SpotlightYouth Spotlight

When it comes to pursuing your passion, Katherine Ball doesn’t hesitate. After reading a book about Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle-based oceanographer, in the sixth grade, Katherine was inspired to study marine debris and its behavior in the oceans. Not only is Katherine now studying physical oceanography at the University of Washington, but she also focused her Girl Scouts Gold Award on researching plastic debris in the Puget Sound. In addition, Katherine recently earned her associate’s degree through the Ocean Research College Academy. Impressed yet?

We are very inspired by Katherine’s determination and passion for marine debris and oceanography, and for the ambition to follow through and desire to make a positive change in the world. Katherine shares with us her experiences at the Ocean Research College Academy, what actions we can take today to create a better tomorrow, and how she defines success.

*The Girl Scouts Spotlight Series is an exclusive weekly Youth Spotlight on amazing young women who have earned their Gold Awards, the highest award that a Girl Scout can earn in the Girl Scout organization.

Name: Katherine Ball
Education: Physical Oceanography, University of Washington class of 2016
Follow: tumblr

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Katherine Ball: Seizing your youth is all about taking your passion, whatever it may be, and doing something with it. Take advantage of being in school, youth groups, scouts, and sport teams. Use the people around you to do something, many of them are willing to help you make an impact or they know someone who is. Use whatever passion you have to get better at it, to solve a small issue, or if you’re really aiming big start to change the world. It doesn’t matter what you do with it, but use that passion for something while surrounded by people who will help.

CJ: You are currently a student at the University of Washington. What are you studying, and what led you to those academic passions? What do you hope to do with your degree once you graduate?

KB: I currently study physical oceanography, basically fluid dynamics. Inspiration for studying marine debris and its behavior in the oceans stemmed from reading a book about Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle-based oceanographer, in sixth grade. While I lived in Idaho at the time, the ocean was something I loved without seeing it. My passion for the topic lead me to understanding that simply researching the issue won’t resolve it, but people can. I hope to work in citizen science to engage adults in the full scientific process. Current citizen science programs revolve around citizens collecting data without following through and getting to see how their contribution impacted the study. I aim to improve that using my passion for marine debris and oceanography.

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CJ: You recently completed an associate’s degree through the Ocean Research College Academy. What did this degree entail and what was this experience like?

KB: Completing my associate’s with the Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA) was an amazing experience. With the small running start program and an oceanography focus I was able to cover my general college requirements (Political Science/History/English) in small college classes with 40 other high school students. The small classes meant I was able to get any help I needed as well as tie something in each of the classes into the oceanography research I conducted in my science courses. Already having an interest in oceanography I used ORCA’s focus on student-designed research to conduct pioneering research in Possession Sound, a sub-basin of Puget Sound, by working with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One of the greatest opportunities ORCA gave me was the chance to present my findings at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2014 and meet and discuss my research with professional, renowned oceanographers.

CJ: How did you get involved with the Girl Scouts, and what did you love most about being a Girl Scout?

KB: I got started early at age five thanks in part to a family tradition of Girl Scouting. My mom’s side has been active in Washington Girl Scouts since my great-grandmother worked to get girls outside. Being a member gave me the chance to do so many things that pinning down one favorite is nearly impossible. That is probably my favorite thing, do things from fashion shows to fitness days to council philanthropy groups to 90 mile backpack trips. I participated in many of the things Girl Scouts offered and enjoyed every one of them.

CJ: What are the top three lessons you learned from being a Girl Scout?

KB: 1) Leadership doesn’t mean being in charge. I participated in a lot of leadership opportunities as a Girl Scout but I learned some of the biggest lessons about it by being a team member during camp and on backpacks with YAYA hikers. Having grown up backpacking with my family I had random bits of knowledge and experience to share with the newer-to-backpacking girls on the trip.

2) Being fearless is nearly impossible. I thought I was pretty fearless as a young girl doing so many crazy things but the more things I tried the more I realized it wasn’t fearlessness, it was determination to try something new.

3) Everyone is capable of anything. Not only did I see the impact I could make on people through my Gold Award I also saw myself grow by doing backpack trips I’d never dreamed off.

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CJ: For your Girl Scouts project,  Actions and Oceans: How Our Actions Today Affect the Oceans Tomorrow, you conducted pioneering research on plastic debris in Puget Sound and held events to educate and inspire others. Why did you choose this topic for your project, and what did it entail?

