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Spotlight on Alumni
​Stories of Lake Washington School District graduates

February 23, 2017
Shannon O'Donnell, Redmond High School, 1991 graduate 
When KOMO meteorologist Shannon O’Donnell was 7 years old she already loved weather. She spent time at her grandparents’ house in Wisconsin and enjoyed the summer lightning storms.

While visiting first-graders at Dickinson Elementary School on Groundhog Day, she told students that she also loves to talk. Now she has two jobs doing both: One at KOMO News and one at the University of Washington where she is a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. If there is something you’re interested in doing, you can get a job doing it, she told the students.

This realization came to O’Donnell when Harry Wappler, a longtime meteorologist for KIRO-TV, came to visit her elementary school. O’Donnell now continues Wappler’s legacy by bringing her “weatherwise” presentation to classrooms around the Puget Sound.

Students volunteered to help O’Donnell with her weather experiments. While explaining the different types of clouds, O’Donnell invited one student volunteer to squeeze a sponge horizontally. This represented stratus clouds, those common in the Seattle area. Another volunteer squeezed a sponge vertically. This represented cumulus clouds, common in Orlando, Fla. More water accumulated when the sponge was vertical. This is why the Pacific Northwest actually receives less annual rainfall each year than Orlando.

Another pair of student volunteers tested static electricity. They charged a balloon with one volunteer’s hair and then picked up bits of paper on the table with the balloon.

Most tornadoes in the country take place in the central United States where the cold air coming down from Canada meets the warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. The Rocky Mountains offer Washington protection from most of these storms. O’Donnell demonstrated – using a pair of two-liter bottles – how a tornado can happen anywhere given the right conditions.


February 9, 2017
Corinne Immel, Eastlake High School, 2003 graduate
Eighth-graders are looking ahead this month to their freshman year of high school. In late January, Corinne Immel, a counselor at Eastlake High School, visited Evergreen Middle School to explain high school graduation requirements. Immel, a 2003 graduate of EHS, told students she loved Eastlake so much that she came back a decade later to work as a school counselor there. “I love the culture that students have created,” she “Our staff is great. They really care.”

Immel has worked as a counselor at Eastlake for two years and has coached the dance team since 2006 (her older sister helped start the team as a student in 1999). She participated in dance team as a student and wanted to coach so she could be a role model. But the relationships she developed were even more meaningful than she realized they would be. Inspired by Chris Gentes, a retired counselor at Inglewood Middle School, Immel got her master’s in education in school counseling.

Immel advises students to find balance in their schedules so they can get enough rest. “There are so many amazing clubs and activities to get involved in,” she said. “Find something meaningful and focus your energy on that. Then get rest so you are available for the rest of the things that come at you.”


February 2, 2017
Brian Flajole, Juanita High School, 1978 graduate
Brian Flajole is the new director of the Boeing Classic, the PGA Tour Champions event at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge. This year’s event, for players 50 and older, is from Aug. 25-27. It is among the most popular PGA Tour Champions events and has raised $6 million for local charities.

Flajole said, “Coming home was a big draw, but it’s also about working with a tournament that is so tied into our community and is also tied in with Virginia Mason, and all the giving that (the tournament) has done.”

Read more in the Seattle Times.


December 15, 2016
John Laney, Lake Washington High School, 1998 graduate
John Laney was recently featured in Northwest Asian Weekly and honored at the news organization’s Top Contributors award dinner on Dec. 2. This Filipino American lawyer (pictured in fifth grade when he was a student at Rose Hill Elementary School and in pull-out Quest at Ben Rush Elementary) has made the Washington Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” list for the past three years and Lawyers of Color included him on its “Hot List” in 2013.


December 1, 2016
Robert Baxter, Eastlake High School, 2006 graduate
After graduating with a degree in international affairs from George Washington University, Robert Baxter had a chance to work at the U.S. Department of Justice for three years as part of an honors program for recent graduates. Today, after attending law school at GW, he is working in San Diego as a First Tour Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Navy, JAG Corps. “In addition to my obligation as an attorney, I am also a naval officer, which provides for a unique day-to-day career," he said.

Baxter challenged LWSD students to meet people outside their local community. "Don't be afraid to apply to a university out of state, take an opportunity to travel, and meet people with backgrounds different than your own," he said. The advice stems from his own experiences in the U.S. Navy. Baxter said, "The opportunities to travel and interact with a diverse community and learn from some of our nation's top leaders is a privilege and an honor."


