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Student Leaders Reflect on Their BranchOut! Journey

BranchOut! hosted its summer 2023 picnic to celebrate the end of a successful summer on Sunday, August 13, 2023, at the Cabin John Regional Park in Bethesda, Maryland with 60+ students, alumni, and parents in attendance. We want to thank the student leaders who worked very hard to make the event happen. Below are their post-event reflections.

"The BranchOut! Summer 2023 picnic was incredibly moving as I got to see how much we’ve managed to accomplish across all of BranchOut!’s programs this summer! As a rising senior, I often think about the path that led me here and how far I’ve grown thanks to BranchOut!. As a rising freshman, I remember working online with Daniel helping with technology by hosting live events and concerts, as well as our various online programming. As a sophomore, I gained new skills working with Jonathan on the operations team– skills that I’ve continued to use inside and outside of BranchOut! to anticipate upcoming concerns and resolve them. It was incredibly moving to meet Daniel and Jonathan in person for the first time at the BranchOut! summer picnic event- I owe much of the skills that I’ve developed to them, and it was great catching up with them and hearing about how they’re faring in college. BranchOut! Is genuinely a program that lasts beyond the time you participate in it!" - Brian Zhou, Senior, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

"The annual BranchOut! Summer 2023 picnic was an extraordinary experience. We gathered together as one community to celebrate our accomplishments and picked up momentum to “branch out” even more in the near future. Additionally, from listening to Ms. Poy and Commissioner Choi speak, the picnic instilled in me the values of what it means to help others and be part of something more than myself. I am forever grateful for the opportunity that BranchOut! has given me to grow as an individual. Starting with Innovator to career panel and now to a lead of Explorer, I grew stronger and stronger as a leader. At Explorer, over the past couple of years, we have expanded our impact to not just local students in Virginia or teens in the United States. This Summer, we reached out to international students from Argentina to Indonesia to France and are publishing a magazine to highlight their unique perspectives. Still, none of this would be possible without the dedication from the Explorer mentors, and the BranchOut! picnic allowed us to celebrate our accomplishments. As I graduate high school and move on to college and wherever else life takes me, I hope to also bring with me my experience at BranchOut! I am excited for what's to come!" - David Cao, Senior, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

"It was incredibly motivating to listen to my fellow BranchOut! student leaders and mentors talk about their respective programs/contributions to our organization. Each program, although unique and serving a different purpose, all contributes to the same overarching goal–to further STEM education and cross-cultural understanding among all communities. Not only did I enjoy listening to our student mentors, but I also found Ms. Poy and Commissioner Choi to be inspirational. The idea of us starting a “ripple effect,” and spreading our love for education is central to our overall goal and truly makes us proud of all that we have done. Knowing that we have the ability to inspire many students beyond our own reach will always be a source of happiness and pride in our journey as a BranchOut! mentor. My own work in Career Panels over the past few years has been an experience that has shaped the way that I think. Learning about different industries and professions in our world today is extremely important, as we face new challenges and obstacles every year. Oftentimes, there are a great number of misconceptions that are assigned to STEM industries, and BranchOut’s goal in these career panels is to eliminate these misconceptions and inform our audience about the many potential careers that can originate from just one field. I look forward to working with BranchOut! in the future, as we continue to expand upon our original goals and make new strides towards a better world." - Kavya Kuttuva, Junior, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

"It warmed my heart to witness the successful conclusion of BranchOut!’s 2023 summer programs. The picnic event, which provided the opportunity for our mentors across different programs to meet in person, marked yet another year of their fabulous achievements and positive impacts on our community. Through their passionate speeches, I learned more about their remarkable work, dedication, and personal achievements during this summer, and I could not help but feel proud and grateful for all of them. At last year’s picnic, I was in their exact situation: delighted to make more contributions and push my limits, yet slightly bewildered as to what the future path would look like. Fortunately, I was allowed to co-direct a brand new program this year: the BranchOut! X MC Steam Summer Camp, which aims to promote younger students’ interest in STEM. Throughout this program, I was thrilled to see numerous personal improvements, but more importantly, to see the dedication and achievements my fellow teammates demonstrated. Essentially, I’m extremely grateful for this platform that offers numerous opportunities for High School students like me to seek self-improvement as a person, teammate, and contributor to society. I look forward to working with BranchOut! in the future, and I cannot wait to witness the wonderful achievements we have yet to make next year." - Richard Zhu, Junior, Richard Montgomery High School."

"My BranchOut! picnic experience this year was amazing! This was my first time going to the annual picnic, and I had a great time hanging out with other BranchOut! members. I also loved hearing Ms. Poy and Commissioner Choi speak about ways to represent the AAPI community and how to become leaders in our communities.

It was awesome to see the incredible work that the BranchOut! groups have done this summer. From developing apps to tutoring in local communities, all our different BranchOut! groups have made a huge impact in our own communities by spreading STEM education and cross-cultural understanding. This summer, I was a part of the MD Steam Camp, which engaged younger students, between 3rd and 8th grade, in interactive STEAM activities with a mission to inspire a love for learning. Not only did our students learn a lot in this program, but our mentors also grew as well. Through this program, I was able to become a more effective communicator and compassionate teacher. I am grateful to be a part of this program, and I am excited to see it grow next summer." - David Liu, Junior, Episcopal High School

"Being able to attend the annual BranchOut! Picnic was an exciting experience, as always! It was great to see members and leaders of many different programs gathering together in an environment outside of their designated program locations. I was able to meet with many members of the BranchOut! Program for the first time in person, rather than greeting each other through a camera on a Zoom meeting. The BranchOut! Picnic is always a great way for me to remember how much I have learned from the many different people I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my years of being a part of the BranchOut! Program. I remember how at the start of participating in the programs offered, I was a shy and hesitant person. However, as time flew by, I realized that many things I wasn’t willing to do before, I was doing without a second thought. The skills I’ve taken away from my numerous experiences as a part of BranchOut! are truly things that will stick with me for the rest of my academic and professional life. I am looking forward to all the things I can learn from my final year with BranchOut!, and I am sincerely looking forward to seeing how much BranchOut! will be able to help other people in the same way it did for me." - Joshua Soong, Senior, River Hill High School

"After a long and busy summer at BranchOut!, it was nice to be able to hang out with the rest of the team and hear about all the other programs. I participated on the weekends in our MC STEAM Camp, where I had a ton of fun aiding the kids in various challenges to test their problem-solving skills. It was rewarding to see not only how the students came up with different ideas through working together, but also how our mentors grew to engage them more. Listening to the other teams talk about their own programs made me realize just how impactful the work we do is and how our programs encompass so much in education and cultural understanding. As a rising senior who has been with BranchOut! for a few years now, I am grateful for all that insight that it has given me. It is sad to know that I will be leaving next year, but given my experience with my peers, I know they will continue to improve all that we do at BranchOut!." - Evan Wang, Senior, Montgomery Blair High School

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