Wisconsin high school senior is a star student, superior swimmer, and IT support sensation

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This feature first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

What does it take to excel at IT, get top grades, and still have time to become a superior swimmer? Youth, energy, and commitment.Decades ago, while I was training for my first parachute jump, my fellow first-timers and I were instructed not to panic if our main chute failed to deploy. “Just reach down and pull the handle” of the reserve chute, our instructor explained.

While demonstrating the correct procedure for deploying a reserve chute, the instructor said, “If the release is stuck, just give it a couple of hits to shake it loose.” A fellow trainee raised a hand and asked, “How many times should we bang the handle?” The instructor paused, looked that fellow directly in the eye and answered, “Until you hit the ground son. Until you hit the ground.”

Asking questions is natural when learning something new. It turns out, however, that a lot of people are uncomfortable speaking up, fearing that even a timely question might make them look dumb to others.

According to a 2019 study by Branded Research, 39 percent of people are concerned about “asking potentially stupid questions when talking with friends and family.” This reticence to ask questions is even more pronounced among members of Generation Z (ages 13 to 21), as 52 percent were unlikely to ask potentially embarrassing-sounding questions.

It’s surprising that so many tech-proficient and social media savvy young people feel that way. One member of Gen Z who has absolutely no problem asking questions when faced with new situations is 17-yearold Kiara Lamb of Black Creek Village, Wis.

For Kiara, asking questions is crucial to learning. “I always ask questions when I’m confused or don’t understand something in class,” she said. “How else am I going to clarify and understand things?”

Being gregarious and speaking with others is almost second nature for Kiara. “I love talking with people and asking questions,” she explained. “Any of my friends will tell you how chatty I am — they might even say I am a ‘cheddar-box,’ a Wisconsin cheese joke.”

Speaking up in class and asking questions has helped Kiara earn CompTIA and MOS certifications and she wonders why more of her peers don’t also ask questions in class. “I don’t see enough of that from them and I’m surprised. Ask! Ask! Ask! I say. If it weren’t for asking questions and some handy-dandy flashcards, I would not have my certifications today.”

An eagerness to learn

What does it take to excel at IT, get top grades, and still have time to become a superior swimmer? Youth, energy, and commitment.Her willingness to speak up and ask questions is likely a by-product of Kiara’s well-traveled childhood. Her parents, Thomas and Shannon LeNoble met while studying Korean at the military language school in California. Dad was an Army reservist while Mom served full-time in the Navy.

Raised as a “military brat” Kiara had ample opportunity to experience new situations. She even began life on the move — Dad was deployed to Iraq, so Mom flew to Green Bay, Wis. for a couple of weeks to visit family and deliver Kiara.

“I guess I’m not afraid to try new things because of how I grew up. Everywhere I went I was in a new environment so now I just seek new things out.”

After her parents separated, Kiara regularly travelled between her mother’s home in Wisconsin and her father’s in Washington state. “Eventually I decided to split my time between both parents,” she explained. “I settled on spending the school year in Wisconsin, because of the snow, and summers and holidays in Washington with my dad, because I die in the Wisconsin heat and humidity.”

Kiara is a senior at Seymour Community High School in Seymour, Wis., a place she finds enjoyable and conducive to learning. “School for me is a place of wonder and a safe haven of learning,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to wake every day excited and it’s because I love learning and I love challenging myself, which is exactly what I find when I go to school.

“I love being at Seymour, the teachers are super nice and best of all the school has a pool.”

A large part of what makes school so enjoyable for Kiara is her teachers. “I look up to them! They represent everything I want to be and do — inspire people,” she said. “I’m not sure, but I have considered becoming a teacher, or maybe a coach.”

Sports star

While Kiara does well academically — she has a 4.0 GPA and is expected to be named one of the valedictorians of her graduating class — the swimming pool is where she really stands out. As part of the school’s 200-yard medley swim team, she excels at the most difficult stroke of all: the butterfly. Last year the team placed 11th in state and her 50-yard time was an impressive 27.42 seconds.

Kiara has focused on swimming since 6th grade, but she isn’t afraid to attempt other sports. She jokes about her awkwardness on the basketball court. “I was told that you had to keep the defender off of you. So, I just ran around in a circle.”

A friend eventually invited Kiara to join her in the pool. She tried it and liked it. Early struggles in the aquatic arena failed to hamper her enthusiasm, because she did what she always does and kept on working and learning until she got it right.

“When I started out swimming, I placed last in every single event,” she explained. “But I didn’t give up. I kept at it, improved, worked my way up to where I am today, and I’m super proud and happy with my accomplishments.”

Representing Seymour in the pool isn’t Kiara’s only school-year activity. She seems to have participated in every activity the school offers. Seeing the list of all sorts of clubs and activities she is involved makes one wonder when she sleeps.

In addition to being a superior swimmer she has served on the student senate, played baritone and trombone in a jazz band, and competed in track and field, where her main event is the discus. As a sophomore she was got an all-conference honorable mention for hurling that 3.5-pound hunk of metal. Her personal best is 118 feet, 1 inch.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to compete last year because of COVID, but I’m hoping to get back out there next spring,” she said.

Somehow she also squeezes in two part-time jobs. One as a lifeguard (naturally) at an aquatic center and the other as a cashier at the local Target store — a job she credits for helping improve her soft skills.

“Talking to all the unique personalities that come through our store is an experience I’ll never forget,” she said. “Serving so many different customers has taught me the soft skills that I know will help me be successful in whatever I do. And my coworkers are beyond cool.”

