Jambo! Mambo. Mambo poa. Kilimanjaro

Kili summit

Kilimanjaro Summit Pose

There are 3 peaks to Kilimanjaro: Shira, Mwenzi and Uhuru, with Uhuru being the highest and most accessible peak –it’s also the youngest and last active part of this mountain. Kilimanjaro is massive with Uhuru standing at 5895m/19,341 ft and during this time of year, with little snow to take on, means it’s just a super long, potentially arduous hike. In my opinion, it’s one of the most approachable mountains if you ever want to take on a summit at this height.



More than just achieving new heights, this mountain intrigued me for it’s 5 different climate zones. From the jungle to the alpine desert, you are greeted with contrasting landscapes, each with their unique elements. Hours of hiking each day may seem daunting, but the guides make it fun and our fellow climbers kept things interesting. I absolutely fell in love with the upper mountain and could have kept hiking for days.

It was actually a treat to have a guide and a team of porters invested in giving us the best chance of summiting. We didn’t rush, we went at the pace that all of us could keep together. Sometimes it felt ridiculously slow, but then, I would remind myself, “what’s the hurry?” I loved the hiking, I loved the guides, I enjoyed the comradery and I knew the porters would have camp set up for us when we arrived.  There wasn’t anywhere in the world I wanted to be other than at that very place, doing what I was doing; therefore, why rush it?


My backpack on it’s way up to camp before I arrive. Jo-el, Luke’s designated porter for his camera equipment in the foreground.

Our porters were strong and fast, quick with everything and always smiling. I learned a small bit of Swahili while hiking (basic greetings, numbers, phrases, and some common words) and every time the porter with my pack would pass I would say ‘asante sana’ (thank you in Swahili) with a cheerful nod. He would smile and breeze on past and I would watch as my pack made it’s way out of sight in a matter of moments.

Some days the hiking was harder than others, but overall completely achievable and thoroughly enjoyable. It didn’t really matter because at the end of each hike, there was camp to look forward to. At every camp, upon arrival we would find our tents fully assembled, mess tent complete with table, chairs, hot water and your choice of tea, coffee or cocoa; and the bathroom available to us. I was shocked to see the elaborate offerings made for us each day. For example, we had a hot lunch at the Lava Tower (4600m) waiting

Yummy meal

A sample of a meal at camp, yummy!

for us, mess tent and toilet all setup. This was our first major altitude sampling and the greeting was a welcome break.

Breakfast, lunches and dinners were always hot. Soups, chicken, eggs, toast, porridge, sausages, vegetables and fruits, including a watermelon late in the trip. We had peanut butter, margarine and other accompaniments that we couldn’t believe were hauled up the mountain. I was very thankful for all of it! At some point on the way up, my appetite was insatiable. I was already packing leftovers for snacks along the hike but in the middle of the night I started craving food. I started packing leftovers from dinner so I could eat something later. My metabolism was on overdrive!

mountain first look

Above the clouds, our first look at the mountain.

Rest Stop

Rest stop, our guides: Dastan, Simon, Good-Love, and Mr. Raymond

With the varying altitudes and differing experiences handling the altitude changes, we took things slow at camp. Most of us were exhausted by 8pm. Luke, on the other hand having recently summited Denali, would run off and do some night photography, see his blog for his experience on the mountain. Sleep did not come easily for me on the mountain.  For some reason, despite having used the restroom before retiring to my tent, I would lay down and find myself immediately feeling like I needed to get up and go again. Frustrated with this late night phenomenon, I could do nothing but wait it out for as long as I could then suck it up and venture out (usually around midnight).

Sunset on Kili

Sunset on Kilimanjaro

The higher up we got, the colder the nights but unlike in the jungle we were slowly creeping above the clouds and now the skies were peeking out and clearing up. The night sky was impressive with the lights of Moshi far below. I could clearly see the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and even in the early morning/late night Orion. The moon was not quite upside down but more on that spectrum, which reminded me that together with the Southern Cross, we were clearly below the equator. I looked for other constellations, but found it hard to pick things out. I figured these midnight outings gave me an excuse to look up and enjoy the night sky which made the inconvenience more bearable.



Kili Night Sky

Night Sky at camp, photo by Luke Allen Humphrey

Summit morning was a long day with a mild-ish hike to base camp and a super early start (midnight) for the summit. While I had layered my socks, I found my toes still froze. That and my water bladder froze and my extra water bottle leaked out. Together with frozen fingers I realized I still have not mastered the art of mountain warmth.