November 17, 2016
Thomas Heier, Redmond High School, 1998 graduate
Since graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2002, Thomas Heier has served his country throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East, including Iraq. He is currently a bioenvironmental engineer at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

Heier still recalls the triple overtime football win (41-40) against EHS as a highlight. He continued to play football at the Air Force Academy and later taught chemistry there. More recently, he and his wife, Rachel, had a baby girl in March. He encourages students to give back: “Make your community, country, and the world a better place. Set your goals high, and then work hard to achieve them.” Heier looks to the Air Force Core Values for guidance: “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.”




November 3, 2016
Paul Burke, Redmond High School, 2010 graduate
He’s had some bumps along the way, but Paul Burke (Redmond High School 2010) is now actively promoting his app RentHoop - Roommate Finder. The app was recently featured on the NBC News feature College Game Plan and KING 5.

Burke credits his RHS business and marketing teachers, Grace Brady and Tom Bunnell, with believing in him and validating some of his out-of-the-box ideas. He recalled, “I remember a few kids were laughing at an idea I had. Ms. Brady said, ‘Hey, I wouldn’t be laughing – he’ll be the first millionaire.’ I’m not a millionaire, but having someone who believes in you, it’s pretty special.”

After graduating from Western Washington University with a major in marketing and a minor in economics, it was a challenge to find an app developer for RentHoop until he changed his elevator speech. He started explaining his app as the "Tinder for finding roommates." "People were surprised they didn't already have something like this," he said.

Burke's brother, Ely Burke (RHS, 2014), is also helping out. The Arizona State University junior is marketing the app to freshmen who will be looking for off-campus housing next year.

Paul Burke encouraged high school students to be bold. "It doesn't matter how cool your idea is if you don't do it," he said.


October 27, 2016
Alyssa Charlston, Eastlake High School, 2010 graduate 
This Eastlake High School grad has taken her love of sports to a whole new level as a creative videographer/editor with University of Washington Athletics. “It's a ton of fun because we get to spend time with the athletes outside their field. Also, it doesn't hurt that the football team is one of the best in the nation this year!”

After graduating summa cum laude in broadcasting and digital media from the University of Idaho – where she played on the women’s basketball team and won two Western Athletic Conference championships – she had the opportunity to play basketball professionally in Luxembourg in 2015-16. Her team, Amicale Steinsel, won the Total League championship. “It was an amazing experience getting to live in a different continent and culture.” Charlston said Americans can do a great deal of good just by paying attention to what is happening in places outside of America. “It can be distressful at times, but to ignore the news is to ignore the existence of other populations of people,” she said.

Charlston urged LWSD students to try a variety of courses in high school and to stay curious. “The world our generation is making for itself allows for so much more freedom in the workplace,” she said. “There are so many exciting opportunities.”


October 13, 2016
Jonah Joughin, Lake Washington High School, 2016 graduate
Congratulations to Jonah Joughin, Lake Washington High School class of 2016, who received Washington state’s AP Scholar Award. The honor goes to one boy and one girl in the state who pass the most AP exams. Joughin passed 22 AP exams, all with scores of 4 or 5. 

Joughin took his first AP class – chemistry taught by Dave Hale – his freshman year. In addition to eight other AP courses, Joughin took classes at Bellevue College through Running Start and took some exams after studying the material independently. Joughin says taking AP classes and studying for AP tests made high school more interesting.

This year, Joughin started taking classes at NYU – Abu Dhabi. He’s considering majors in interactive media and computer science. Joughin said he appreciates the diversity in thought and background around campus. For instance, he said, “My roommates are from South Korea, Bosnia, and Syria, and are constantly teaching me new things about their countries and cultures."


September 29, 2016
Andrew Januik, Juanita High School, 2005 graduate
Since his graduation from Juanita High School, Andrew Januik (2005) has followed in his father’s footsteps and immersed himself in the Washington wine-making industry. In 2011, he began his own label – Andrew Januik Wines – and is now looking at ways to make wine in the Southern Hemisphere. Read more about Januik’s wine aspirations in the Seattle Times’ Pacific Northwest Magazine.

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