How to reach your goals: two of Carey's 2020 high achievers

Despite the setbacks of 2020, so many of our students have still been exceeding their own expectations and achieving major milestones in their academic studies. Two of these impressive students, Ella-Mei in Year 7 and Eric in Year 10, share some insight about their achievements this year and the journey they went on to get there.

What were your greatest achievements this year?

Ella-Mei: I have won first place in my category for the Berthe Mouchette Poetry Competition with Alliance Française de Melbourne, and I am also representing Australia in the global competition for Future Problem Solving Scenario Writing, after winning the country-wide competition this year.

Eric: This year, I participated in the Australian Informatics Olympiad (AIO) and achieved a silver medal, giving me the opportunity to be invited to the prestigious Informatics School of Excellence, where the top 25 students across Australia are invited to train and eventually compete in hopes of representing Australia internationally. I was also selected into the University of Melbourne Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholars Program, Class of 2022 because of other previous achievements and contributions I had made before. 

What did you do to prepare for these achievements?

Ella-Mei: I have had to switch up my timetables a bit in order to fit both schoolwork and the competitions. I also had to remember to give myself breaks to look after myself as well, especially as everything was completed online this year. It’s important to have a break from screen time. I love these kinds of competitions though, I have always felt competitive and willing to participate in many different competitions from an early age.

Eric: In Year 8, I discovered coding through Maths Study Hall where I would hang out with Mr Nguyen and do maths and coding. I played around with Python, a coding language, and I decided to have a shot at AIO. However, due to a lack of preparation and familiarity with the language, I only achieved a bronze prize. After that, I changed to a more widely used language in the competitive programming world, C++, in the hopes of achieving a higher score. I worked very hard in Year 9, but I still scored only slightly better. However, I did not give up but tried exceptionally hard from then. I did really well this year, but the journey doesn’t stop now. I will be competing in the Australian Invitational Informatics Olympiad and the French-Australian Regional Informatics Olympiad representing Australia, and hopefully, one day, I will be able to compete internationally.

Did you have some support during your process of continuous improvement?

Ella-Mei: I definitely had a lot of support from my family and also from Mrs Giles. Mrs Giles really helped to guide me through the Future Problem Solving Competition and I don’t think I could have gotten this far without her help. I am extremely grateful for everything she has done for me.

Eric: From the beginning, Mr Nguyen supported me with my coding, spending countless afternoons after school guiding me through coding questions, assisting me with syntax. My parents also supported me, buying many books for me to learn and a better PC to code on. Moreover, I also found a great online coding community that helped me significantly, with one particular competitive programmer, who was more experienced than I was, who guided me through how to solve many challenging coding problems. 

Were you impacted by COVID-19 this year when striving towards your goals?

Ella-Mei: For the Future Problem Solving Competition I was supposed to go to Queensland to participate in the state competition, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Thankfully that wasn’t too much of a setback as it turned out!

Eric: Since coding competitions were all online, COVID-19 did not impact me at all this year. In fact, it benefitted me as I could sneak in some time to do practice problems during my study periods and lunchtimes.

From your experience, what advice would you give to Carey students who might have similar goals to yours?

Ella-Mei: Always look for opportunities where you can shine and succeed. It helps to know what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. And when you find it, always try your best.

Eric: The most important advice I would give to Carey students who have an interest in coding is to build up strong basic skills before advancing to higher levels. I often neglected the importance of reading books, which caused me to make many mistakes that could have simply been avoided if I had read a book first. Spending more time mastering basic knowledges does not slow you down but instead helps you improve faster and achieve higher. Another piece of advice I would give is to make use of your resources. Carey offers a lot of help and support for people who seek it. Do a bit of research on your own, and see what fits for you. The final piece of advice I would give to students is to not be discouraged by failures. After I spent hundreds of hours coding in 2019, I only placed in the bronze division, which was a big let-down for me. However, I did not let that discourage me from working harder and achieving a better score in the following year. If you are passionate about something, don't let failures and setbacks stop you from achieving your goals.

Tue Nguyen
Digital Technologies teacher