KB: From years of talking to people about marine debris and trying to understand the issue I started to see that a lot of people didn’t know there was an issue, which blew my mind since I had been aware of it for so long. The next point that drove home I could do something with my passion was that those people who did know there was an issue often did not realize they could do something about it on an individual scale. Therefore I decided to bring together local marine protection groups and scientists from local and regional science organizations to talk about different aspects of the issue.

To organize my event I worked with an advisor from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create the best program. Overcoming a few fears of contacting strangers with questions I set up interviews with local organizations to talk to them about their events, primarily what worked and what didn’t work about them. I learned a lot from those interviews and was able to implement some of the improvements into my own event. Based on these interviews I also asked organizations to attend my event and provide information about how attendees could get involved with the organization.

Being in charge of organizing my event gave me a lot of skills, from talking to people to time management to proposing ideas, which are continuing to prove incredibly useful on a regular basis.

CJ: What actions can we do today that will help create a better tomorrow?

KB: The problem with plastic is that the United States, and the rest of the world, has been building a ‘throw-away’ society since the 1960s. The idea of this ‘throw-away’ habitat was advertised as a positive when Tupperware became a thing! Now don’t get me wrong, plastic is an amazing material and it works great for all the things we use it for. I’m not advocating we stop using it, we just need to get better about how we handle it. A throw-away society isn’t something we can stop doing, but as a society we need to figure out how to handle our plastic waste so we can continue to use such a great resource while protecting the environment. So be smart, limit the number of small containers you get, reuse, invest in a good durability water bottle, and recycle as much as possible, at home or in the bin.

CJ: How did you keep your project organized as you were working on it? How did you balance your workload with school, extracurricular activities, etc.?

KB: Since my Gold Award was based on such a huge passion I found ways to combine my school work with my project. By attending ORCA I was given the chance to choose a topic for projects in all of my classes. Therefore, while working on my Gold Award, I researched such things as effective education for citizen science in classes.

One of the biggest things I did to keep myself organized between college deadlines, school, my project, and my research (including conference deadlines) was use giant pieces of poster board to make a calendar for the entire school year. I tend to forget to look at calendars for deadlines, a problem the size solved since it was so large.

Basically my life became distilled down to working on classes, research, and my project which even though it’s not a long list of things left me overwhelmed at times. What I allowed myself to do most often to relax was to go on hikes with my Girl Scout hiking group, the YAYA Hikers. Hiking and being outside with my friends was not only relaxing, but it let me bounce ideas off them if I was stuck on something.

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CJ: Do you have mentors? How did you go about finding them?

KB: I have a handful of mentors who have helped me in a lot of areas. For many of them I found them either by directly pursuing my passion or by telling everyone what I wanted to do and being directed to them.

CJ: To you, what does it mean to be a good leader?

KB: There is a lot to being a good leader but there is a quote by Lao Tzu that really rings true to me – “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Something I have found to be the key is having a passion and inspire others to think and change. Rather than directly telling someone the best way to do it, leading means educating and providing all the information for them to make the decision. Give them some options, but leave it to them to make the final decisions.

CJ: How do you define success?

KB: Seeing the impact of a message is a huge success but for me success is knowing I’ve spread an idea, planted a seed in someone’s head.

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

KB: I’m definitely working on using the connections I’ve made through all my projects. Once I’m finished working with someone they often tell me I’m welcome to contact them with questions about other things or for a reference and I forgot to do so, sometimes thinking they wouldn’t remember me. Lately though I’ve been working on projects at the University of Washington that involve bringing together a lot of components.  People from my Gold Award and high school are coming to be crucial. It’s mostly been a curve of learning how to write professional emails that remind people how they know me and quickly getting to the point.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KB: Don’t let hard times stop you from pursuing your passions. I guarantee you’ll have a hard time with something you’ve always been good at and I totally understand that failing something sucks. When it happens don’t be afraid to talk to people, get help, figure out how to ask for it before college when it gets even harder to find the help you need. And most of all? Just keep going, you’ll learn too much from the hard patch and it might even strengthen your resolve to pursue your passion.

Katherine Ball Qs

Images by Katherine Ball

CultureExploreTravel

Most people eventually graduate from a tourist into a traveler, and when they do, they realize that all they want to do is get under the skin of a city. At least, that’s what I want to do.