Stella Point

Stella Point

Luke had gone up ahead of our group and was taking photos and our group nearer Stella Point had some gaps. Thus, I made my way up to Stella Point on my own and had a picture taken. I moved quickly to Uhuru, counting my steps as I went, pausing every 100 feet. When I arrived, I was completely overcome with emotion and could feel my eyes welling with tears.

I made it. My first big mountain. A long time, really big dream of mine that I made happen, with some luck and support from Luke.

Now, I may have made the summit but I was severely dehydrated and did not linger, knowing I needed to get down and rehydrate quickly. Of course, our guides were prepared for this and had juice boxes waiting for us on the way up and at Stella Point–a peak being just 20 minutes from Uhuru, which can feel like an eternity if you are having any altitude problems. A juice box was not going to be enough to help me by that point and for the first time that entire trip, I started to feel off.


Everyone on the summit.

By the time we got back to camp, I had a headache that developed into something mind splitting. I’ve never experienced anything like this and wanted to sleep, but we needed to tear down camp and hike out that afternoon. Also for the first time, we were on a strict time schedule so resting was cut short and we moved out as soon as we could.


Flower – Helichrysu​m cymosum

Back in June I had hurt my knee on a long run and though I was able to hike most things, up was fine, coming down could be a challenge. It seemed if the terrain was not overly impactful on the knee and not longer than a couple hours, I would be fine. But, after that point, if the knee was aggravated, my ability to go downhill deteriorated fast.

The summit descent took a toll on my knee. I knew I needed to get down quickly so I went quickly, which put a lot of stress on the knee for a long distance. Luke had to carry me for a few stretches to give it some rest but still make progress down. When the group had assembled we made the decision to hike further out to get as far down the mountain on this day and not have as long the next. Luke had to carry me at points on this descent as well. I was in bad shape. After some time, and with a lot of leaning on hiking poles, I figured out a way to hobble out on my own. My whole body was wrecked after, but then we were heading out on safari where I would be sitting for days so I figured I could give my knee some rest then.

Chris and sara

Chris and Sara get engaged at the summit

Another memorable moment of this part of my trip was the post summit celebration. First, I should remark that 2 members in our party got engaged at the summit. We had a celebratory moment at the final camp, thanks to some forethought and planning from our guide, Raymond, and Chris (the proposer). Spirits were high as we made our final camp, but I was feeling sad. The adventure was coming to a close and I didn’t want it to end.

After breakfast the next morning, our crew did a celebration dance and swept us into their circle where we moved and embraced the final moments we would all be sharing together. It could have been the summit high, the altitude oxygen deprivation swings or just the intense bonding that occurred throughout the trip; but during this engagement, I was once again moved to the point of tears. I would have tried to hide it but my hands were clasped with someone else’s as we


Our crew celebrating our summit, singing to us.

were directed enthusiastically around to a joyous beat. Tears escaped my eyes and rolled down my face as I tried hard to contain the emotion and not start hugging every single porter, cook, waiter, guide and hand. It was a moment that I found myself in love with everything and everyone around me. My love for this mountain, the experience, the people, this celebration, was overwhelming. I had never had such intense feelings like this from an adventure before and I knew I would miss it all once it ended. There aren’t enough words for me to express how grateful I was for everything.

happy ending

The happy ending, our certificate of completion.

This was definitely worth the experience. I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to it, either. 14 years ago, the experience would have been a bit different since the commercialization of the mountain hadn’t quite come into it’s own just then, but I am sure I would have enjoyed that experience, too. Climb Kili, the guiding company we used, made this journey personal and intimate without even trying. I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for us and I can hardly believe the crew will go back in 4 days and do it all again and again until the end of peak season. I’m impressed they can make each summit push a unique and personal one despite the number of people they will meet on the journey and never see again. I, however, hope this will not be my last meeting with some of them.

Next up, Safari time!

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Africa – A Three Part Adventure, Brief Intro



14 years ago a friend of mine invited me to climb Kilimanjaro and although I was intrigued by the mountain I was not prepared for the undertaking. For some years now, I have been looking for an opportunity to get there and do this mountain. This year, my opportunity arrived. I had always imagined I would include South Africa for the obvious rock climbing destination, but I’m actually ok with the omission. This trip was more than I had hoped to get out of a mountain adventure. I was able to summit my first big mountain, see wild animals in the famous Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater, tour Maasi and local villages, and sample life of an African family. Each part of the trip had unique elements to it that I’m breaking it up into 3 distinct write ups. It will be easier to digest and I can include tips for anyone interested in taking on a similar journey.

This was a trip of a lifetime and I am very thankful for the opportunity.

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Lost Horizons 5.14b (8c), first female ascent

Lost Horizons, it's about to get real...

