Creating functional chairs out of cardboard for an engineering class is one of Brenda Salazar’s most vivid memories as a student at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.
For weeks, Salazar and her classmates attempted to design and build cardboard chairs that could comfortably support a grown adult.
It was a project that required an abundance of trial and error, and though not every group succeeded, Salazar’s did.
She said that what she remembers most about the weeks-long project is the smell of the large pile of old, used cardboard that filled the classroom.
“The smell was so overwhelming; I still remember it well,” Salazar said.
The project itself was characteristic of the ARS curriculum that encourages creativity and challenges students academically.
ARS’ commitment to advance academics, Salazar said, is what prepared her for student life at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a degree in computer science. And it has served as the foundation that helped paved the way to her current job in Boston, where she is software engineer at Google Photos.
Salazar said she knew she was in for something truly different at ARS when she arrived for her first day of sixth grade.
“The first time I stepped onto the ARS campus, I was very confused and surprised by how happy everyone was and by the number of reporters outside,” she said. “I started school at ARS the first year it opened, so it was an exciting day for the city.”
She said that the smiles she encountered on that first day, however, weren’t indicative of the rigorous classwork ahead for Salazar at ARS.
“Being an ARS student is a lot of work,” Salazar said. “It gets difficult and frustrating but if you keep going, it pays off. I promise.”
Salazar said that her determination to lead a less difficult life than that her immigrant mother endured as a single parent kept her focus on graduating high school on time and gaining new experiences. She was salutatorian of the first-ever ARS graduating cohort.
But it’s not all work, Salazar said. There were plenty of good times with friends who shared the same challenges and goals.
“Having 52 sisters for seven years,” she said, is what made her ARS experience the most fulfilling.
At 24 years old, Salazar has plenty to look forward to. The lessons she learned at ARS have served her well in life so far, she said. Luckily, her biggest challenge these days is getting used to Boston winters.