Emboldened by IT

What does it take to excel at IT, get top grades, and still have time to become a superior swimmer? Youth, energy, and commitment.Kiara claims she used to be shy about speaking to other and public speaking in general. That all changed, however, while attending an information technology conference where the speakers stressed the importance of strong oral communication skills. “I’m a big fan of public speaking now,” she said. “I enjoy making connections with people and helping fix problems for them.”

Proof of Kiara’s willingness to speak up and her newfound ease in talking to others came earlier this year as she placed 4th nationally in the Help Desk competition of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). She placed first in her region, but didn’t expect there would be a national competition on account of pandemic concerns.

“When they announced the competition was going to be held virtually, I knew I had compete,” she said.

Competitors were given a case study and then had to respond in a single take. Kiara admits to being spooked at the thought of having just one opportunity to respond. “I was really nervous. Honestly, I felt so unqualified to even be participating.”

Fortunately, Kiara had enrolled in her school’s PC hardware class, where she had learned a few things about troubleshooting and computers. “If it weren’t for that class, I don’t think I would have even attempted the event,” she explained.

Her competition prep included using Quizlets and lots of searching on Google. She also had the help of her IT instructor, who ran through practice cases with her. Kiara would play the role of a help desk representative working to resolve any and all computer issues thrown at her.

Anxious as only a 17-year-old can be, Kiara spent a long night after the competition continuously checking to see whether the scores had been posted. “I checked at midnight, eight a.m., nine, ten, and so on until finally the scores were released,” she said.

“I knew I had lost some points for going over time, but my heart dropped when I saw how well I had done. It is still crazy to me that I did so well.”

In addition to an impressive performance at FBLA, Kiara has also racked up a couple of prestigious IT credentials, including CompTIA’s A+ and an MOS certification. Not bad for a young lady who only last year enrolled in her first computer science class as a way of challenging herself.

“Originally, I didn’t seek out certifications on my own,” said Kiara. “The school wanted those students taking IT courses to complete certifications. So I said, ‘What’s stopping me?’ It was just one extra step — an exam — and then I had cool cert to show off.”

Kiara does appreciate the importance of certifications beyond just a piece of paper. “They’re a great way to prove that you’ve learned something, and of course it shows employers too,” she said. “They’re also one of the best ways to try something new — they usually require just a single class and an exam, and they set you apart because they show you’re willing to go that extra mile to improve yourself.”

Habits of highly effective students

Describing herself as “super indecisive” as to what sort of career she intends to pursue, Kiara figures to rely on her penchant for trying new things. That’s one reason she took a crack at computers. “I have no clue as to the type of career I want to do, so I decided to test the waters of IT,” she said. “The class was challenging, but the fun kind of challenging.”

She admits to being a bit of a procrastinator and has advice for others who may find themselves studying for a certification exam: “Don’t wait! Cramming facts an hour before a test isn’t very effective — trust me, I’ve tried.” She recommends studying ahead of time, using flash cards and watching informative videos when necessary, and if confused, “Don’t just stand there, ask questions.”

Kiara also suggests setting up a designated time and place to study. “Use a planner, too; it helps you schedule and remember things. I use the calendar on my phone at least three times a day.”

Upon competition of her first computer class, which dealt with software, Kiara decided to challenge herself by learning about the hardware side of computing. “Despite the fact that I couldn’t have even told you what a motherboard looks like, I signed up. And with so much new information about how things in a computer worked, I was hooked,” she explained.

Regardless of IT talent, one still needs support and help in their endeavors. The sort of help that can only come from mom, or from a dedicated IT instructor — in this case, Katie Grassel, Seymour’s business technology teacher.

“My mom and Mrs. Grassel are my two biggest cheerleaders,” said Kiara. “My mother has always supported me no matter what I pursue and has more patience with me than even myself! She has mile upon mile on her car from running me to all of my extracurriculars and Mrs. Grassel has taught me so much about what it means to be on a team and how to properly communicate. She pushes me to challenge myself.”

Kiara is “a young woman with a vision for the future and dedication to make her dreams come true,” said Grassel. “Working with her in the classroom and outside of school I know she has the dedication to achieve her goals.”

Taking time off

What does it take to excel at IT, get top grades, and still have time to become a superior swimmer? Youth, energy, and commitment.In those rare moments when she isn’t in class, swimming, or working, Kiara often relaxes watching people play video games online. “It sounds silly, I know, but there is something about being able to let my brain just watch and enjoy the dopamine,” she said. “I’m frequently on YouTube or Twitch, and recently I’ve been watching tons of Minecraft!”

When not watching others play, she often joins dad for some online gaming. Their favorite games include Skyrim and chess. Spending time together lets them do a lot of talking and sharing of thoughts. “We do a lot of trash-talking too,” said Kiara. “Honesty, I am really blessed to have the parents I do. I love my mother and father, and my ‘not-so-evil stepmother,’ Heather Lamb.”

You may have noticed that Kiara is a young woman who likes challenging herself, and she isn’t afraid to be try new experiences. As a 13-year-old on a family vacation to Utah, she was first to the top of world-famous Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Even adults often steer clear of the precarious and sometimes deadly trail leading to the 1,448-foot sandstone summit.

Good habits formed while in youth can make all the difference later in life, and Kiara is forming some great habits that will give her many opportunities in the years to come. She may even choose to follow her parents’ example — she recently received a congressional nomination to attend one of the country’s prestigious military academies.

No one can say for sure what path Kiara may follow, but two things seem certain: She’ll be successful. And she’ll ask a lot of questions along the way.

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Calvin Harper

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Calvin Harper is a former associate editor of Certification Magazine and a veteran of the publishing industry.

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