Emma Zhao ’19, already passionate about words and stories, found a way to make her voice heard – figuratively and literally - by debuting Perkiomen School’s first podcast, Cookies and Cupolas, in February 2018.
“I’ve been listening to podcasts with my sister since I was in middle school,” says Zhao. “I had some trouble falling asleep so podcasts were a way to settle a restless mind. I started exploring more about podcasts and discovered the vivid personalities behind them and fell in love with that world. I jumped at the chance to make my own.”
Working with both the Communications and Development Offices as an after-school activity in the winter of 2017-2018, Zhao was given the opportunity to work on a specific project and fleshed out the idea for a Perkiomen School-focused podcast, where she would be the creator, producer, and engineer. “It is hard work,” says Zhao. “I do all the editing and the production, but I don’t regret it because I enjoy the process.”
The first episode featured an interview with Head of the Upper School Jonathan Moser ’97. Zhao was strategic about her interview choices. “The way I select who to interview depends first on the order - I thought carefully about how to lay it out to maximize the audience,” says Zhao. “Mr. Moser was first because he is a recognized faculty member and an alumnus.” Student profiles were next. “I want someone relatively vocal within their peer group so they are comfortable talking, but aren’t always in in the spotlight,” shares Zhao. “I ask questions to go beyond their perceived image, and then go deeper into what makes each person unique. My hopes to break down those barriers that often arise in high school.”
Zhao’s work with the Global Diversity Council (GDC) is also helping to break down barriers. The GDC strives to provide Perkiomen School students with a greater understanding of their peers and their backgrounds, promote self-advocacy and leadership, and allow all perspectives to be heard and appreciated. As part of this diversity work, Zhao has organized Social Justice Week activities, created Perkiomen's first Cultural Festival, and served as a facilitator at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Diversity Conference.
In the fall of 2018, Zhao became part of Perkiomen School's Medical Institute, but at first wasn’t sure that it aligned with her social science interests. “I’m very interested in science as a field,” says Zhao, “but I want to make an impact socially.” With this goal in mind and through the support of Medical Institute Director, Melinda Irven, Zhao discovered the Medical Institute would be a good way to incorporate social science research into her curriculum for her senior year. She hoped to intern at a psychological research institute so she can use her strong analytical skills in order to support real-life diversity and get involved with politics or public health.
Zhao appreciates that Perkiomen gives students the opportunity to define their education – whether through coursework or extra-curricular activities. “Perkiomen is genuinely open to supporting creative new ideas,” she says, “There’s a real feeling of connection and support between the students and faculty.”
To hear Emma's podcast, search Cookies and Cupolas or go to https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/cookies-and-cupolas/id1347573755 .
Emma Zhao ’19 was named the Salutatorian of Perkiomen School's Class of 2019. In addition to her leadership roles mentioned above, Emma played softball and graduated with Medical Distinction following her research work into the impact that different types of lighting has on students' learning. Emma was a Cum Laude Society scholar, with a challenging schedule of five AP courses. Taking her next steps, Emma will attend the University of California, Berkeley.
Perkiomen is genuinely open to supporting creative new ideas. There's a real feeling of connection and support between students and faculty. Emma Zhao '19