Sara Kohler isn’t your average student at Waseca School District.

Kohler will be a junior in the fall of 2019 at the Waseca Junior Senior High School, but as a sophomore. she accomplished many feats in the science world. She attended nationals for Business Professionals of America, placed second at the South Dakota State University Program Design Competition and received an Aspirations in Computing Certificate of Distinction from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, (NCWIT) — all in one school year.

BPA journey

Kohler placed first at BPA regionals in Rochester in the fundamentals of web design competition, which moved her to State competition where she placed seventh.

“I did not know what to do,” Kohler said. “It was very exciting and it felt really surreal just finding out (she was going to nationals) and then going through my school day like normal, and I knew I would be going to nationals. It was really exciting.”

She was able to compete, for the first time, at the national level in Anaheim, California. She traveled to the BPA competition with her family, because she was the only student from Waseca attending. This meant WJSHS BPA Advisor Sandy Schumacher wasn’t there to guide Kohler.

She was able to find her testing room in the conference center, where she took a multiple choice written test and then was given an outline to program a website. Along with the test and website, she took an additional Microsoft Certification test that she did not pass, but she plans to study for it to hopefully take again next year.

“I got 34th out of 60,” Kohler said. “I was not expecting that, I thought I’d do much worse because it was my first time going to nationals, so I wasn’t expecting anything.”

It was no surprise to her BPA coach.

“She’s always surprised at what she can do, but I’m never surprised at what she can do because she’s academically strong and computer science is her thing,” Schumacher said.

At the national competition, Kohler was able to connect and network with students from all over the country, trading BPA pins with new friends.

The vision for BPA listed on the website is to be an innovator in career and technical education, providing members with opportunities for growth through education, competition, community service and personal development. Kohler joined BPA as a freshman going to state both years for fundamentals of web design, but she also competes in public speaking to try and better herself.

“I try to do a public speaking one also just to practice, but I usually don’t do too well because I mainly focus on web design, but it’s an extra thing to practice and learn,” Kohler said.

Though she has done well in computer science, she wants to pursue a career as a scientist studying biochemistry, but she sees the value in knowing how to code and program.

Kohler has been a member of Science Olympiad and Programming Club since she was in the seventh grade, which is unusual as these are high school clubs.

“I was a little hesitant when she was a seventh grader and asked to join but she has proven time and again she can put the time in and really work hard,” WJSHS teacher and Programming Club advisor Joshua Abraham said.

Design competition

These clubs have allowed her to travel to various competitions to compete in computer science, including the South Dakota State University offering.

At the SDSU design competition, students are given 23 weeks to work on and design a software application based on logical thinking, problem solving and high school math and science knowledge. This year, the task was to create a slider puzzle.

“I was excited,” Kohler said. “I really enjoy those competitions and it was also really stressful … I was working on the project for two months and sitting with the project in all my free time and working like eight hours a day. I was able to get a good game.”

At the competition, she was able to present it to the first panel of judges made up of computer science professors and computer science professionals. She did well enough to move on to the second panel of judges before finding out she placed second overall.

“She’s a dedicated gal,” Abraham said.

NCWIT distinction award

The final award Kohler received in her sophomore year was the

“Well I wasn’t really expecting to get anything. I usually go in not expecting anything, but I was really excited, really happy,” Kohler said of the distinction.

This award is for computing-related achievements and interests. She was selected for her computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history and plans for post-secondary education that she listed in an application.

“… she applied for it and was able to get a certificate of distinction, which is kind of a big deal for her, because it opens up opportunities for job shadowing and things like that,” Abraham said. “I hope she will apply for it again next year and now that she has the distinction, it should help her with more awards that will help her get money for college.”

In addition to the accomplishments, Kohler is a very involved student at her school. At WJSHS, she is a member of Science Olympiad, Programming Club, which she also helps teach, BPA, math team and concert and symphonic band. She’d be hard pressed to give any of it up.

“I don’t know if I could choose a favorite, I really like Programming Club and Science Olympiad and BPA,” Kohler said.

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey.

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