Lost Horizons, it’s gettin’ real in the whole foods parking lot…

Little Si, World Wall I, is one of the most impressive cliffs I am fortunate to have exist just 32 miles outside of Seattle, Washington. Lost Horizons is one of maybe two climbs that can top out onto one of Little Si’s false summits. On this route, I could just barely reach the ground lowering on an 80m, 9.2mm, super stretchy rope with a 120cm extended sling at the chains. I would recommend just rethreading half way down the route, which I had to do on the send since I had to climb past my long sling at the top to clean my gear. The entire route is punchy. There are good rests and decent holds throughout, but the cruxes hit you hard and build on top of each other. The climb itself starts on Psycho-Wussy 5.11b (6c+) into Psychosomatic 5.12d (7c) then into Flat Liner 5.13c (8a+) and instead of finishing right to complete Flat Liner, Lost trends left and continues to the top of the wall. For clarification, you do the line in a single push and from Flat Liner through the Lost Horizons crux, there is no resting. It is about a 20-something sequence of sustained and powerful moves.

Dr. Evil 5.14a Little Si, Washington

Dr. Evil 5.14a
Little Si, Washington

Two summers ago, I sent Dr. Evil 5.14a (8b+) and its extension 5.14b (8c) at this same wall. However, last summer, climbing partners were thin, my job was becoming more and more stressful and time consuming and while I had tried Lost two summers ago, falling 7 moves shy of exiting the crux, I was unable to get back on it until this summer. This year, I was blessed with a number of psyched and determined people who were eager to climb first thing in the morning. With reliability in numbers and my determination to not let my ever changing role at work consume my mental health, I settled into life in Seattle and adopted the early morning routine once again—committed to trying and hoping to send Lost Horizons before summer’s end.


Breakfast Club 2014 Zak, Daniil, Audrey, Luke, Glen

Breakfast Club 2014
Zak, Daniil, Audrey, Luke, Glen

The early morning routine, if you don’t already know this about me, is sport climbing ‘alpine style’ starting at the crack of dawn. We call ourselves the Breakfast Club or the Morning Crew and though the group has dwindled down over the years to only a few remaining, it was exciting to see a resurgence in numbers. The morning group has been gathering and climbing at this wall and Exit 38 since as early as 2005. We come from all around the city, meet and carpool to the cliff sometimes in the dark so we can get the most time on the wall before having to rush back to the city for work. While there has been an ebb and flow of the morning group, there has generally been a core set, primarily Microsoftees, that have endured and includes myself. These early morning sessions allow us to get in some good climbs with cooler temps and no crowds. We get in a full day at work and for those with families, get to enjoy dinner at home with their spouse and kids. In the summer, the sun hits the wall as early as 8:30 and if it’s a hot day, can become impossible to climb on the wall by 9:30, which is perfect for us. We can easily be off the wall and in the office by 10:30/11am. Engineering teams typically have a later start to the day and this schedule ~2x during the week doesn’t interfere with the flow of corporate life.

Breakfast Club 2012

Breakfast Club 2012 Glen, Mike, Audrey, Daniil

Breakfast club 2009

Breakfast club 2009 Greg, Daniil, Greg, Nathan, Glen, Audrey

Breakfast Club

Morning Crew 2007 Audrey, Daniil, Greg

Psychosomatic crux

Psychosomatic crux

For me, I always had difficulty leaving work once I was there. Our engineering team has been a distributed group of people from Shanghai, New Zealand, Portland, Las Vegas (myself) with my role interfacing with customers and partners and other internal colleagues all around the globe. Spending time in Seattle had the upside of getting important face-time with the core engineering team headquartered there, but with a distributed team and all of the time zones to consider, it was sometimes impossible to manage my calendar. I could have meetings 24 hours a day if I let it happen. The stress of making these important meetings and keep certain days open for these early morning sessions has been overwhelming at times. I would have to sacrifice climbing days to tend to these meetings, especially when they started being in-person, on-site labs. All this distraction meant to me was to get clear on my climbing goals and not waste any time.

Lost Horizons Crux

Lost Horizons Crux
That’s a Lorelli sports bra under there, enough said. :)

Weather in Seattle, while hot and humid, had still been agreeable for the early morning sessions, less one week of torrential rains that set me back just after having my first high point on the route (2 moves shy of exiting the crux!). Temps in the morning after the rains were in the low 50s (12C) and my fingers actually numbed out while climbing. Despite some humidity, the rock was dry and after a day in the gym to stretch out, too slick conditions the day before, this day turned out to be perfect sending conditions. Now, 3 days on, the question was whether my fingers could handle the route and would my body perform that day.

