Alumni Spotlight: Grace Armstrong ’16

Lucia Cerritos, Alumni & Development Specialist
Alumna Grace A.

In this alumni spotlight, meet Grace Armstrong, Class of 2016!

How long were you at Post Oak?

4 years

Where are you now?

I just graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University with a BA in psychology and minor in history. While I am currently prepping for the start of my master’s in counseling psychology at Northwestern University, I am also training our new golden retriever puppy, Momo!

What are some of your most vivid memories of Post Oak (teacher, materials, events, travel)?

My most vivid memories are definitely of the J- and A-Term experiences. Not only were the classes I had the opportunity to propose and create helpful to me later on in my educational path, they were also a great opportunity to explore paths I never really felt confident in (like creative writing). I have many wonderful memories of my teachers during that time, but those that stood out were those from the terms and the Odyssey trips: from singing Bohemian Rhapsody on the bus to New Orleans to volunteering in Jamaica, my teachers made Post Oak feel like home, regardless of where we were.

Talk about your transition after leaving Post Oak. What was it like starting your new journey? What’s been one of your favorite experiences in college or while studying abroad?  

Moving to New York City was a big change for me, as it put me far away from many close friends and my family. However, once I started integrating myself into the larger Barnard-Columbia community through being an orientation leader for two summers in the New Student Orientation Program, my sorority, and the research labs I worked in, I felt more at home. This, as well as integrating myself with NYC as a whole through volunteering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and working at New York Presbyterian Hospital; I found myself constantly growing and meeting new people. My favorite experience in college was working in the Speech Perception and Cognition Lab at Barnard. Not only did I make strong friendships, I also learned so much about an area I was unfamiliar with and recognized my interest in research and focus in psychology.

Studying abroad at Trinity College Dublin was one of the best semesters and best months of my life in so many ways. While I made many new friends there, one of my favorite experiences was seeing the Irish countryside. Our program had its form of an Odyssey trip. They took us to Glendalough (a glacial valley and monastery). I had seen the monastery with my family before the program’s trip, but after a hike through the woods, we saw the gorgeous green scenery of the ice-cold lake. I would recommend anyone traveling to Ireland to visit Glendalough; I know I will return in the future!

How did your experiences at Post Oak (internships, travel, studies) help prepare you for college? 

The opportunity to create specified courses during J- and A-Terms allowed me to explore my interest in psychology and led me to declaring my major early and tackling my major requirements early on in college. My internship at the Jungian Institute helped expose me to group therapy and certain tenants of psychotherapy, which will be helpful to me during my clinical training and coursework. Montessori’s emphasis on encouraging the growth of the student’s intrinsic motivation helped me to invest in my work beyond just the grade, which helped me minimize burnout, especially during midterms and finals. While I was less accustomed to larger lectures, I found myself leading seminars, group projects, and presentations with relative ease; primarily because of the seminar-style work we did in high school.

In a less academic vein, the opportunities I had in forming and working in the administration and leadership avenues of Post Oak (e.g., the Community Council, Party Planning Committee, and the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)), gave me experience in working professionally with an administration. Further, forming positive relationships with my teachers helped me to feel more confident in approaching my college professors and forming lasting professional relationships with them. I was also less anxious about going to office hours than my peers.

Finally, the immersion-style language class I had helped me to connect with the Spanish-speaking families and children I worked with as a summer intern at the National Institutes of Health: The Children’s Inn and MSKCC. I was not only able to translate for families, but also took this knowledge to make sure that all events were accessible to Spanish-speakers; which encouraged turnout and led to a more connected and inclusive community.

What passions and interests did you pursue at Post Oak that you still pursue now? How did being at Post Oak help further your pursuit of these interests?

As I said previously, because of Post Oak’s elective courses, I had a stronger sense of what I wanted to study coming into college than my peers. My time doing data analysis with our former counselor Dr. Lori Scovill’s graduate students, as well as the IB Science IA helped fuel my interest in psychological/neuroscientific research. Having this research background helped me secure research positions at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Barnard College, and New York Presbyterian Hospital, where I was exposed to clinical care and research, as well as participated and presented preclinical research.

How do you see your Montessori education showing up in your life today?

Montessori education taught me to dig deep and be excited about learning. Any of my friends can tell you, when I’m in a class, or on a topic, I put my all into it. This was ingrained in me in high school, as I was always encouraged to explore my interests. Regardless if my teachers had a background in that area, they’d help me find a way to learn more. This has extended beyond just pushing myself—I’ve encouraged and assisted with this in my friends and classmates as well.

Alumna Grace A. blowing bubbles with children
If you had to pass along words of wisdom to future Post Oak students, what would you tell them? 

Take advantage of the opportunities! Don’t be afraid to “fail” and try new things. Post Oak can give you so many amazing opportunities and avenues for personal growth, but you have to take advantage of them. It can be scary to try to branch out, but the Post Oak community (teachers, administration, students, and alumni) are there to support you!

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