Getting under is no easy feat. When I first started traveling, I wanted to see everything. Every few days, I longed to see what the sky looked like from a different landscape, another city. Would it still look the same? Would it still feel the same? I loved the fast pace and the feeling of freedom, the idea that I never had to remain stuck in one place, that the very next day, I could be across fields and fences, through woods and over mountains, several lakes away, oceans even.

That’s all fine and dandy, but you get through to the city’s secrets as much as an elephant might be able to squeeze through a hobbit’s door. Upon reflection, I’ve come to see cities by their multi-layered personalities and identities. As I break through the layers and get to know each city like a person, I find that each new place has the epic possibility of becoming another home.

1. The Stranger

A city is a stranger when you’ve only seen it from above or through the airport windows. You’re so close, nearly touching, almost bumping into each other, but the only sorry you’ll mutter in its direction is an apology for not being able to see it, rather than for stepping on its toes (in fact, it’s utterly brilliant if you can manage to step on a city’s toes). It’s a city you haven’t been to yet, or have constantly missed, perhaps only ever experiencing through a book or a fellow traveler’s tales.

I wish I could say I’ve been to Tokyo, but I can’t, not with any sincerity. I’ve flown into Tokyo six or seven times – and then flown out on the same day, never leaving the airport. Maybe you get a flavor of Japan from browsing the airport’s duty-free shops. Even then, I’ve only seen Tokyo as much as I’ve seen a silhouette out of the corner of my eye: a stranger I’ve let pass by.

2. The Coffee Server

This is a city you only interact with long enough to fulfill some orders, a list of things you wanted to see and do. You stay only long enough to see what the city wants you to see – its tall skyscrapers, its famous monuments, maybe a glimpse of its transportation system, a cafe or two, the main square. You see what’s staring at you straight. You stay long enough to not really form a concrete opinion, and know only enough to say, “Well, it was fantastic!” or “It was nice.”

I spent only an afternoon in Warsaw during the spare time I had between traveling from Krakow to Vilnius. Warsaw – and other cities I’ve spent too short a time in –  is like a person that serves you coffee. Although indubitably rich in history, I only remember walking along the river, seeing the oldest apothecary, sending postcards from the post office in the main square, and wandering the cobblestone streets. You know they had a life’s worth of history before the moment you briefly crossed paths, but all you know of them is their name tag (your server today was Mary), their handwriting on your cup, and perhaps their smile (if they smiled).

3. The Acquaintance

You might consider a city an acquaintance when you’ve been there enough times to recognize its cityscape in magazines and posters, even when not identified. You might remember your way around parts of the downtown core, maybe one or two suburban neighbourhoods. You can take their metro system with complete ease. You know a couple of cool places off the radar of most tourists; maybe you’ve made some local friends.

Seattle is a neighbour to Vancouver (the one in British Columbia), a city I’ve been lucky to live in for the last four years. Just three hours south on the highway, I’ve made it the destination of an obligatory annual trip, just because.

Seattle – or any city you’ve been to repeatedly or spent a little more time getting to know – is like the guy in your college that you keep seeing in different classes because he’s completing the same major. I’ve been to Seattle enough times to remember my way around parts of the downtown core, to know about the cool (or gross) Bubblegum wall in Post Alley, the epic Pinball Museum in Chinatown, and the Fremont Troll permanently living under Aurora Bridge. Similarly, I’ve spent enough time around this guy-also-majoring-in-English (his name is Bob, for simplicity) to know that he only writes with blue ballpoint pens, speaks up frequently in class, occasionally replaces his glasses with contacts, and walks with a four-count rhythm.

But you’ve only said a few words to him, if any at all, and you’re not even sure he knows your name. I don’t know if Seattle knows me. Do you know I’ve walked your streets, Seattle?

(Doesn’t that sound like an Owl City song?)

4. That Friend from Third Grade

At this point, the city has started to drill a layer into you, leaving little dents and impressions. You might have been staying in the city for a couple of weeks, walking the same streets at least a hundred times, and finding several new streets every day. You have a favorite cafe that you always find yourself headed to when you can’t sleep. The city has started to become much more familiar to you now.

A city like this for me was Prague, Czech Republic. I lived in a dorm on Tržište on the west side of the Vltava river for seven weeks, reading Kafka and Kundera, studying Czech and other good things at Charles University. My friends and I crossed Charles Bridge (or Karlův Most) on a near-daily basis to get to class. I regularly got a chicken panini from this one cafe behind the school. Because I studied in Prague, I learned about the history that had happened right on its streets, about Prague Spring and the self-immolation of Jan Palach right in the middle of Wenceslas Square.