Lost Horizons

Cruxing in the Crux

With all of the work stress and struggling through yet another injury that has taken me out from climbing most of the past year, I could not have predicted a send day. I knew it all came down to my mental space because I already knew the movements and I could tell I had been falling in the crux because I was not fully committing to those moves. I could sense there was underlying resistance and despite the “1 hang” I just knew there was something I needed to do to put myself into another state of mind and push myself through that mental barrier. I knew I could do the route, and at this point, it was just a matter of time, but I didn’t want to wait for the ‘perfect’ send, I wanted to send this now!

Holy cruxy clip, batman

Holy cruxy clip, batman

Lost Horizons

Barely making the big move.

The day prior to the send, on that route, everything climbed ‘off.’ I was cm shy of holds, moving too quickly through sequences, forcing movements, trying hard but not really in the flow of the climb. It became clear that the route was not going to come together that day. My head was obviously not in it. The next day, committed to a different experience of the route, I scrounged up a partner and took the 20 minute detour to pick him up, which meant I had to wake up even earlier than I usually do and on a Sunday, when most people want to be sleeping in. Fortunately, my climbing partner, Zak, is in his last week as an intern at Microsoft and hearing that my boyfriend was willing to take photos, enthusiastically agreed to join us. I was relieved. His psyche was infectious and I trusted him on the belay because he knew the intricacies of this route having belayed me on it a few times prior. That coupled with my Matt Darey tunes, the first time I’d done that this summer, evaporated whatever was clouding my mental state and I went up the route enjoying every move, flowing through the cruxes and bearing down committing to the sequences even barely snagging the ‘finishing crux hold’ to clinch the send.

Lost Horizons

Transitioning into the upper headwall

Finally, a rest! Only one more bolt then anchors....

Finally, a rest! Only one more bolt then anchors….

Lost Horizons

Still some moves up here…

It's been a fun jouney. Now, I can't wait to get some fitness and do New World Order. :)

It’s been a fun journey. Now, I can’t wait to get some fitness and do New World Order. :)

Victory Cone

Victory Cone Photo by Zak Bainazarov

This has been a challenging climbing year, climbing with an injury, not wanting to take more time off from climbing but unsure how much to push myself and how far and for how long. My confidence has been hit or miss, my body has been like a train wreck sometimes not letting me sleep because of pain, but I have had the best support from my climbing ‘teams’ and my team of professionals that have helped me manage the pain, work through the injury and climb at ridiculous times of days just to fit it into my finicky schedule.

Coming back to fitness has been a long road, it’s never been fun, but I have learned a lot about myself, my ability, and best of all, I’ve been able to mix things up for myself and keep climbing feeling fresh. These days when I go to Si, I look at the wall differently. I look for the obscure, less climbed or climbs I’ve overlooked. I am having fun and appreciate all who have chosen to include me or just participate with me and share in these experiences. I especially appreciate Luke taking these pictures (real-time send footage, nothing posed) that I am now fortunate to share with you.

Enjoying a night in the city.

Enjoying a night in the city.

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Kentucky students visit Seattle, year 2

 LCHS AP CS students visit Seattle, WA
TEALS Lee County High School AP CS Class from Beattyville, Ky visit Seattle, WA

 On Tuesday April 29, 2014, 7 Lee County High School students from Beattyville, KY joined over 1,000 Puget Sound high school students at the Microsoft corporate headquarters in Redmond, WA for what could be the largest high school coding event… ever! These students represent the impact of the Microsoft sponsored TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program in the region. LCHS is one of 4 schools being taught remotely this year, but was the only non-Puget Sound school in attendance for the event.

I can Give...

A visit with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sparks some thought around what each student can give to their community, today.

visiting facebook

Visiting Facebook

Their trip to Seattle included visits with Facebook and Google, which provided a venue for these students to learn more about the varied and exciting college and career paths in computer science. There were presentations, demos, 1:1 and group activities, which included building a turtle box and a flappy bird adaptation. They went head to head with other students for a chance to win an XBOX One.

A common sentiment from what they learned on this trip.

TEALS at Google

LCHS TEALS AP class visits Google

“Computer Science is not just programming, it’s much more.”

Among the exciting computer science related activities they were able to experience, there was also time to visit some popular Seattle sites such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pike Place Market, the gum wall and the Freemont Troll. When asked what they liked best about the trip:

“The food! There was so much of it and it was delicious.”

Akhtar Badshah

Akhtar Badshah, Sr. Director Microsoft Community Affairs

Akhtar Badshah, Sr Director Microsoft Community Affairs met with Justin Austin, Senior at Lee County High School at the Microsoft event. Akhtar wanted to personally congratulate Justin on his success with the TEALS AP class and his acceptance to University of Pennsylvania next fall. Justin recently spoke out about his personal experience and impact with TEALS to Senator McConnell during the Senator’s visit to LCHS this spring.

