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Dublin High School Senior Joshua Engel Charts an Alternative Path for College Acceptance

May 19, 2016

DUBLIN, CA–If you are fortunate enough to be the parent/guardian of a current high school student, what do you talk about? Is the discussion about their aspirations, their goals or their friends? Chances are they include all three subjects. But there is an equal chance that the conversation surrounds the stress that they are experiencing. It is the stress that is attached to academic achievement, overall student excellence and just simply fitting in.


These are not new paradigms and they have existed for decades. However, in 2016, many families feel a much heightened level of pressure for their children to succeed – whether in the classroom or even the playing field. Numerous school districts in California and across the nation are taking a much closer look at Student Wellness and how this is ultimately affecting all of our children. While very few would dispute the importance of this subject, the reality of school district budgetary shortfalls have had a direct impact upon the ability to deliver these types of services to its clients. The Dublin Unified School District is not different. While the necessity for this type of support at Dublin High School was clearly identified some time ago, the absence of funding for a separate/private facility has prevented this program from moving forward.

But what is truly fueling this added level of stress? There are too many factors to list. However, an anecdotal survey among students would easily yield the response of the need to enroll/test/pass Advanced Placement courses. With the level of competition to gain admission into institutions of higher learning across the country, the stakes have risen relative to what a high school transcript “should” look like. Some of this is driven by students that are feeling this pressure. Additionally, parents are often driving the need for their children to optimize their high school years in the pursuit of gaining any possible advantage.

It is truly a societal phenomenon. It’s one that simply cannot be measured in terms of “right vs. wrong.” History has demonstrated that society at least wants each succeeding generation to pursue a higher ground that its predecessors. But despite its great promise, our society is beginning to experience a range of collateral damage. The range is obvious, but we will not explore it here.

Instead, our point is to focus on Dublin High School Senior Joshua Engel. Joshua matriculated up from Frederiksen Elementary and Wells Middle School. Mr. Engel has lived what most would describe as a fantastic childhood. He was an active member of the Boy Scouts, found golf as his athletic passion and played the trumpet with the WMS Roadrunner Marching Band. But, life was about to change when he transitioned into DHS. The academic rigor increased. College options would need to be explored. And, many of his peers would accept the added challenge of enrolling in AP classes.


Dublin High School Class of 2016 College Map

But, Joshua had a plan that was not necessarily influenced by his family or counselor. We sat down to touch upon many topics – one of which was the management of stress. When we asked about his strategies, he responded that he successfully dealt with it in many different ways. Some of these mechanisms included: taking a hike up the hill near his home, stopping into Starbucks, walking his dog or just quickly driving over to the mall. In order to gain a fuller picture of this student’s experience, sat down with Joshua Engel. It’s a fascinating profile and one that elucidates that there are multiple pathways to achieving success beyond high school. As a soon-to-be graduating Senior, please share some of your strongest memories related to your years as a student at Dublin High School.

Joshua Engel: “I remember all of the Homecoming events pretty vividly. Some of the greatest memories from a classroom setting took place in Biotech. I recall that my lab partner and I had to methodically go through the lab procedures and directions. We used so much equipment in that class like micropipettes, thermocycler, incubators, assortments of test tubes, gel electrophoresis equipment, and buffers of all kinds. It was a very fun class, but it was also very difficult like a college lab course. I recall the final projects in drama, where I had to impersonate a British Gentleman for the first semester and then a crooked CEO for the second semester. I would argue that drama had the biggest impact on my public speaking skills, since that class requires performances for a large audience when you have to act goofy. A project I remember rather vividly was from last year when I had to “teach” the class about the symbolism in the book, Catcher in the Rye.” After the 10th grade, your focus probably became much sharper as it related to your academic path following graduation. Please articulate your thought process as it came to identifying colleges, your major and geography.

Engel: “From early on I was interested in pursuing areas in science. My interest was really sparked in 6th grade when I had Mr. Brad Vereen as my teacher. I was amazed by the wonders of science that were performed in front of my very eyes. One great example was when he created propane bubbles and ignited them. What interested me most was not the amazing spectacle, but it was the science behind the wonder. Once I arrived into 10th grade I knew that I would have to hone my focus down into the realm of science and math in order to pursue it later in college. I decided to discontinue the golf team and some of the other clubs due to the rigor of that year. I understood that college considered 10th and 11th grade as the “meat and potatoes” when selecting students. I started to look into colleges with a science background towards the conclusion of the year, and this is when I discovered UC Santa Cruz, which I would tour later that summer.” Promoting up through Wells Middle School, you had other interests outside of school. Yet, you made the conscious decision to scale back on some of these activities with each passing year. These days, most every high school student experiences stress. What mechanisms have you personally employed to deal with stress?