With that extra behind-the-scenes knowledge, a city feels more intimate somehow. You can look at a building and feel sorrow at the previous fires that tore it down, imagine the different hands that laid on it to put up new skeletons and new faces. You can sit inside the Elephant House and let your eyes roam over the dedicated Harry Potter quotes scribbled all over the walls, even those of the toilet stall, feeling the same inspiration J. K. Rowling got from just being in the glowing city of Edinburgh.

Cities like these, that you met like a friend in the third grade (her name was Maris, if you’re curious), start to let you in. Maris told me the major events in her past (like how her parents divorced when she was five), and the random moments too (like the time she hollered at the universe when she got to the top of a Douglas Fir, or the time she practically cackled as she drew a moustache on her sister’s face). So did Prague – she seemed unbothered when talking about the long drawn-out separation, and finally divorce, of Czechoslovakia; she said it had been rather peaceful and mutual. Prague giggled when we saw the magnificent albino peacock in the palace gardens, like a little kid gleeful at revealing its star prize, and positively skipped when we indulged in one of her black light theatre shows (Faust: Between God and the Devil, thankfully with a student discount ‘cause we’re such cheapos).

You may have eventually moved to California and lost contact with Maris, or left Prague to see what else Europe had to offer, but the memory lives on, two, five, eight years later, and if you ever went back, you’d recollect and reconnect in a heartbeat. Until then, if there is a then, what you’ll remember most about the city and that friend from the third grade are their smiles and how they made you feel.

5. The Best Friend

If this city is your best friend, you’ve been past the ‘restricted access’ sign, gone where few have ever been, would ever dare to go. You’ve gone completely underground, where no natural light exists, and found yourself crawling through the sewage system. You can hear the subway roaring past somewhere above you.

At this point, you’ve seen the deeper problems entrenched within the city. You’ve seen the buggers that start the acne on the city’s face, the viruses that make the city sweat and shiver. You’ve spent enough time not only living in the city but studying the city, reading in the parks, people-watching in cafes, movie theatres, shops, and ice rinks. You’ve been able to put a magnifying glass to the culture, scrutinize it, and not only understand it but also praise or criticize it. You’re deeply enfolded by the city, you walk the streets with greater purpose and focus. Because you have the luxury of more time here, you’re trying to unlock the doors in the endless labyrinth, seeking routes towards the Minotaur, and you’ve been retracing your steps so often there are parts of the labyrinth you know by heart.

Vancouver is my base, one of the few places in the world I can run back to, to rest my head. Whenever I return from trips, I’m instantly comforted just knowing I’m now in a place where I can find my way without getting lost. When I get tired of running away, this is the place I run to.

It’s like the best friend, the person you know inside out, the one you go to when you have news to tell or need a shoulder to cry on. Vancouver and I have made memories; like two girls staying up all night, laughing, gossiping, listening to music, we’ve grown to recognize each other’s poker face (Vancouver grinds its teeth when people tell her she’s boring), live with each other’s flaws (she’s seen me at my worst and I’ve never seen her capable of going below zero degrees Celsius – or is that actually a compliment?), celebrate each other’s high notes (I heard Vancouver clap the loudest when I walked on stage to get my university degree). Vancouver and I have private jokes. We whisper secrets in each other’s ears. What are those secrets, you may ask. Well, they’re our secrets for a reason; you shall have to make your own.

Vancouver and I have routines: the Richmond Night Market in the summer (no matter the stupid new entrance fees and the increasing prices every year), reading books on Kitsilano beach when it’s sunny, and Japadog or Sushi California when I need a pick-me-up. Like with best friends, I feel inspired by Vancouver’s unique skyline, the twinkling lights of Science World and BC Place at night, the elegant dame that is Canada Place. I feel proud of Vancouver’s accepting nature (Vancouver is so LGBTQ-friendly, it even has its own gay nightclub scene dominating Davie Street).

Like a best friend, I know that no matter where I am in the world, I can always come back to Vancouver and trust that it will be there for me, maybe slightly changed, but more or less the same. Vancouver is a city I choose, over and over again, to come back to.

6. The Family Member

At this ultimate level, you’re completely aware of the city’s limits, how it ticks and what makes it pulse. You’re acutely aware of its residents and how they make the city the city it is. Maybe you’ve joined several groups within the community, volunteering at the retro cinema, the animal shelter, the crisis call centre. Maybe you’re part of the work culture or the student culture or both.