Justin Touch Develop

Justin participating in the Touch Develop part of the Microsoft application developer day hosted on the main Microsoft campus and open to Puget Sound TEALS participants

“This program allows students with an interest in technology to learn the content, connect with current experts in the industry, and pursue their dreams…thank you to everyone who has played a part in bringing this program to our school.”

“I encourage any student with even a remote interest in computing to take one of these classes.”

Justin wants to study artificial intelligence or cryptography. He thanks TEALS volunteer and AP CS teacher for LCHS, Dan Goldin, Data Scientist at TripleLift for his help with his college applications.

TEALS is a grassroots program that recruits, trains, mentors and places high-tech professionals into high school computer science classes in a team teaching model with in-service teachers. Kevin Wang, founder of TEALS, is a former high school computer science teacher and software engineer at Microsoft. Kevin received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley and his graduate degree in education from Harvard.

Audrey Sniezek climbing

Audrey Sniezek climbing in the Red River Gorge, photo by Daniil Magdalen

TEALS found a place in Lee County High School thanks to a current Microsoft employee and TEALS volunteer who enjoys spending time rock climbing in the region. As a professional rock climber, she has travelled all over the globe to climb but considers the Red River Gorge some of the best sandstone climbing in the world.

TEALS was responsible for $10,200 in employee matching donations to Lee County High School in 2012-2013. Microsoft matches employee volunteer time with $17 per hour up to $15k a year. Lee County High School used that money to send the TEALS remote learning pilot, Introduction to Computer Science, students to Seattle for a job shadow and Microsoft visit. This year’s trip was similarly funded for the remote teaching pilot of AP Computer Science A.

LCHS TEA:S Intro to CS

LCHS TEALS pilot Intro to CS visit Seattle 2013

LCHS now offers both Introduction to Computer Science and AP Computer Science A. 6 new Kentucky High Schools will be offering one of these classes in the next school year. Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) is in talks for how to offer this curriculum in every High School in Kentucky State.

Visit: www.tealsk12.org to learn more.

All photos, unless otherwise stated, copyright Audrey Sniezek. To view more photos go here.

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Senator McConnell visits Lee County High School, part II

LCHS Senator McConnell

LCHS TEALS CS students get a photo opportunity with Senator Mitch McConnell during his visit to the school to learn more about TEALS in the region.

When I learned the Senator would be coming to LCHS to visit this April, I made every attempt to be sure I would be there. When he came to Redmond, WA for his initial “how did Microsoft find Lee County” visit, I was on the teleconference sitting in the classroom with the students. This time I was glad to see he wanted to visit the students in person. What I didn’t understand was that a lot of preparation and thought was going to have to go into this from the Microsoft side. Also, because I would be an MS representative on the ground there, it made sense to have me as the key liaison between the school and Microsoft.

Superintendent speaking

Superintendent, Jim Evans, gives the introduction and opening speech.

While I wanted the Senator to have the classroom experience to observe what I have described in part 1 of this post, it was clear that with the number of attendees, we would not be able to fit everyone in the room. Therefore, we moved the event to the auditorium and created a bit of a program for him. The Superintendent would speak, then I would represent TEALS and we would share our student’s stories  along with a short hands-on demo and include a parent voice.

Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek
Program Manager, Microsoft Corporation, professional rock climber and Volunteer TEALS speaks out about LCHS, local partnerships and TEALS expansion in the region.

The students and parent chosen were perfect. Personally, I felt I fumbled my part and was disappointed in that, but I know the student and parent presentations more than made up for it. He wasn’t there to listen to Microsoft’s blah blah blah about TEALS. He heard it last year, though I did want to share how we are expanding and speak out about the call to action. But, I did think it was good for him to hear how Lee County is progressing, to hear why I’m involved and so passionate about it’s success here and for the expansion of TEALS in the region. I wanted to give him some context to let him know that I understand the importance and impact beyond the stats and Microsoft agenda.

Kevin LCHS students

Dr. Kevin Wilson
Data Scientist, Knewton and TEALS volunteer
A casual conversation with some students from the TEALS CS class at LCHS while waiting for the Senator to arrive.

2 of the Intro to CS alums from last year’s class were in attendance and I was able to call them out and share their current story and impact the class had on them. Our Senior from

Justin speech

A Senior at LCHS, Justin volunteers his story with TEALS for the Senator

the AP class, Justin, who is attending UPenn spoke next. He’s generally a quiet person, but he spoke out just fine for this occasion. He wasn’t able to take the Intro class last year, but that didn’t stop him from teaching himself Python at the suggestion of the TEALs teacher that year. This year, he was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to take the AP course and stands out as our top student, poised to do well on the AP exam on the 6th of May.

