Measuring ambition in “Ambitious, Joyful Learning”


“Ambitious Joyful Learner” is a quote heavily stressed at Archer. This brochure is found in the admissions waiting area, for prospective students to read. Photographer: Anika Bhavnani ’17

Walking around Archer, watching girls running from class to class and meeting to meeting, it’s easy to see how busy Archer girls are. Archer’s motto is “Ambitious, Joyful Learning,” but is busy the same as ambitious?

Made By: Anika Bhavnani '17

In an anonymous survey sent to 490 students, 100 students responded. Their definitions of what ambition means to them varied.

A seventh grader wrote that she has “no clue” what ambition is, but a twelfth grader defined it as “Having the drive and passion to complete a task.”

Not understanding how to define ambition while also maintaining a joyous experience is not an easy task. Many students reported having a hard time finding a balance between the two.

Admitting Ambitious Girls

Admissions committees look for ambitious students when they apply to Archer.

Director of Admissions Felicia Paik said, “Our motto is ‘Ambitious, Joyful Learning,’ and we look for students who epitomize both of [the] adjectives: ambitious and joyous.”

Paik said that she can tell a lot about a student based off of their goals and desires while reading applications or during an interview.

“We want students to be ambitious because we want every girl who enrolls here to reach their fullest potential and to be the best they can be,” she said. “At the same time, we want it to be balanced with joy — with happiness. We never want the ambitious side, the part where you are pushing yourself, to overtake the happiness portion of it.”

Ambitious Girls at Archer

Archer girls are ambitious; however, as their time at Archer passes, some girls said that they feel pressure to be more involved — more busy — and that increase of “ambition” leads to auntitled-infographic (15) stressful experience.

“Archer is such a competitive school; it really pushes you to do better. It gives you more ambition to do better, to kind of stand out,” Rose Shulman-Litwin ’18 said.

Science teacher and 12th-grade dean Crystal Sengstaken said, “The Archer girl, in general, is a well-rounded person. You [girls] are interested in everything. You’re not the typical teenager that is interested in nothing — you are interested in everything, and you can do everything, but it has its price.”

Science teacher and seventh-grade dean Jerilyn Joel spoke about the seventh graders and their level of involvement while they are in middle school beginning their Archer experience.

“I think that is one of the biggest challenges as a seventh grader: figuring out what they can be involved in and how they can do it effectively without impacting their studies. Studies should be number one, but they should keep that passion. What can you handle while keeping up your grades and doing things that keep you happy?” she said.

“Being at Archer, I think you become very ambitious because people are naturally very ambitious [here],” Seaf Hartley’ 16 said.

Assistant Athletic Director and ninth grade dean Kristen Benjamin spoke about the ninth grade experience and the transition from middle to upper school.

“Ninth grade is a difficult year. It is a year of finding themselves and finding what they want to do. It is important to really find that,” she said. “In terms of how to balance it, I think some people come in and want to do so much, with this mindset of college.”

English teacher and tenth-grade dean Jenn Babin spoke about the transition between ninth and tenth grade.

10th Grader

“Tenth grade is a big year for a lot of students. [In] ninth grade – I think students concentrate on figuring out what it means to be in high school, so the focus tends to be in classes or a sport or the play, ” she said. “In 10th grade, students feel a lot more comfortable being a student. So, I think a lot of them start to branch out. I think there is also a greater awareness of college and building their resume.”

“There is this added pressure in 10th grade to get involved in a lot of stuff, coupled with the fact that Archer students are just passionate and interested and talented and they want to be involved in a lot of things. Tenth grade is about finding that balance. That kind of thing is really hard,” Babin said.

However, this challenge does not stop during sophomore year. suvey results finalAs an Archer girl gets older, there are more leadership opportunities on campus.

“There are some things that are really only available to be done as an 11th grader — for example, PAL [Peer Academic Leadership team],” Science teacher and 11th-grade dean Jacob London said. “I think there are a number of programs available to students as they get older and older.”

“Typically, students who are getting involved in those programs are not dropping something else so they can get involved in it. It is something extra,” he said. “I think people are picking up more because of all the opportunities, but it is rarely at the expense of something else.”

“I feel like Archer fosters an environment for people to aim for their goals and not stop at failure, but to always have the determination and want more,” April Tate ’17 said.

Sengstaken believes that adding more things to a student’s plate as they get older is partially because of college.

“I see there is this point in 11th grade when you [girls] learn about college. There is a definite shift in the ‘ambitious joyful’ part, and I think a lot of it goes from interest and passion to learn, to college-centric. I am not saying that girls are doing their activities to get into college, but there is this pressure to make sure that you are well-rounded and have a solid application,” she said.

Hartley believes that Archer helped her develop her ambitious goals.

“I have always been an ambitious kid, but I think at Archer I was able to see [my ambitions] and act on them. There is a difference between being ambitious and acting on those ambitions. I think a lot of people have goals, and they have different things they want to do in their life, but they don’t have the knowledge or know how to do that, but Archer has helped me with those. They have helped me achieve those,” she said.

Ambitious Teachers at Archer

Students are not alone in this ambitious environment. Archer’s faculty members are also very ambitious and can have difficulty saying “no.”

“A lot of teachers are the same as you [girls],”Sengstaken said. “We get really excited and say yes to a lot of things, so in our work day, we feel frantic and overextended.”

This idea of involvement is common amongst the faculty as well. Archer provides a very rich environment to be ambitious. Made by: Bhavnani '17 “It is hard to even say ‘no’ when a student wants to come in and use your tape,” Sengstaken said, laughing. “It is a culture of people who want to be the best they can be. Especially as faculty, we want to create opportunities for you [girls] and want to make you feel like you can do anything.”

“I think the faculty does not model how to say ‘no’ all that well,” London said.

“It took a long time to find that balance and figuring out what I can do and ‘learning how to say no’ because that is something you never know how to do,” Joel said.

Babin said she tries to balance work and personal life.

“Let’s be realistic in this and make sure you can sleep at night,” she said.

Future Ambitions

Archer girls commit to activities for passion, but some do believe that they need to engage in activities for the purpose of college admissions. 

Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions at Pomona College Conor O’Rourke explained what college look for in terms of students’ involvement in activities.

“Colleges have all sorts of goals for the types of students they want to bring to their school in any particular year,” he said. “However, the most important thing I think most colleges want is interesting students. Those interesting students are the ones who have interests, and those interests need to be their own and developed internally rather than externally.”

O’Rourke said that colleges look for students who are well-rounded and are involved but also students who have developed their passions and focus in that on that.O'Rourke Quote

Sarah Rosenblum ’08  is the Assistant Director of Admissions for a highly selective institution — she asked that the Oracle not reveal the specific school — and has read over 4,000 college applications throughout her four years as a counselor.

“Most colleges are looking to shape a diverse class, with broad backgrounds and interests,” she said. “How students spend their free time is a reflection of how they will contribute to their future college campus.”

Rosenblum added that schools look for well-rounded students that are involved — but not involved in everything — because students should find their passions. She added that students getting involved in something that they might want to major in is a good way to discover and develop their academic goals.

“The three main themes colleges looks for are consistency, leadership and being authentic to your true interests,” Rosenblum said.

Despite the expectation and pressure to get involved, Archer students interviewed said that Archer prepares them well for the future.

“I think I have grown a lot. Archer is such a fostering experience and home,” Shulman-Litwin said. “When I came into Archer it was a very new experience for me, I could not see my progress as a student. Whereas now, I can see my progress, I can see that. That really encourages me to do better. I thank Archer for that.”