TJ Grad Returns as Active TJ Parent
As a parent, it’s fulfilling to see your children share your interests and passions — for me, it’s been particularly exciting to see my teenage daughter share my interest in the sciences, especially biotechnology and genetics, as well as follow in my academic footsteps as a TJ student. My first year back at TJ in over 20 years has given me many opportunities to reconnect with old classmates and reminisce about TJ’s early days, as well as to marvel at the physical changes the school has undergone and the diverse academic and artistic talents and accomplishments of the student population.
— Deb Shih Carstoiu, Class of 1992
Q: How did your TJ experience shape your academic and career path?
A: While science reigns supreme at TJ, I am constantly amazed at the number of artistic and creatively talented students here. During my time at TJ, I was as interested in literature and journalism as I was in biotechnology and biology — and professionally, I’ve been lucky to find a career path that lets me blend my love and understanding of science with my passion for communications, marketing, and writing. Today, I’m working in science communications — essentially taking science and complicated subjects and simplifying and explaining them so the benefits of complex technologies can be better understood, which helps pave the way for their acceptance. Science communications has been a great blend of two interests that, on the surface, seem miles apart. I’m excited to see that today’s freshmen participate in IBET, a course that combines biology, technology, and English because tomorrow’s scientists need to understand how to talk about their work in a way that audiences can understand.
Q: How has TJ changed since you were a student?
A: When you come up to the school on Braddock Road, it seems just like the old TJ — there’s still that metal sculpture of the man pulling the doors open (and I recall one senior class prank of putting a toilet seat under him). But once you come around the corner, it’s a completely different place — there’s the dome, the columns, a completely different façade, and inside, the lockers are gone, there are common areas, 3D printers as far as the eye can see, and even an oceanography lab. Despite the extensive facelift, TJ, at its core, still focuses on the sciences, and on integrity, respect, and giving students unprecedented opportunities.
Q: Did you ever think that you’d be a TJ parent?
A: I never consciously thought about becoming a TJ parent — I believe TJ is a unique place and a great fit for some students, but it’s not for everybody. My daughter followed my academic footsteps and was in the same AAP program that I was in at Langston Hughes Middle School, and then went on to TJ. I admit, the TJ admissions process has become a lot harder and more competitive than it was in my time! I would have been equally happy for her to have attended our base high school, but I’m truly excited that she’s sharing the TJ legacy because it’s a great fit for her: It lets her study the things she’s really interested in, and it challenges her every day. A few weeks ago, she came home and was excited to tell us about her first dissection — a sheep heart — which she did in Biology Society, an eighth period club, and it reminded me of what an exciting and groundbreaking place TJ was in those first early years and how many unique things we had access to and could experience at the school. My daughter is very much like me — a student who appreciates both science and the arts — and I’m excited she’s at a school where she can dissect organs and learn graphic design all in the same day!
Q: What has being a TJ parent been like?
A: Before becoming a TJ parent, I wasn’t very involved — the school was always just on the wrong side of the Beltway for a visit, and having two children and a job with international responsibility didn’t leave me with a lot of time. Knowing that I was going to be the parent of a student at a commuter school was the impetus I needed to get involved with the Alumni Association (TJAA) and other school organizations. Since my comeback at the school’s Alumni Career Fair last spring, I’ve become a TJAA Board Co-Chair, a member of TJ’s Partnership Fund, a class of 2019 parent liaison, and a cheer mom — and while it’s been a little overwhelming at times juggling all these groups and their activities, it’s been very rewarding volunteering and being an active part of the TJ community. Being a cheer mom gave me an excuse to attend all the home JV football games and work the concession stand during the Homecoming Game (two things I never did as a TJ student). Supporting the Partnership Fund has given me a chance to participate in school events, including the recent Techstravaganza, where I was proud of the way that TJ students encouraged younger students’ interest in STEM activities. Serving as “class mom” has given me a great opportunity to meet other parents and families across all the classes. Being on the TJAA has helped me reconnect with old classmates and be part of a community with a unique shared experience that is 10,000+ strong. As a current TJ parent, I see lots of opportunities to tap into the extensive and diverse alumni community. Alumni could volunteer at school events, serve as mentors or scientific advisors to students, or just share their academic and career experiences. One of my goals in becoming active at the school is to help “bridge the gap” by bringing alumni and parents closer together to support the school— we can definitely be creative in finding unique ways to get alumni engaged with the school and its students!