Engel: “I briefly explained why I elected not to continue my outside interests and extracurricular activities in the last section, but I will reiterate in more detail. 10th grade was really the time when “the rubber meets the road” for me. I decided that I would have better chances if I emphasized my focus on school to get into the colleges I wanted. Looking back on my decision and hindsight, I don’t believe that I would have been as successful in school if I decided to continue all my activities. The degree of homework that I had in the sophomore and junior years was almost like the equivalent of a “double-shift” of school. If I would have missed this “double-shift,” then perhaps I would not have been as successful in my job as a student. I was sad that I had to sacrifice the things that I had loved for many years in return for good grades, but I wouldn’t have the same chances at my applications for college as I do now.” One of the major elements of emphasis at DHS in the foreseeable future is a productive support structure for student wellness. The responses from a recent student survey pointed to the pressures that many of your peers are feeling as it relates to academic rigor. Yet, you did not take a single Advanced Placement course. Share your philosophy as to why you thought that this would be an effective strategy – without limiting your college choices.

Engel: “I believe that there is stress even on the regular class playing field, not only in the world of AP. The key is doing what you are comfortable with and understanding my limits. I knew that I would not have been able to handle the extra workload with the AP classes: I was already working on homework for six hours a night in my regular classes. Anymore work and I believe that it would jeopardize my health and motivation towards school. Another critical component to success is learning how to balance. Balance has helped me recuperate in the marathon of High School. You cannot sprint a whole marathon, but you can pace yourself so you can cross the finish line. Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life, but what matters is how you can cope with it. Personally, I have found physical activities such as biking, walking, or going to the gym very useful not only because of the great health benefits, but because it stimulates endorphins and helps you work with twice the efficiency. I like to get out of the house, because I consider that environment almost like a breeding ground for stress. I like to think about it as leaving the stress behind and coming back it later when you are rejuvenated. Hobbies are another great thing to relieve the daily stressors of school. I am a pinball enthusiast, so I enjoy leaving the desk for a moment or two to enjoy a game, then, come back to the work later when my mind is cleared.”

St. Mary's College of California - Campus

St. Mary’s College of California You are one of the fortunate ones in terms of earning multiple college options. Describe how you ultimate made your choice to attend Saint Mary’s College. 

Engel: “Saint Mary’s appeared to be the best overall fit overall to me personally. One of the factors which highly impacted my decision was the aspect of community and the Lasallian Principles. When I go to school, I like a sense of belonging. I find it relieving to know that there are others out there who can relate to you in your particular situation. The student to faculty ratio appealed to me much too. I don’t want to be regarded as some number by a large college. One of the factors that have made me so successful in my high school career was collaboration with my teachers. If we were not cohesive with each other, then I might have not been where I am today. I am thankful collaboration and I want it to continue. At Saint Mary’s, I think that I would have an easier time working out the kinks than I would at a larger UC or at a state school. Communication was another large factor when I considered SMC. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard back about my acceptance from Saint Mary’s which took a fraction of the time than the UC and state schools. They have been very accommodating and warm when we have gone through the whole application process and other preparations for going to college. Fast communication makes me feel that I am valued in the eyes of the school, so as a result I value them.”

So, in the face of mounting evidence that our global student population is assuming an immense level of stress to achieve – from whatever source – we have this simple story. One that celebrates the attitude of a student that chose to forge his own path and on his own terms. It also highlights a journey that will simply continue onto a college campus in Moraga. would like to applaud the candor displayed by Mr. Engel and we wish him well as he pursues a degree in the biological sciences.

  1. Sara Vukojevic permalink
    May 19, 2016 9:55 am

    A quick note on AP classes-you don’t have to take them for admissions purposes (as shown by this young gentleman), however, most colleges that accept AP units will use them during registration times. This means that people with the most units will go first, and people with the least will go last. If you come into university with 0 units, you will be dead last in your class every single time. When you’re a second year, it’s likely you will have a similar registration time to freshman with lots of AP credits. You’ll be waitlisting all of your classes and you will fail to fill any GE requirements, making it extremely difficult to graduate in 4 years out of a more rigorous university. The system has been changed in order to reward those who took college-level classes in high school, which is why I will probably be graduating in 3 years and a quarter. Good luck Joshua Engel, I’m sure you’ll do great, but to anyone thinking of following this method, take this into account! -a DHS grad and current UCSD student

    • A Bloom permalink
      May 19, 2016 10:39 am

      I did not attend St Marys, but I did attend a smaller, private university and the availability of classes was not an issue. I was confused when my friends would say they could not get in to a freshman English class. At my university, if you were required to take a class, then you had a seat to take it. I imagine that St Marys is similar.

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