You’ve snatched bits of reality from a multitude of people living within the city, making it breathe and heave and sigh. You’ve got your hand on its heart and when the city sneezes, it shakes you like a hungry hurricane. You’ve tapped even further into the city’s secrets, and you walk the city’s streets not like a labyrinth but like the blood vessels under your own skin, all directed towards your heart.

Cities you’ve gotten to know at this level are like family: annoying, infuriating at times, but in the end, home. The city has seen you through your teenage phase where you hated the world and felt like the world hated you, where you tested your parents’ patience, trying your hardest to push them away (this only made them pull harder to get you back).

Singapore is this city for me. When I was living there, I didn’t really appreciate it. I’d been spoiled by my years in the States and all I wanted was to return to North America. What an impatient, arrogant child I was (still am at times), but Singapore was patient with me. It taught me, shaped me, disciplined me. Even though I’d never go back to live there, I’d rarely turn down a chance to visit it again. Hah, what do you know, it’s exactly like family.

I couldn’t live according to the fast pace of Singapore. As a small country, the greatest investment is in its people and that’s why there’s such an emphasis on a stellar education. From a young age, students are told studies are the most important focus; there’s an almost military-like system to the education. I’m not sure I’d ever study in Singapore again if I could get a do-over of my life, but I’m still proud to hail from this tiny island nation.

Singapore will always live within me. Even though I am not Singaporean (I’m Malaysian), when people ask me where I’m from, I instinctively say, “Singapore,” hesitate, and then correct myself, “Uh, actually, I’m not really sure.”

But I think that says it all. I was born in Singapore and lived there for ten years of my life (that’s half my life!); that kind of time leaves a mark on you. When people stare at me and follow up, “Singapore… That’s in China, right?” I can’t help but get defensive.

No, it’s a highly-developed country blazing the path in Southeast Asia. It may be small, but it’s made up of some of the most patriotic citizens and is on the technological and financial forefronts of the world.” When Lee Kuan Yew died earlier this year, the whole country was crying, millions lining the streets to pay their respectful farewells. The whole country was in mourning for months.

I am proud to be from Singapore. And simultaneously, I have a love-hate relationship with Singapore. It was my disciplinary yet loving parent. It was my annoying little brother that constantly asked too much attention of me when all I wanted was independence. Singapore is my birthplace, a city and country I have an irrevocable bond with, which, for better or worse, through rain or shine, whether I hate it or love it, has chosen me. It’s my family.

The more I travel and think about how to put cities and new places into words, the more I personify them, thinking of them less and less as the settings for great stories and more as full-blown characters that have their own epic stories. They have identities and, like people, they get sleepy and hazy in the hot midday sun, and romantic in the midnight air. They have moments of shyness and there are times when they’re bold. And eventually, when you’ve gotten under the skin of a city, you realize that the city has gotten under your skin too.

Image: Image

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We met Ariana Austin after work one warm Washington, D.C. evening last spring. The conversation was meant to last just half an hour, but we ended up talking for over two. So when we say that Ariana is generous with her time, spirit, and energy, we have the proof to back it up. We talked about everything from why she decided to study English Lit in college, to how she manages her time as an entrepreneur and team leader. As the Founder of Art All Night, she knows how to tackle projects from start to finish and bring entire communities together. By carrying over her skills and talents from all parts of life, we are inspired by Ariana’s courage to dive right into her passions and turn them into a fruitful career.

Name: Ariana Austin
Education: B.A. English Literature, Fisk University and M.Ed, Arts in Education, Harvard University
Location: New York City
Follow: Twitter / French Thomas

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Ariana Austin: Being curious; for experiences, for people, traveling to different places, studying what you want. Honoring that openness while relatively free of responsibility.

CJ: You majored in English Literature at Fisk University. How did you determine what to study?

AA: I have loved to read and write since childhood – I just followed my passion.

CJ: You spent some time at the University of Oxford. What were you studying and how was that experience?

AA: I studied “postcolonial” literature — a contentious term for literature from formerly colonized nations. It was very intense — the most rigorous academic experience I’ve had but a first-read of some of my now favorite novels, and a nuanced look at the most difficult of topics: who has power and who does not.

CJ: What was your first job out of college?

