Thursday, March 28, 2019

Grandview senior hopes to make lasting impact

by Mary Wilson

As seniors in Grandview approach their final quarter of high school before graduation, things like prom, college admissions, dorm rooms and summer jobs are likely at the forefront of these young adults’ minds. However, for Grandview senior Chayanne Sandoval-Williams, her thoughts are on what sort of legacy she can leave behind.

“Taking what I have learned here and expanding on it more; that’s the point of all of this,” said Sandoval-Williams. “The goal of our team is to inspire people through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). You can’t do anything in the shadows; it’s too dark there. We have to go out and find some light and show off what we’re doing.”

Having just returned from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she received the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC), Sandoval-Williams has had doors open for her in the world of computers and technology in the last few years. But, she didn’t always dream of working in the tech field.

“I always wanted to be a restaurant owner, but I needed some classes to fill my freshman schedule,” said Sandoval-Williams. “I noticed that there was a computer science class. At this point, I hadn’t even considered engineering because I wanted to be a business owner.”

She caught on, and somewhere along the way, technology became the forefront of her high school education. Sandoval-Williams said that here in the Midwest, girls going after the NCWIT award may not have the same access to opportunities as those from the coasts. She added, though, that whatever opportunities are given to girls like her, she sees them multiply the resources in order to accomplish great things. As the girls in technology programs continue to thrive, Sandoval-Williams said that they will begin leaving their marks and in the future, Midwesterners will see the same opportunities as those elsewhere in the country.

“There’s a huge disparity between what a girl in Silicon Valley may have versus a girl who may live in Indiana,” said Sandoval-Williams. “We are taking what we have and growing it because we want to decrease the lacks that we see compared to everywhere else.”

“I first applied for the Aspirations in Computing awards my sophomore year, but I didn’t have a lot under my belt at that point,” she said. “I was really just getting into the flow of things. I won regionally, and have continued applying year after year. This year, winning the national award, I have met females who have done astonishing things like starting organizations, and have gone across the world starting initiatives.”

Growing up in the age of dot com, Sandoval-Williams has had access to technology her entire life. During her eighth-grade year, she had a teacher who loaned her a book on HTML after she read a JAVA script book she checked out from the school library. During a break from school, she took the book and worked on learning HTML, building her first website.

“I was just bored and looking for something to do,” she said. “The website had a picture of my favorite band and flowers, and it was gaudy and awful. But, it was the first thing that I had created and I just fell in love with it.”

At that point, she said she still wasn’t sure that she would make a career out of this, as she was just playing around with what she had learned. Taking her first computer science class her freshman year, she was one of three females in the room.

“My teacher, Mr. Vance, saw something in me that I guess I had not seen in myself and he invited me to come to a robotics meeting,” she said. “So, I stuck around for a little bit, and one meeting became another, and over time I ended up falling in love with all of this.”

She said that what gave her an edge was that she took her interest in technology beyond the classroom. Due to the lack of programmers on the robotics team after a few months in, Sandoval-Williams learned how to program in just a few weeks and is, as a senior, now leading the show.

“It started with robotics, and it’ll end with robotics,” she said. “When I leave, the team will still be here and they’re still going to be strong. The goal is that I leave something behind for them. There is a world out there a lot bigger than Grandview, and I realized I could start here, but there is so much opportunity out there waiting.”

She has implemented a robotics mentorship program with students in Grandview elementary schools. With the understanding that technology moves fast (adding that the first robotics team in Grandview wasn’t even implemented yet when she was starting kindergarten), Sandoval-Williams sees the need to inspire and motivate the next generation of STEM learners.

Although, according to Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez, Sandoval-Williams is motivating more than just those in elementary school. Teachers, principals, counselors and district administration have all been impressed with the soft-spoken yet powerhouse of a teen that she is.

“Chayanne is the epitome of what we want to see from our students and how much they can accomplish,” said Rodrequez. “She was part of the all-girls engineering class and discovered a new passion. However, it is what she has done with that passion that is so amazing. Her continual drive to learn and to be better is infectious.”

Sandoval-Williams envisions Grandview being a hub for robotics and Project Lead the Way in the future. She is excited to see the district embrace STEM by beginning Project Lead the Way programming in pre-k classes.

“We’ll have this new generation of kids who will be saying, ‘I want to be an actor, or singer, or astronaut. I want to be an engineer,” she said. “That is super-duper exciting. We’re putting the stones in place for all of those students to reach those goals. There has always been an amazing emphasis on both STEM an the arts, and I think it’s important to continue to grow both, because they have to work together.”

“She makes everyone around her a better person and continually gives back to her school and to the school district,” said Rodrequez. “While I will be very sad to see her go, I told her I cannot wait to watch her walk across the stage, give her a diploma, and then just sit back and watch all the amazing things she will accomplish with her life after that moment. She is an excellent example, and one of many, of why I love this job.”

She was also selected as a recipient of KC Scholars scholarship, which would provide up to $10,000 per year up to five years of education at a Missouri post-secondary institution. Sandoval-Williams has her sights on something bigger for herself, though, and may be attending college out-of-state.

