Reaching Higher, Beating the Odds

Devin Heilman
Coeur d’Alene Press

Two North Idaho PTECH students attend national White House Summit

Jimmy Soderberg and Angus Meredith are reaching new heights in their academic careers, and first lady Michelle Obama is helping them get there.

Soderberg, 18, of Sagle; and Meredith, 18, of Post Falls, are two of 130 students from across the country who were chosen to attend the 2015 Beating the Odds Summit, which took place all day Thursday in the White House in Washington, D.C.

The summit, which was part of the first lady’s “Reach Higher” initiative, focused on tools and strategies for college-bound students to overcome obstacles to education and highlighted ways to “beat the odds” in the face of challenges. It included a panel that was moderated by E! News host Terrence Jenkins and featured U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, musical artist Wale, rising Brown University senior Manuel Contreras and the first lady herself.

“It was amazing to actually meet her after hearing and seeing so much about her in the news,” Soderberg said in an email to The Press. “Being face to face with someone who holds such an important role was spectacular … (the first lady) emphasized how important perseverance and hard work are in both our education and in the real world. She also answered our questions and gave insights into college life. Arne Duncan also had great advice and anecdotes that he shared with us. ”

“It was cool to hear from her and the rest of the panel,” Meredith said. “They talked about really pursuing college and not taking it for granted, how to go about pursuing college and in general how to take on life.”

Meredith and Soderberg are both Idaho PTECH (Pathways to Technology Early College High School) students of the Idaho Distance Education Academy (I-DEA).

They were nominated to attend the summit by PTECH and InsideTrack, an organization dedicated to student success.

Soderberg is in the technology pathway and plans to pursue a career in information technology, specifically networking/infrastructure in the workplace. He’ll attend North Idaho College next year and has already earned two scholarships.

“Everything about the (D.C.) trip was spectacular and it was one of the biggest highlights of my life so far,” Soderberg said. “The most exciting part of the trip was when Obama arrived unannounced into the East Room of the White House. Meeting him was an awesome experience.”

Meredith is in the aerospace pathway and completed two post-secondary aerospace certificates while still in high school. He will also attend NIC after receiving an NIC Foundation Scholarship. He said the most educational part of the summit for him was meeting new people and hearing about their plans for the future.

“I found that most of the students there were from families who hadn’t gone to college and they were the first, which is what Reach Higher is about,” Meredith said. “The experience was very cool. I enjoyed being able to go and see the White House, be with students and hear from the first lady.”

Students at the Beat the Odds Summit participated in workshops, discussion panels, networked, compared their future educational goals and talked about their similarities and differences, but they still managed to get out and see the nation’s capital during their trip.

“Visiting the monuments, the White House and the Capitol building were unbelievable experiences,” Soderberg said. “All my life I have learned about Washington, D.C., but actually being here has brought history to life. Instead of just learning about politics and history, I feel like I am actually experiencing it. This entire trip has really brought American history to life.”

Article originally published in Coeur d’Alene Press, July 2015

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