LaShonda SpeaksThe second student to speak was LaShonda. She signed up for Intro to CS because it was a Microsoft course and she thought she would be learning Microsoft Word and such. Despite this confusion, she decided to stay in the class and give it a try. She remarked how important it was to be in attendance and fully present because she would find herself getting behind otherwise. This she comments, was a habit she had to adjust in order to do well in the class. Part of her speech included a demonstration of one of her projects, one in which she said she was the most proud: Ping Pong.

LaShanda demo

Another Senior, LaShonda volunteered to demo one of her CS projects for the Senator.

She invited the Senator up to the computer with her and did a wonderful job describing what her project did. She even had a part for the Senator where he would change the velocity of the ball and see the change. Her presentation was flawless. He was amused and grinning ear to ear the entire time. When she was finished, the Senator asked her if she thought she would use this (what she learned in the Intro class) after High School and LaShonda remarked, she wasn’t sure. To his curiousity, perhaps, Pong may not be the most representative of what computer science is about but it definitely is the easiest and simplest way to learn the concepts and set yourself on that path. If only there was more time to explain this to him…

Marian speech

Marian graciously volunteers her time to share her story with TEALS and its impact on her son, who is in AP CS this year and took Intro to CS last year with TEALS.

Finally, Marian Ross, Dakota’s mom (Dakota took Intro last year and is in AP this year) and Aunt to LaShonda, spoke. During rehearsal earlier that day, she melted my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Her speech was simply perfect. My only advice to all 3 of them in their prep was to be honest, share their story and express what they liked and challenges they encountered since TEALS entered their lives. Marian talked about Dakota’s 5th in State placement of a recent computer project he and fellow classmate (Tristan, also 2-time TEALS student) submitted. For this same project, they took 1st in Regionals. She described how these classes really make him think about what he is developing and how things work. But, she calls out the internet as their biggest challenge. There’s no place in town that stays open late enough to service them since he’s in Band and other extracurricular activities and the home internet quota is gone in 3 days. In fact, I enjoyed her expression of the situation: (Loosely quoted)

…found the best internet option was Excede Satellite, which costs $60.58 a month for 10 GB, which she thought was a lot. After 3 days, her 2 boys said ‘Mom, something’s wrong with the internet’ to which [she] learned they had maxed their quota. “I guess 2 boys can go through 10GB in 3 days.” Excede said she could buy more at $10 per 1 GB but she can’t afford that…

At the end of the presentations and the final remarks from the school’s Superintendent, the Senator turned to me and said: “Boy am I glad you love to rock climb.” J Cropped group photoWe took a group photo and that was the end of our time with him. All of the prep done for this by everyone involved, made it run without a hitch. He arrived late, didn’t stay too long, but we managed to get everything in we wanted to….I just wish we had more time to really talk about program and challenges.

There was much more that I wanted to say to him to help him really understand what is happening in the region since TEALS stepped foot. The program is expanding, we’ll be in more schools in Kentucky next year. Remote work spaces are being developed and internet is only $$$ away. In other words, the technology ball is rolling and picking up momentum. It’s the people’s vision, resilience, creativity and hope that will change the area and make a difference during these difficult times. Hopefully, they can ebb the job loss tide and create new opportunities in the long and short term that will keep these places habitated and from becoming desolate holes. I know from a climbing perspective, it’s a place I’d love to continue to come back to and experience and see prosper.

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Senator McConnell visits Lee County High School, part I

Kentucky Spring

Spring in Kentucky Photo by Luke Humphrey

I’ve been working with Lee County High School in Beattyville, Ky (for climbers that would be part of the Red River Gorge area) the last few years, collaborating as a volunteer on behalf of Microsoft and their non-profit TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) incubation. Lee County High School (LCHS) was one of two initial remote pilot programs that were undertaken to see if TEALS could expand beyond Washington State. It is also a rural school, which is an atypical focus for most STEM initiatives in the Nation today. The school has gone from only offering an Introduction to Computer Science course with 6 students to offering both Intro and AP Computer Science with 22 students in the Intro class and 7 students in the AP class. 50% of the enrollments are girls, which is huge!

Forward in the Fifth speach

Presenting TEALS to attendees at a recent Forward in the Fifth AppLe awards event.

