Scholar ventures serve OdessaOHS students organize community projects

For part of Odessa High School’s International Baccalaureate program, students organize events or create clubs and several of them are coming up.

Mary Neff, the Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate coordinator at OHS, said the initiation projects are part of the IB diploma program’s creativity, activity and service component. IT is a requirement for students working on their International Baccalaureate diploma and begins after their sophomore year and concludes sometime during their senior year.

Mia Stanley presented a panel discussion on Women in Science in Odessa at the Odessa High School Thursday.

Rusty Everett is organizing a pet food drive to benefit Meals on Wheels and Angelica Valenzuela is putting on an event for Locks of Love April 29 at Odessa College.

A public nonprofit organization, Locks of Love provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis, its website said.

Neff noted that the projects have to be approved before the students can move forward.

“We have an online system where they submit proposals and then a faculty member reviews those proposals and approves them,” she said. “Then all along the way, they have to keep track of what they’re doing by writing reflections about the development, growth of the project, and finally when it culminates, they write a final reflection.”

There are 28 students in the IB program this year. Some have already completed their ventures, Neff said.

Some of the projects are a continuation of a previous student’s effort and with a current student changing it in some way, Neff said. Stanley noted that the Amnesty International and ecology club were initiation projects that have kept going.

For a long time, 17-year-old Stanley said she wanted to study science, but she feels like one of the biggest hurdles people have to go through when deciding on their profession is not knowing what it’s going to be like day to day.

Panelists include University of Texas of the Permian Basin assistant chemistry professor Milka Montes, UTPB assistant biology professor Athenia Oldham and UTPB biology lecturer Irene Perry. Also, Zondra Pointer, an AP chemistry teacher at OHS, and Janet Weyant, math department chair at OHS.

“You get the general picture that you know what you have to study and you know what kind of classes you’ll have to take, but you don’t know exactly what your life will be like and I think that’s one of the scariest parts of entering the workforce and leaving high school,” Stanley said.

She organized the women in science panel because she wanted to know what these panelists have gone through as scientists, and they’re from her hometown. Stanley added that March is Women’s History Month.

Many times, Stanley noted, if one wants to gain access to the scientific community in Odessa and be an engineer, students would likely have one of these women as a teacher at some point.

“I also think it’s interesting because in Odessa, and especially in the Permian Basin, a lot of the science fields are centered around the oilfield. In those cases, a lot of the time it’s a male-dominated field, so the women who are here and are scientists are very few and far between. But they’ve had to work very hard to get to the position where they’re at. And so I just think that’s an interesting aspect that I haven’t seen evaluated before,” Stanley said.

Stanley said Perry has many family members who are also in science or STEM fields. Through her research, Stanley said she found that Perry’s family members were told things that weren’t necessarily encouraging.

She noted that there are competing ideals of what a woman is supposed to be, such as a woman can’t be a scientist and have a family. Stanley said women have played a part in developing things that people use in everyday like TVs and radios, helped crack an important code during World War II and advanced space science at NASA.

Stanley added that if one looks at the higher-level science classes at OHS, they are largely filled with boys.

Partly because she has long hair, Valenzuela said she has always wanted to donate her hair.

“It’s just I’ve never had the opportunity to look into an organization that does it for the good of others. Once I had this idea, I started talking to my friends and I found out that most of them wanted to donate their hair. I realized that maybe if there was an event that happened in Odessa that has never happened before that maybe others would donate,” Valenzuela said.  

Her idea is to have a mass donation. She’s partnering with the cosmetology program at Odessa College so the instructors and students will be offering complimentary haircuts to everyone who decides to contribute.

Neff said the wigs are made for children undergoing chemotherapy and made of human hair.

Valenzuela said she has many relatives, most of whom were adults, who have had cancer and lost their hair and used wigs made of synthetic hair.

Neff said those wigs can catch fire.

“I did meet two younger girls who were going through cancer. Buying wigs is expensive, especially if it’s real human hair so for me to do an event that might produce wigs that are cheaper for them or free in any case, that would be helping someone live their life in a better way …,” Valenzuela said.

Everett said he plans to have his pet food drive at a supermarket so people may donate food as they leave. The pet food would be delivered with the Meals on Wheels, he said.

“A lot of the old people, or anyone that Meals on Wheels serves, have pets and they’re receiving assistance for themselves, (so) they probably need assistance for their pets, too. … I volunteered at the Humane Society over the summer for service hours and it was actually a project that a student last year … did and I was just going to continue it,” Everett said.

He added that his grandmother fell and broke her hip and she has needed assistance ever since. She gets Meals on Wheels, but she’s always had dogs, as well. “We buy dog food for her, but what if we weren’t there?” Everett said.

Stanley said students in IB are really close and do the best they can to support their peers, so they hope to attend each other’s events.

Kathleen Mahoney, a French teacher, is the creativity, activity and service coordinator for the IB program. Her job is to get students to devise an initiative project and see it through.

Many of the students have devised interesting ventures such as a music appreciation club, which will culminate in a concert, a foreign film club and a reading café where students will read literature that isn’t typically covered in IB English class, Mahoney said.

“It’s amazing what they come up with,” she said. “The trick is to find something that they’re passionate about. Once they do, then it’s easy; it’s natural, like the kids that love music. …”

But the students still have to be prepared in terms of what they do with their groups. They have to plan what they’re going to cover and have an objective.

“They learn those really useful planning skills and the steps you have to go through to get things approved,” Mahoney said.