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Folding For Good

Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz is a third-degree black belt and nine-time champion in Taekwondo; a skilled pianist and third-seat violist in a major orchestra; and founder and CEO of an educational program with chapters in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Austin, Indianapolis, and Denver.

Did I mention she’s just 16?

This summer Calista, who has already earned 52 college credits, took part in Robert Morris University’s summer class offerings as a member of Dr. Can B. Aktas’s Engineering Materials course. She is also a member of RMU’s chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

“I feel very fortunate to have had Calista as a student,” says Sue Jamison, who taught Calista’s first class at RMU – Principles of Sociology – a few semesters ago. “The maturity and insight she showed in her writing and thinking was extraordinary. She introduced research that I continue to use in my classes today.”

This fall, Calista will be returning to RMU to carry 14 credits including Calculus 3, Physics 2, Marketing, and Argument and Research.

When she’s not racking up college credits, Calista spends most of her time studying the ancient Japanese art of origami and its relation to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) applications. As the founder of Origami Salami, Calista uses origami, a.k.a., folding, to encourage interest in STEM studies, which she says “lead to inventions and innovations which improve the human condition.” She even developed a digital course for curriculum publisher Lincoln Interactive that promotes interest in the study of STEM subjects through folding.

For her efforts she has been recognized by organizations like the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance, which cited her as “…a pioneer and a leader in advocating for STEM education.” She even created a community-service offshoot of the program, Folding for Good, that already has chapters across four states.

Calista’s interest in folding began back in 2001, when she received origami kit as a gift.

“My hobby unfolded (ha!) over time,” she said in a June 30, 2011 post to StemPlanet.org. “Sometimes, I entertained at birthday parties, quickly creating the iconic flapping paper crane out of party napkins while we partygoers waited for the cake or pizza. It came as a surprise that people were really amazed and impressed with this simple hobby!”

Eventually Calista started to wonder about the science behind the folds. What she discovered is that the same patterns in folding can be found in things like proteins, DNA, RNA, the brain, robotics, and even computer applications. “It didn’t take long before I was noticing patterns in the folding sequences,” she said, “memorizing traditional bases for models; wondering why there were no other and more ‘bases,’ and just overall fooling around with different sizes, shapes, and textures of materials to see what happens.”

When she was looking to take college courses, Calista chose Robert Morris both for its reputation and for the individual attention she gets.

“People know her name here,” says her mother, Cynde. “They’ve been very welcoming.”

Back in February, Calista was appointed as a referee for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Southwestern Pennsylvania Qualifying Tournament, hosted by RMU’s School of Engineering, Math, and Science. She was the only female official and the youngest accepted crew for the competition.

Last year she was the 2012 National Runner-Up for the Aspirations in Computer Science Award, given by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, which recognizes 200 U.S. high school girls annually for outstanding commitment to the study of computer science and for excellence in computing achievement. Calista was also one of only six students selected out of 11,000 for the PA Cyber Charter School’s 2010-13 media campaign, and she is the only student blogger listed among teaching staff from the National Network of Digital Schools and scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratories.

“Watching Calista thrive and grow at RMU has been a pleasure,” says Jamison. “She is such a multi-talented young woman, and we are lucky to have her here.”

Calista and her mother also played an important part in attracting the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE) conference to campus next year. Cynde serves on PAGE board, and when they asked her to be on the conference committee, she knew the perfect location for the event. “RMU is such a great place,” says Cynde, “I knew it would be the perfect location for this amazing conference.”

The 2013 PAGE conference will be the first one ever held at a university; RMU is a lead sponsor along with the School of Education and Social Sciences (SESS). “Graduate students will be overseeing the event,” says Cynde. “It will be completely student-powered.” Calista, who was the winner of the 2012 PAGE High School Service and Scholarship Award, will be serving as a hostess at the event.

In her free time, Calista volunteers as a musician at places like Passavant Hospital in McCandless Township; as a Junior Taekwondo instructor; and at Animal Friends, where she helps make safe toys for shelter cats out of recycled socks. She also demonstrates her origami skills for charitable causes. In November, along with Origami Salami Beta President Nathan Boerner, Calista will be creating 20 “Eastern Dragons”, a fold that takes over an hour to complete and has 120 steps, as part of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital International Adoption Center’s Annual Fundraiser.

“RMU is the right place for me now,” says Calista. “When I first came here, I realized that I belonged. And that is what makes challenging learning so enjoyable.”

For more on Calista, please “Like” her Origami Salami Facebook page and visit OrigamiSalami.com. You can also read her blog at www.stemplanet.org/blog/ .

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Written by Valentine J. Brkich

 

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