AA: When I graduated from college, I had a press internship on the hill, worked part-time for the Oxford Study Abroad Program (that I went to as a student), and in a boutique.

CJ: You founded Art All Night. Please tell us more about the organization and what your roles as Founder and Creative Director entail.

AA: Art All Night is a nighttime arts and culture festival. I founded the festival in 2010 after having lived in Paris and experiencing the original “nuit blanche.” My work involves sketching out the big picture for the night, then securing venues (many are vacant or non-traditional art spaces), cultural partners to curate them, managing the overall artist call, and working with galleries and more established spaces to open their doors late.

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CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

AA: Depending on what two or three projects I’m working on every few months is different. These days my schedule is to work from my apartment in Brooklyn. I’m working on two projects – Draw NYC – a wonderful initiative designed to get New Yorkers drawing in public space and Art All Night. Typically: I try to keep to a regular schedule and work from 10am-6pm. In the morning, I get to action items, conceptual work, and priority meetings and calls, and in the afternoon emails. Around 4pm I stop for a tea break, it’s relaxing and a nice way to break up the day; I know I still have another 2 hours to get things done.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to run their own company do to set him or herself up for success? What’s the first step he or she should take?

AA: Start before you’re ready. Start a precursor to a business when you have that initial passion, even if you’re not sure of the exact structure. Organize around that spark and be flexible with changing course. Create something that is yours that you can grow and build and learn through. Have fun with it.

CJ: Was there ever a moment that greatly influenced or encouraged you to jump into entrepreneurship?

AA: During graduate school, I went on a trip sponsored by the Harvard Innovation Lab to NYC to meet with cultural entrepreneurs. We met with really great people: Arianna Huffington, Diane von Furstenberg, the founders of Rent the Runway, and more. I spent that week really critically thinking about starting a culture business. I hadn’t expected to do it this soon, but I knew it would happen someday. It feels good to have invested in it fully from the very beginning.

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CJ: How do you deal with and overcome tough days?

AA: With big projects, this is hard because often a lot rides on one day or one event. I try to isolate the source of the stress (is it related to getting something done, asking for something specific, variables beyond your control etc). If it can be handled, I just do it. If I need extra support, I talk to family and friends to help figure out a solution. But there is something to big projects where 48 hours or so before you have to be kind of Zen-like and let it go and be in execution mode. You work as much and as hard as humanly possible, but then there are situations where you have to let go – learning that will make a happier producer. Also, at the end of the day when I’m done, I’m done. I need those hours to go out or be home, have a glass of wine and recharge for the next day. I’m almost always refreshed and ready to go after a good nights sleep. 

CJ: What is something in your life – professional or personal – that you’re working to improve on and how are you doing that?

AA: Personally: keeping up with friends and family more consistently. 

CJ: How do you measure success?

AA: I am a very focused person so I have a couple of key goals and everything I do should feed into those goals ultimately. Success for me is getting things done at a steady pace and producing at a high quality both professional and more personal projects, that I’m happy with my work and so are my clients. Beyond that, being content and finding joy throughout the day. 

CJ: You’ve traveled quite a bit and moved for work – what is the best travel and moving advice you can share?

Take your spirit, leave your baggage. I wrote it in an article once and have since tried to follow my own advice.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

AA: Wise words from Kanye West: Steer clear of “opportunities” and focus on dreams.

Ariana Austin Qs

Image: Morgan West / A Creative D.C.

ExploreTravel

When most people think of the top “foodie cities,” New York, Nashville, or New Orleans likely come to mind. But I think there’s another city climbing its way up the culinary ladder – good old Washington, D.C.! That’s right, the city I call home has quite a few restaurants that my taste buds just can’t get enough of. Next time you’re ready for a mind-blowing meal, try one of my favorite D.C. spots.

Located in the charming, Eastern Market neighborhood, Sona Creamery & Wine Bar is the place to go for a satisfying meal or a quick gourmet snack. This restaurant is known for its wide variety of decadent cheeses (they even make their own in-house) and perfectly paired wines. I recently went here for brunch with a group of my closest friends for my 22nd birthday, and we each ordered an entrée and split the most delicious five cheese board imaginable. The cheese made me seriously consider signing up for Sona’s weeklong Cheese Tour in Ireland – yes you read that right, cheese tour in Ireland. If you find yourself here, I recommend the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes or Pork Gyro. You can’t go wrong with either.