Computer technology makes up a large portion of most occupations these days. It is estimated in the next decade that about 1,000,000 CS jobs will be available but only ~440,000 graduates in the US to vie for these positions. It’s estimated that only 29% of our rising CS workforce in the US is capable of meeting this demand. For Kentucky, that equates to about 36,000 jobs in the next 4 years. With mining job losses continuing to rise in Eastern Kentucky, there is a lot of focus on reinventing the region. Sarah Gardner of NPR did this wonderful article asking the question: “is there life after coal?” Technology is one part of what it will take to forge a new economic frontier for the area, and CS education for their youth plays a significant role.

Dr. Jim Evans

The Superintendent of Lee County School District recently was awarded his doctorates and is now “Dr” James Evans.

The more time I spend in the region getting to know the administration, the school staff, the students, regional issues, educators and state influentials, the more I realize how important this program is for the State. LCHS might be small but we have computer enthusiasts, some that will continue exploring computer education long after high school. The bottom line is that computers are everywhere, and these kids need exposure. Not just exposure to word processing, administrative management, or web development, but they need to understand how to make computers work for them. By enabling this, they have the power to create and take charge of applications to make them do what they need.

Learning remotely has significant impact for kids in rural areas, like Eastern Kentucky. When these students come into class, they sit in front of their workstation, log on and get to work/learning. The class teacher is on the teleconference, broadcast in the front of the room as well as in front of each student. The students log in independently but can see each of their classmates online and the teacher and teaching assistants. The room is mostly quiet, except for the online teacher. Every now and again, if you were an observer, you would hear giggles and twitters, but not much more. The students speak through texting in the conferencing window. Pauses and silent gaps means the students are communicating with the teacher and with each other. I’ve even observed side chatter but it is quick and mostly unobtrusive. The in-service teacher walks the room looking over their shoulders, popping in from time to time to interrupt and get a pulse on the students engagement and comprehension level. She provides this feedback back to the remote teachers who can then address anything in the next class.


Students in the AP CS class.

From this experience it was clear 2 things, as stated by visiting observers over time as well. First, the students come in, sit down, log in and the room goes quiet. The teacher never has to tell them to get to work. Next, the kids have a natural affinity to this social media type learning style. These remote skills they are honing in this class will play a critical role in the skills necessary to build and sustain jobs from rural areas such as Lee County. However, I am acutely aware that the corporate space today does not invite nor foster these kinds of skills, which will make it difficult for these kids to go away and get an education and then feel that they can come home one day and take their work with them.

AP CS class

Students eager to learn.

As it is, every student in the Intro class when polled recently, said they were leaving Lee County and never coming back. When asked what it would take to keep them, there didn’t seem to be anything that could be created or enhanced. It seems as a demographic, they are following the trend of more and more youth moving to urban places. But, that’s ok, isn’t it? Kids should leave home, explore the world, get an education, but at some point, they may feel the tug of their hometown or a yearning to nest where they grew up. Family circumstances may force them back sooner than they would like. But salary, life passions or ambitions might be sacrificed to make this change. Or, they’ll never consider it and all of the talent being developed will disappear from the region. These are real issues Eastern Kentucky faces and issues of which the Senator is keenly aware. Jobs and educational opportunities were the gist of his visit.

Senator McConnell

Senator McConnell addresses the community at Happy Top in Beattyville, KY

I had the privilege to hear the Senator speak to the community at lunch that day prior to his visit to the High School. I had never been to one of these types of rallies before. I’m not that politically minded, except when it comes to helping these kids in Eastern Kentucky. Whatever political stance he holds, when it comes to this town, he’s actually doing something to help solve their number one issue: Broadband.

Without internet and decent bandwidth, the county suffers as a whole. They are now the last county in the entire state to not be wired. With the Senator’s support and Microsoft’s TEALS program making an impact, AT&T is motivated to help solve the problem. The situation does not lend for a trivial solution and it’s taking too long for progress to be made here. It’s been over a year and though we finally have fiber to 1200 homes, it’s still not enough and worse, it’s not turned on. Satellite internet is the best you can get and it costs $49.99 for 10GB a month for ‘high speed’ internet. You can buy up to 10GB more for $10 a GB, but once you use it up, you are on the slow speed and those rates don’t allow for video playback let alone teleconferencing with desktop or application sharing, which are important to my job. This is what I have at the house when I am staying there and it’s simply annoying. I can use 2GB a day easily just for work. Rationing internet usage is a foreign concept these days anywhere else.

Robert Stivers

Robert Stivers, Senate President, speaks out about the ATT Bill at LCHS, which will help alleviate some of the internet depravity they are experiencing in the region.

Naturally, when the Senator confirmed he’d be visiting the TEALS program at LCHS, broadband constraints were going to come up and they did. Funding, private sector and university support were the other areas he needed to hear about as expansion of TEALS depends on not only LCHS’s and schools like Lee County’s ability to sustain this type of program but these other interests to provide the resources to support that expansion.

