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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest students achieve national distinction

Sep 04, 2022 09:51AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Canyons School District administrators say it’s all about student achievement and success and helping them to be college and career ready.

Hillcrest High students have taken that to heart, especially the past few months.

Recent graduate Zoe Liu was one of 161 students nationwide and one of four in Utah, who were announced as U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Liu, who receives a presidential medallion, was selected based on her academic accomplishments, leadership, community service and application.

As a junior at Hillcrest, she finished second nationally in Lincoln-Douglas debate, then elected to help her teammates her senior year as well as concentrate on theater where she teamed up with Amelia Miller to win first place in a classical scene at region.

She and her friends Anna Hsu and Anya Tiwari also competed her junior year in the Utah High School Entrepreneur Challenge, taking second place for their project, “Pocket Garden,” which simplifies plant purchases, connects customers with local nurseries and motivates plant care for novice gardeners.

Liu also recently was named a National Merit Scholar for her academic record, scores from the college entrance exams and leadership in school and community activities.

Liu isn’t the only one excelling at the national level.

Five students who competed at the national Future Business Leaders of America conference this summer in Chicago brought home gold to Hillcrest. Senior Campbell Hone and recent graduate Anika Balakrishnan teamed up to win the hospitality and event management event while juniors Thomas Lu, Vishwa Murugappan and Dheeraj Vislawath won the coding and programming contest.

The hospitality and event management event consists of both an object test and an interactive case study that is given with a scenario in the hospitality management and event planning industry.

For the coding and programming contest, the Hillcrest teens created a travel app, “Traveler,” of at least 25 places to visit in each of the 1,400 cities across the U.S.—all while coordinating it through different time zones as Vislawath was visiting family in India.

Their design, which included maps, a distance calculator from differing locations, filters of food, entertainment, cultural, historic and natural sites as well as indications if its family-friendly, pet-friendly and the ADA accommodations, also includes links to websites, prices and the busyness of the site or restaurant. Users can bookmark the attractions for easy review and have the ability to have a help contact or peruse through frequently asked question tab for assistance.

It took the students close to two months to create their final product and that exceeded the rubric they were given to create the app.

“FBLA only requires 50 places to visit for your own state, but we decided to make this one that anyone in the U.S. could use,” Lu said. “We ended up having coverage for the entire U.S. We decided to collaborate on the FBLA coding and programming event to improve our own knowledge of computer programming, and it turned out to be very successful.”

Vislawath said this year’s topic of tourism “allowed us to be more creative with how we design our application and really brainstorm a unique way to put ourselves out there differently from other teams by implementing more unique features that could fit better with someone who wants to travel. So, we ended up writing quite a lot of code.”

At the beginning, the group brainstormed how to create the app, then again after finishing second at state, how to improve it.

“We had these sessions, where we just like come up with ideas, and if it was implementable, we would do it. After the first week or so, it become clear what we were doing and what we were aiming for at the end. So, it got easier after that,” Murugappan said. “We knew how to do web scraping, but not for this scale (for the app). I think one of the biggest skills we had to learn wasn’t computers, but how to manage our group. We had to learn on the fly while we were working on this project how to figure out answers for our needs and how to pace ourselves for this project—as well as work with some different problems like Dheeraj being all the way in India and learning to communicate during our window of time over Google Chat.”

Vislawath returned from India two days before nationals, so the team was able to polish their seven-minute speech they practiced virtually. At nationals, they gave their presentation twice—and met the time limit at six minutes 59 seconds both times.

At the preliminary round, the judges didn’t ask many questions, Vislawath said.

“They asked a really simple question, then it was like, ‘OK, we don’t have any other questions,’ which can either mean, they like didn't like our presentation, or they absolutely understood everything,” he said. “So, we were on the fence about that. When the announcement came out (who made the cut) for finals, and we found our names, we knew everything went well.”

The Huskies advanced from 68 teams nationwide to the top 15 for finals. They continued to polish the presentation before finals, where once again, they felt they gave a solid presentation. 

While waiting for the results at the awards night, they used their app to visit sights in Chicago such as The Bean, Navy Pier, and Lincoln Park Zoo and decided they will keep improving their app even though the competition was over.

On stage at the awards, Vislawath remembers standing by his teammates and watching them as the placement of teams were announced.

“Thomas was hitting Vishwa out of excitement or something on stage every time they called out a team,” Vislawath said. “They called fourth place and then third place went to someone. Then I remember explicitly it was just us and the Texas team. I'm, like, there's no way we got first place. Then they called Texas, and Thomas was shaking visually crazily—and I'm just standing there watching.”

Lu, however, doesn’t remember that.

“Everyone said I was shaking everyone. I don't even remember that. I remember after announcing second place, there was a light and people all saying congratulations,” he said.

As they were given crystals, Hillcrest senior Sofia Moeinvaziri, who is a state FBLA officer, snapped photos.

“We were all very excited, we cheered for them, we were all celebrating their win because it's a big deal, especially to get first,” she said. “A lot of kids from Utah place, but not many first place and Hillcrest had two teams do that.”

Moeinvaziri also was recognized nationally when she participated in the Pro-Con Challenge in the National Speech and Debate Tournament this summer. 

She decided to compete virtually as she already had plans to attend FBLA nationals. So to compete, Moeinvaziri needed to submit a 10-minute video of both a pro side and a negative viewpoint for the competition. The judges would review the videos to determine the winners.

While she knew she had to register, she didn’t realize that was the same date she needed for her submission. Her younger sister, Sara, also competed in the same contest.

“I misread the due date. It was due May 25 and I found out May 25, at 9 a.m., that it was due that day,” Moeinvaziri recalled. “So, we had one day to do everything which was a bit stressful.”

That include deciding a topic, researching, writing the speeches and recording them to submit. She said there wasn’t enough time to do several takes.

“I just had enough time to do my first take and send that in. My topic was whether the U.S. should adopt a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan,” she said, adding that it was a challenge to find evidence for both sides of the topic last-minute. “For my affirmative. I talked about Taiwanese independence; how will we want Taiwan to be independent from China if we had a trade agreement? Then the next point I talked about was how it would economically benefit Taiwan and the U.S. For my negative, I talked about it would be war with China if the US interfered with Taiwan.”

Several weeks later, after receiving an email that she qualified for the top six, Moeinvaziri watched the livestream of the awards ceremony, alone in her bedroom.

“I was really surprised about that I moved on to finals,” she said, adding she watched apart from her family as she incorrectly thought she had COVID-19 at the time. “When it came time for awards, I was honestly expecting to get like six through fourth, but then we got the top three and I was pretty surprised. Ms. (Emily) Kunz (debate coach) messaged me congratulations as she also was watching the awards at the same time. I’m pretty happy with second pla