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I just moved to D.C.’s Van Ness area, so I have been doing quite a bit of exploring. During my strolling, I came across Bread Furst Bakery. This quaint neighborhood bakery serves all kinds of pastries, breads, breakfast foods, pies, cakes, jams, preserves, and so much more. The relaxing patio out front is constantly full of families enjoying the weather, joggers taking a quick break, and dogs relaxing in the shade. Bread Furst is a must-do not only for the nice atmosphere, but also because of its Lavender Honey Tea Cakes and those perfectly soft chocolate cookies. Sometimes, you just have to thank serendipity for discovering gems like this.

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For the more adventurous eaters, here is the restaurant for you – Das Ethiopian Cuisine, nestled in the heart of Georgetown. First, a quick disclaimer: wearing stretchy pants here might be a good idea. This classy establishment serves all types of flavorful fish, meats, and vegetables customary of Ethiopian cooking. I usually go for the Das Chicken and Beef Combination Sampler because, like its name suggests, it has a little bit of everything. The staff is forever accommodating and it is obvious just how much pride they take in the restaurant, as all the white tablecloths are impeccably pressed and napkins expertly folded. Eating with your hands is expected here, which makes dining even more of an experience.

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Finally, located in the up and coming D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale is Old Engine 12 Restaurant, a new spot serving creative versions of traditional American dishes like Deviled Eggs with shrimp and squid ink or grits with heaps of extra sharp Cheddar. I first went here when my parents came to visit me and we were impressed with the neat architecture. The restaurant is actually a renovated firehouse and its integrity has been maintained with the industrial fireman poles and open garage doors. Not only was I fascinated by the unique dishware at Old Engine 12 (clear mugs make tea much cooler) but I was also happily satisfied with the homemade grilled meatballs and beet salad – it all felt like real comfort food.

Next time you want a food adventure, try one of these restaurants! I would love to know how you like it. Happy eating!

 

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*Background information: The Congressional Award is an award for young Americans (the only award given to youth by Congress), and was established in 1979 by the United States Congress. As a participant in the program, you set and meet goals in four program areas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Based on time commitments, you earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Congressional Award Medals.

I first learned about the Congressional Award in 2007. As a junior in high school, I thought that I was already over occupied with activities and volunteering. However, while I was involved in academic and extracurricular activities, I was not setting goals or measuring my achievements in ways that would help me grow and learn more about myself or my community. After learning more about the Congressional Award and realizing what new opportunities and growth I could experience from the program, I recognized that it was never too late to set goals and try new experiences.

The Congressional Award positively impacted my life from day one. From the moment I knew I could be a part of this program, I had no doubt that my life was going to change in a great way. While I have learned many lessons, there are three in particular that stand out the most. The first way the Congressional Award has played a positive role in my life is by allowing me to experience things I never would have otherwise.

For example, for my Gold Medal Exploration, I planned a road trip following the Mormon Trail and the destinations that my great-great-great-great grandfather documented in his journal as he led a wagon train to Salt Lake City, Utah. Through this journey, I learned a great deal about my family history, the difficulties my ancestors faced, and saw parts of the United States I may never have seen without the Congressional Award giving me the motivation and reason to do so.

The second way the Congressional Award has positively influenced my life is that it presented me with the chance to learn more about myself through the process of evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, setting goals, determining steps to make my goals a reality, and to improve upon my previous achievements. As I earned my medals and set new goals for each new level, I had to push myself further than I did before, and being able to self-analyze and learn what I was capable of achieving was eye-opening and critical in my self-growth.

The Congressional Award is an organized journey with the freedom to choose your own paths. It is because of the structure of the program married with the individual choice to decide what activities to be involved in that brings me to the third way my life has been positively influenced. Although participants earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals as an amazing honor for accomplishing goals and hours, for me the program was never about the material achievements, but the personal non-tangible rewards I attained along the way, such as perseverance, dedication, self-motivation, and confidence. There is no question that the Congressional Award has positively influenced me, and it is an experience that has provided endless lessons and will remain a positive force in my life.

Next week, I will be accepting the Congressional Award Gold Medal from members of Congress. I have no idea what is in store, but I’m excited to find out. I will be tweeting updates about the journey via @carpejuvenis, so be sure to follow along! It is an honor to be awarded the Congressional Award Gold Medal, and it will be a very humbling and eye-opening experience.

[The photo above is me receiving the Bronze Congressional Award Medal from Congressman Reichert.]