It’s hard to know from his whirlwind tour if any of this resonated to a degree that he will do something during the rest of this term or if he’s too busy trying to drum up votes to secure his seat. So far, there has been zero press on his visit to Lee County High School from his campaign side or even in the local press. Microsoft was all over it, of course, but I’m not sure what it means that general press was not more social about it. I had expected something at least locally and was surprised to find his other regional stops tweeted but nothing on LCHS. :(

In my next post you can read an overview of the events at Lee County High School, which includes personal stories of how TEALs has impacted individuals and the community. This class is changing lives. It’s incredible to be a part of that change.

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Summerlin Half Marathon 2014

Go Audrey

Go Audrey!! photo by Luke Humphrey

This is my first half marathon and I give the Las Vegas Summerlin course two thumbs up! When I said I was training for a half and people would ask me which one, when I said Summerlin the response was always the same: “hilly” and they would smile sometimes chuckle at me.

I thought from all of the hiking I had been doing, and now with all of the trail running I was doing, that the hills wouldn’t be a problem. But, their remarks left an impression and I made sure to run the course once before the actual race. Turns out, they were right. Nearly 7 miles of sustained incline, which is over half of the race. The last mile of uphill feels unbearable, but at least at race time, I knew what to expect and was prepared for the mental battle.

enjoying the race

Enjoying the race. Photo by Luke Humphrey

Now, most of my long runs had been in Seattle, where I was spending a lot time due to work and my boyfriend. The last month of training had been tough. Luke, my boyfriend, had this idea to get his VO2 max tested. I had done this with Polar some years ago, and found it reasonably helpful. I already know what my cardiovascular weakness is and I had been training it until I started training distance. While I was trying to keep up my intervals but make them longer and longer, I simply didn’t have the time to commit to a distance (say 1200 or 2000m) and work to actually succeed at a set with a sustained heart rate or higher. It became an exercise in making the distance, period, albeit at a pace faster than I might otherwise have attempted. Maybe this contributed to my ‘weak heart’ syndrome?

BMR test

Luke trying to relax in preparation for his BMR test.

We did our best to follow the program in the “Run Less, Run Faster” book, but I never did keep up with the intervals. 10 x 400’s, yeah, right. I couldn’t even sprint a 2000m, though I did manage several 800s over time. Anyway, I bring this up because when we took the VO2max test, they did an overall assessment of my body fat percentage, resting heart rate, VO2max, aerobic and anaerobic thresholds as well as my basal metabolic rate. In essence, I left feeling fat and cardiovascularly unfit despite all of my training. They even said my heart was weak, even though my daytime resting heart rate can go as low as mid-40’s. I’ve tracked my resting heart rate to as low as 38. So, with a heart rate that slow, but supposedly meaning I have a strong heart, how is it that all of these numbers say I have a weak heart?

(If you want to learn more about this test and what my numbers told me and how you can learn about your own fitness, contact me.)

Not only was the message hard to receive, but Luke by this point started having knee trouble that didn’t let up and led him to bail on the half. His first half marathon was the Seattle half last December. I had gotten really ill and was unable to run with him at that time. Now, as this half approached, he was less and less able to run with me. His Denali trip in May is a priority and bad knees with running making them ache worse was not a good sign. Therefore, all of my training in support of his desire to eventually do a marathon and an ironman, meant that I would be running the half marathon by myself. :/

Several weeks before the half, he and I set off to run the course. By mile 3, he called it and I ran the rest of the course without him. He went back to get the car and find me, which never happened. I took a wrong turn and exited the green space a bit early around mile 10, which confused me but meant he was never going to find me where I was. Night was setting in and I pushed myself as hard as I could to at least get back on course hoping he would pass me. He nearly didn’t, not before I was within striking distance of the parking lot did my jeep appear beside me. I was never happier to see him than when he pulled up at that moment. My legs were dead, it was dark, I was worried he was out on the road and I’d be sitting in the parking lot and how would we find each other? It all worked out in the end and bonus, it was my first long run not in the pouring cold rain! I was psyched.

Race day came and though I was not keen to race by myself, it was encouraging to see Luke at the halfway point taking pictures and cheering me on. I managed to do my best pace and since I knew the course, I was prepared for all of the hills and dug deep to push through to the end where he was waiting to greet me. I have to say, it was a grueling course, but I still had fun. We’ll see how his knees hold up to see if I keep training at these distances. Meanwhile, my elbow is doing better despite the ligament tear so I’m starting to climb more, which has my spirits up, too.

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