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Focused on the Future

Photo Courtesy of E. Kindl

Last April, senior Kyle Ockerlund opened his email. Already, something not a whole lot of teenagers do nowadays. We don’t bother checking our emails because we have more important things on our mind, and don’t even think about checking it. Or, perhaps because we sometimes believe that none of our hundreds of emails could even be remotely important, so it’s not even worth checking.

But that day, for Ockerlund, who knew how important one email could be.

It was an email from the Illinois Technology Foundation, congratulating him for winning the Fifty for the Future award. It was sent at about two in the morning.

Every year, the ITF chooses 50 college students and 10 high school students – the best and brightest in Illinois. The idea behind the award is to recognize students who potentially could do extraordinary things in the future, based on the accomplishments they already have made.

Ockerlund’s computers teacher, Michelle Zietlow nominated him, and sure enough, he won the award.

He was above ecstatic. So honored that – out of the hundreds of Illinois high school students that were nominated – he was one of the 10 who received such a prestigious award.

He confidently believes it was an award he deserved with what he has accomplished, even the things he has accomplished after the fact.

Ockerlund founded Huntley High School’s Experimental Science Society near the end of his freshman year, and it is a club that focuses mainly on psychology and particle physics. The club is currently working on building a particle accelerator. If granted permission to put it into action, HHS will be the only high school in the world with a facility such as this, according to Ockerlund. It is an open-house organization, and welcomes any new ideas.

He had also helped HHS when they were testing out a new bell system in the 2014-2015 school year, and students gave negative feedback because of the new, annoying high-pitched bell. He had ran studies, and proved that the new bell system was statistically detrimental to one’s concentration. The bell system was then changed back to its previous, easy-on-the-ears pitch.

Ockerlund has written two books on programming, and made them available for purchase on Amazon.

In addition to all this, he has also developed a network that can play Tic-Tac-Toe by itself, a routing software called ITSIR, and built a Z80 processor to implement into Minecraft.

He created and runs the Program Initiative website, where he keeps all of his projects.

Growing up, Ockerlund has always had a passionate draw towards computers and the technology behind it. He began to become very interested in programming graphing calculators, and after this, it launched him into his other interests of computing, statistics, and psychology.

“I believe that those three [computing, statistics, and psychology] are rarely combined, yet offer a clean trifecta from which amazing progress can be made,” Ockerlund said. “Psychology is a context in which statistics can truly shine and be applied, and computer science offers the tools to implement that combination into our daily lives.”

Aside from his interest in computing and statistics, Ockerlund implements the content he has obtained in psychology and uses it in his sleeping schedule. He sleeps in two, three-hour long bursts, and through the science behind this, he is able to be well-rested without having to sleep long. As he continued to modify his sleep schedule, it opened a whole new world of free time.

He had taken AP Psychology before, and as he uses what he learned in this course in real life situations, he also does so with the other many AP classes he has taken. If we’re talking numbers, he has taken a total of 10 plus AP classes, including the three he is currently taking.

The rigorous, but beneficial, classes he decided to take has contributed to the immense amount of work ethic and self-motivation he has for the projects he has completed, is working on, and dreams to do one day. With the variety of classes he chose, he is able to get a bigger picture of how everything connects.

By taking those classes, it had transformed him into a well-rounded, versatile, and innovative student. It taught him optimization, prioritization, time management, and how to work hard.

Along with his rewarding studies, he has been taking two years of data science, which is his own independent study.

“Essentially, I made my own curriculum, got it approved by Mr. Rowe, and am now teaching myself on a pass/fail basis,” he said. “I have Mrs. Zietlow as my supervisor who makes sure I’m [taking it seriously] through the year.”

All the things that he has done and is inspired to do comes from his natural curiosity and a yearn for a personal challenge. He would not be able to do any of this without his passionate drive.

“I walked into high school and wanted to go and do awesome things.”

And he did just that.

With all of the achievements he has accomplished and the education he has received, he aspires to Michigan Technological University and major in statistics with a minor in computer scientist. Ockerlund dreams to be a data scientist, and he will do anything to make sure that happens.

I because it’s practical, it’s rough-and-ready, and you can do so many powerful things with it on an immense scale. And it’s really a beautiful thing. Everybody has data, and I can work with that data.”

What makes Ockerlund stand apart from other kids at Huntley High School is his ability to bend the school system how he wants it to, so his high school experience would be exactly what he wants.

“Don’t be afraid to make your education your own,” Ockerlund said. “This school has a lot of opportunities, but a lot of times you have to go and make your own.”

The determination and hard work it took to do this had rewarded him with the ITF’s Fifty for the Future title, though that was not his reason for doing all this. Ockerlund is passionate about what he is interested in, and to pursue that is the only thing that matters.

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Emily Kindl, Author

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