty of peer review at Renton Prep,” Alan said. “Negotiating and talking with students about their grades — I’ve done this many times before at Renton Prep … it feels like I fit right into this role.”
Soon, Alan hopes to find an internship coding for Summer 2021. He has plans to eventually become a front-end or back-end developer after graduating from UW Bothell.
Every assignment at Renton Prep is meant to develop real-world skills, create an engaging environment, and harness individual creative talents. With technology in-hand, students have the ability to display their creativity in any way imaginable.
Ultimately, Alan saw computer science as his way to keep creative thinking at the forefront of his career.
“If you know your programming language, you know your database structures and your algorithms, you can actually make anything you want,” Alan said. “Anything with software, it feels like I have a creative outlet.”
Every year, Renton Prep prepares students like Alan to transition to Running Start and get ahead on college classes. With guidance and self-motivation, students have the opportunity to earn their high school diploma and their associate’s degree at the same time.
If you’re interested in fast-tracking your child’s education with Running Start, get in touch with Renton Prep. We want to help your student get the most out of their education and find their passion.