“I might not use it, but it is really cool to know that I have that available to me,” said Sandoval-Williams. “I came into my senior year with a large hunk of money waiting, and it helped push me to make a few key decisions.”

She is looking at universities on both the east and west coasts, but doesn’t intend to make a final announcement until the official College Decision Day on May 1.

“I am so lucky,” said Sandoval-Williams. “There has been this abundance of support for me, my sister and my family that has made all of the schooling experience so different in comparison to anywhere else.”

Ultimately, after she goes off to college, and has several years of a computer science career under her belt, Sandoval-Williams said that her dream would be to come back to Grandview and teach. She said thanks to teachers she has had over the years, who have inspired her and pushed her to try new and different things, she would like to help inspire another group of students.

“I’d like to be able to give back my time,” she said. “In all of the reflecting that I’ve done this year, I’ve found that one of the most valuable professions that will outlast the turns of time, all of the tech that will take over the world, all of the art that will fade in and out of popularity, the most important profession in all of existence will be teaching. The teachers will always have a direct influence on whatever happens in the future.”

Ideally, she sees herself in a remodeled version of her current teacher’s classroom teaching computer science. Her goals will remain lofty, and she said that she’d like to fulfill some of her passions like owning a restaurant and becoming a computer programmer first. Either way, she says, Grandview is and always will be her home.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Local chambers combine for joint networking luncheon

by Mary Wilson

Grandview and Belton Chambers of Commerce have teamed up to provide their members a unique partnership opportunity with businesses in neighboring communities.

On Thursday, February 28, the two chambers met for a joint luncheon, where leaders from both cities shared highlights from the past year and provided insight into what’s to come in 2019. The Belton Chamber of Commerce first kicked off the idea of joining forces in 2018, with plans to meet annually. Representatives from education, economic development, business relations and city management from both Belton and Grandview presented to the chamber members.

“We are really excited of the year that we’ve had thus far,” said Dr. Andrew Underwood, Superintendent of Belton Schools. “We’ve got a great, veteran staff in Belton that is providing top-notch education for our kids.”

Underwood added that with the latest Annual Performance Report for his district being at a 92.9%, Belton continues to aim for 100%. The district is also completing a $32 million construction project at Belton High School, which will provide a 9-12 grade building.

“We’ve not been able to have that in probably the last 15 years,” said Underwood. The project is scheduled for completion in June, with opening by the 2019-20 school year.

Alexa Barton, Belton City Manager, stated that one of the very first things she accomplished upon her new position was to introduce herself to Superintendent Underwood.

“It’s been one of the best things that I’ve ever done,” said Barton. “In working with the school district, we’ve really improved those communications. I am so proud of our school district. I am so proud of our teachers and our students and all of the hard work that they’ve applied to raise our scores the way that they have.”

Barton added that the district is the City of Belton’s secret gem. The city and the district are working on a collaborative marketing plan to let visitors and interested investors know that Belton is making great strides to improve its image and is open for business. She added that with commercial development, the city is also seeing new subdivisions taking shape.

With the development of Southview Business Park, located just south of Grandview along I-49 and 155th Street, Belton’s jobs will increase by approximately 1,300, and residents will also see some infrastructure improvements. This will include a thoroughfare from 155th Street to 163rd.  Barton said that this was absolutely necessary in order to provide access to the facility.

Grandview Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez said that his district also works closely with Belton, and that Underwood serves as one of his mentors. He discussed Grandview’s three main priorities for the school year: college readiness, career readiness, and cultural competency.

“We are extremely blessed,” said Rodrequez. “This school district is one of the most amazing places that I’ve ever worked in and I’m certainly very pleased to be the superintendent.”

Rodrequez added that his district has increased ACT scores in the last three years by over a point, and as a whole scored over 90% on the state’s Annual Performance Report. His goal is to provide a path to college or career for every student in the district. The district is also seeking opportunities to work more with the community and further parent involvement.

“It’s almost cliché to say that it takes a village, but it really takes everybody,” said Rodrequez. “Our school districts cannot do this by ourselves. It benefits everybody to work together.”

For the City of Grandview, City Administrator Cemal Gungor talked about the improvements on the I-49 Outer Roads to be changed back to two-way streets, along with the splash pad groundbreaking ceremony taking place this week.

“This is not the Grandview of your mothers and fathers,” added Economic Development Consultant for the City of Grandview Troy Nash. “This is a new city with a dynamic mayor, a dynamic board of aldermen, a city administrator with a lot of energy, and a committed senior leadership team.”

Nash stated that Grandview is included in the state’s opportunity zone, which was selected by the Governor to focus on the most economically deprived and underserved parcels of land. 161 designated opportunity zones were submitted by the governor, and with Grandview being on the list, Nash said that means the city will be able to keep its share of private capital investments made in the city.

Belton will host next year’s joint luncheon with the Grandview Chamber of Commerce. For more information, follow either organization on Facebook.