Student Spotlight: How Students Gain Transferable Skills Through Exploring Their Interests

Owen Spotlight

Research by the McKinsey Global Institute found that there are four broad skill categories that will determine success for a future employee in any job sector. In a world of quickly changing technology, it’s no surprise that one of McKinsey’s categories focuses on the practical application of digital skills. However, the other three categories are all what we would consider to be “soft skills” — cognitive, interpersonal, and self-leadership.

Looking for more digital and tech skills, Owen S., a junior at Greens Farms Academy, enrolled in GOA’s Cybersecurity course this summer after having a great experience in Geometry with GOA. But through these courses and connections with his peers and teachers, Owen also found a discovery of self that he wasn’t anticipating.

In our conversation at the end of the summer, Owen frequently returned to three main takeaways from his two courses with GOA and credits the experiences in helping him “find ways to make myself a better person and student.”

Exploring Interests

Owen has many interests, from soccer to music, staying active, making new friends, focusing on school, and “having a good time in life.” This wide range was reflected when he made decisions on what course to take during Summer 2022. “Do I want to do, maybe, physical sciences? Do I want to do computer science? Do I want to do math?” he remembered.

Summer courses at GOA, which are open to high school students at both member and non-member schools, are a great way for students to explore academically. Owen used the Cybersecurity course “to gauge [his] interest in computer-related science” — and he found his answer. “I would jump up off the couch like ‘Oh my goodness!’ when I learned something that I’d always been wondering,” Owen said during a Zoom chat with me. “And that happened, like, a lot.”

Owen’s time in cybersecurity has created a pathway for further computer-science learning. “I am now signed up for two different computer science courses for my junior year that I probably wouldn’t have taken before I knew how much I absolutely loved the subject,” Owen said. “Maybe it’s a course [topic] I want to take in college, and that’s why I choose what college I go to.”

Owen also reflected on how the material in Cybersecurity improved his understanding of the world and how it can continue to change his trajectory in life. “It’s something that I might be able to find a job in or, at least, be more knowledgeable in and apply to real life and in the future. That was also a really cool part of the subject for me.”

GOA Cours­es Set You Up for Success

Owen S., GOA Stu­dent, Greens Farms Academy

Connecting to Students Around the World

Because of his time in the GOA Cybersecurity course, Owen is now connected with students who are interested in and “geeking out for cybersecurity no matter where we are across the world.”

Owen connected with students live through video chats, but he also worked asynchronously, collaborating and sharing ideas using discussion boards. Those back-and-forth digital conversations allowed Owen to see how different he and his classmates were, but also how similar, giving him “those ah-ha moments. Like, ‘Wow, I never thought about it that way, but it totally relates to my situation.’ So those were moments I lived for in this course.”

Also through these discussions, Owen found a deep connection with the other students in the class. “When I had all of these different perspectives at my disposal to ask, I was actually able to ask about them and go more in-depth with these people. And so I was definitely creating a lot of relationships,” he said. “I’m meeting all these people who I really like because they like the same things I like, but they’re in places where I would never find them.”

In addition, Owen also has the transferable skill of collaborating globally that he can take to future learning and even the job market. Through his courses and participating in the Catalyst Exhibition, Owen said he worked with students “from all around the world, not just my country, not even my continent. We had to schedule around time zones.” Bonus!

Build­ing Glob­al Connections

Owen S., GOA Stu­dent, Greens Farms Academy

Learning Transferable Skills

While Owen has made cross-continent connections with peers and has learned practical skills in a world with increased cybersecurity concerns, such as knowing how to defend himself against video game hackers, he has also learned far more about himself.

Owen said he often has to remind himself to ask for help when he needs it, especially in school, so that he can have a full understanding of the concept or task at hand. When he was pushed to ask for help in Geometry, “I noticed that it actually not only increased my grade, but it lowered my stress levels. I was like, ‘Hmmm … that might be connected, maybe that’s why.’”

Later, after falling behind in his Cybersecurity work due to an unplanned trip, he found himself in the familiar feeling of not being comfortable asking for help. His teacher, Carmen Taylor from Park Tudor School in Indiana, reached out, asking how she could support him. “You know what? It worked last time in my GOA course, I’m going to say what my situation is and ask for help,” he remembered. Ms. Taylor supported Owen with a coursework plan, helping him focus on specific core assignments, but that support far surpassed the coursework schedule. “Just saying that she understood my situation, it helped me, for sure,” he said. “Because I was like ‘Ok, I’m not in trouble. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve got this.’ And so I had a little bit of an epiphany. Like, wow, maybe I should open up to more people and ask for help, ask for support. And I think that that’s probably going to be the absolute number one thing that I take from a GOA course and use for the rest of my life.”

This is the area Owen focuses on most when asked about what advice he’d give to a student signed up for a GOA course. “Use the resources that GOA gives you, because they give you so many of them. And, especially, the resources that are in the form of people — your teachers and even your peers — because all of these people actually want to help you. And not only do they want to help you, but the teachers are really good at it, too,” he advised. “So ask for the help, take the support. Even if it’s an asynchronous course like mine was, try to open up a little bit and ask for that help if you are ever struggling.”

He also wants to make sure to pay that support forward. “Just like you want support from people,” Owen said, “you want to be able to try to support people that might need help from you — whether that’s replying on a discussion post or whether that’s on a Zoom giving your honest feedback.”

A little advice we can all relate to.

Sup­port from Teachers

Owen S., GOA Stu­dent, Greens Farms Academy

Owen is quick to thank his teachers for his success in his GOA courses. “The teachers in my Geometry course were amazing,” he said. “They reached out to me, they helped me, they supported me when I needed it, and they were very very very very helpful to me. And then, after [Cybersecurity], I can now say that that’s actually not the case. It’s not that the Geometry teachers are amazing, it’s that the GOA teachers are amazing.”

For more, see:

This post is part of our Student Spotlight series, where we feature stories from students who take GOA courses. Are you a current or former GOA student who would like to be interviewed for a Student Spotlight article? Or, are you an educator who has a recommendation for a student for us to feature? Email us at with the subject title “Student Spotlight.”

GOA serves students, teachers, and leaders and is comprised of member schools from around the world, including independent, international, charter, and public schools. Learn more about Becoming a Member. Our professional learning opportunities are open to any educator or school team. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. To stay up to date on GOA learning opportunities, sign up for our newsletter.

Be a part of what's next
Connect with us

Contact Us