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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

The Oaks senior Ruth Dierdorff approaches learning as journey of discovery

By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Ruth Dierdorff’s love of science started early in her life when she read a “Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle Camp. She was fascinated by the concept of time travel as the three main characters traveled through space and time to save the father of two of the characters.

Fast forward to 2021 and the end of her senior year at The Oaks Classical Christian Academy and Dierdorff is still fascinated by science and math, especially physics. In the fall she will attend the University of Arizona majoring in general physics.

“I am interested in astrophysics, but I want to explore other areas, too. The more we know, the more we don’t know,” she said.

According to Lynn Gibson, her college adviser at The Oaks, Dierdorff’s fascination with all topics of science makes her distinctive among her 20 senior classmates. During her freshman year, of her own volition, she entered the Eastern Washington Regional Science and Engineering Fair with a submission: “Wavelength, Velocity, Frequency, and Power: A Study in Light Affected by Different Media.”

In her junior year, Dierdorff found out about the Washington Aerospace Scholars Program, a seven-month online course sponsored by the University of Washington, The Museum of Flight in Seattle and NASA. At the end of the program, her academic achievements in the program and overall accomplishments earned her a coveted spot in a weeklong intensive internship and team-building experience that focused on planning a mission to Mars.

Dierdorff’s experiences also have a practical side. She was part of the Wagstaff Engineering’s first Production and Manufacturing Academy in Spokane. Her team designed, built and marketed cornhole game boards using techniques learned during the program.

Dierdorff’s character and academic achievement have been noted by the faculty at The Oaks Academy. For two of her three high school years she received the Faculty Award for “academic excellence and exemplary character.” It is the highest honor the school confers.

During each year of high school, Dierdorff has also attained summa cum laude for her high GPA. She was named a commended student in the National Merit Scholarship competition.

“The teachers at The Oaks go out of their way to make it a great place to learn. I love the teachers because they love their subjects, and the students pick up on that,” she said.

Dierdorff ties her love of science and math into other areas of her life. She plays flute in the Spokane Youth Symphony and hopes to play in an ensemble or take some music classes at the University of Arizona. She sees many parallels between physics, math and music.

According to Gibson, “she explains her affinity for singing and playing musical instruments (flute and piano) as ‘numbers becoming music’; and her love of dance (ballet and modern) as ‘numbers becoming movement.’”

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t kind to her, her family or her friends. When everything went into lockdown, studying at home was dispiriting.

“I missed my friends and the discussions we used to have in class,” Dierdorff said.

The Oaks returned to in-person classes at the beginning of September, so Dierdorff was able to go back to most of her activities and friends for the school year.

In her family, Dierdorff is sandwiched between two older sisters and a brother and one younger brother. All her older siblings are deep into their college studies in chiropractic science, fine arts and nursing so there is a little rivalry going on between them.

As a family, they spend their time together backpacking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, the North Cascades and other areas of the Northwest. Last summer they were training for an 11-day hike on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caught up with the family, and they had to settle for hiking only part of it. With everyone home because of the pandemic, they all pitched in to build a fire pit in the backyard.

Again, Gibson said, “In reality, Ruthie loves to learn, and she loves to think. She enjoys the adventure of it. Her academic results therefore do not tell the best story about ie. The best story is that she has an inner voice that compels her onward into discovery.”

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Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com

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