Students Explore WISE Opportunities

E. Stinson

Laila Abtahi and Caroline Golden

Emily Stinson
WISE Project: Aviation

Mirador: What is your WISE project?
Emily Stinson: My WISE project is aviation. During the semester I want to learn how to fly a plane and my long-term goal is to get my pilot’s license. For WISE, I want to pass the written test and get some flying time in.

M: Why did you pick aviation for your WISE project?
ES: I was always interested in flying and WISE was a good opportunity to make the time for it. I just never have had the time to actually pursue a pilot’s license with school and everything.

M: What have you done so far for your project?
ES: Right now I have an instructor, and instead of taking a ground school class, I have one-on-one lessons with Susan Clark, and she teaches me ground schooling. I have a fat textbook we go through and in it they actually published the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) test questions. There are hundreds of questions, but they only choose 60 of them for the test. Then on the weekends we try to fly if the weather is nice.

M: How many times have you flown? How was it?
ES: I’ve flown twice. It was good. I didn’t really expect it the first time because I had only done a couple chapters and I thought there would be a lot more preparation before Clark put me up there. I fly at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord and at Travis Aero Club in Rio Vista. Clark has her own plane, but she also belongs to an aero club, which has community planes. We fly a Piper Archer plane, and it was a lot less scary than I thought. At the same time, the hard part for me is that there is a steering wheel and a control yoke, but you don’t use that to steer like you would in a car; you turn right and left with the rudders. That was really hard for me to get used to in the beginning. It was really fun, but it’s definitely overwhelming because I still don’t feel like I know exactly what I’m doing when I’m flying, which makes it kind of nerve-wracking.

M: How will you continue flying after you get your pilots’ license?
ES: You can rent planes, but I’m not sure how expensive that is at all, or when I would do that. Maybe I’ll find a friend who has a plane.

M: What’s the most challenging part?
ES: Getting used to all the instruments in the actual cockpit when you’re flying. There are so many things there but at the same time you’re supposed to look out, and I have to make sure I look at the right [instrument] because they all look kind of similar.

M: What do your friends and family think about you flying planes?
ES: My parents were a little skeptical about me flying at first. My worrying mother was not keen on the idea and only saw the dangerous side of it. But after they realized how badly I wanted to do this, they relented. My friends think my WISE project is cool and are very supportive; most people ask me when I’m going to take them up for a ride.  

M: What was your biggest fear when you first tried flying?
ES: Making a mistake. If you make a single mistake, the plane could crash. I definitely didn’t think that it would be as easy as driving a car, even though Clark thinks it is, but she has been flying forever. I was afraid it was too complicated and that maybe I would mess up. In an airplane, an accident would cause more damage than in a car.

M: What is the most eye-opening part of your WISE experience?
ES: I really appreciate the nature of the WISE program. The opportunity to explore any area of study outside the usual academic material is amazing. I’m especially glad that I’m pursuing such a fun and risky endeavor in my senior year of high school. Before I enter the “real world” and start shaping the life ahead of me, I need to know that I can pursue even the wildest ideas; I’ve only flown twice but my confidence level has at least tripled. Flying is an incredible experience and generates unparalleled sensations. I hope that flying will be a life long hobby for me.

M: What do you hope to do once you have your pilots’ license?
ES: I don’t want to be a commercial pilot or anything, I just want to keep it a hobby. And I can say that I know how to fly a plane. I’m definitely not planning on buying a plane, because that’s really expensive, but I definitely want to keep it as a hobby and continue flying in my life.

Connor Byrne
WISE Project: Chocolatiering

Mirador: Why did the idea of making chocolate interest you?
Connor Byrne: I have an addiction to chocolate and I thought it’d be a fun project for me to pursue. Also, I had a connection—my dad’s the president of the company, the Bittersweet Café. I work at the one in Berkeley but there’s also one in San Francisco and one in Danville. I basically help in all the aspects of the “making” process.

M: Break down the process of the chocolate bar.
CB: You start by taking a shipment of fermented cacao beans and the first step is to roast it in an oven for an hour. Then you take the roasted beans and winnow them (crush them). After that, you separate the “good” inside, which we call “nibs,” from the bad outer shells. You take the winnowed nibs and put it in a refiner which uses wheels that run and smash them up to liquefy them. At that point, you add any other ingredients depending on what type of chocolate you want—this takes about a week. You put it in a temper to heat it up, so you can put it in chocolate molds. Once they cool down and solidify you have chocolate bars.

M: What has been eye-opening about your WISE project?
CB: One of the cool things that is new to me is the fair trade aspect of making chocolate. Learning about working conditions and plantations in third world countries has been enlightening and it shows you where your food is coming from. A lot of the cacao comes from really tropical areas such as Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The buyers have to ensure that the cacao is coming from a sustainable living environment.

M: In what ways is your project different from the norm?
CB: Most students’ WISE projects tend to be really heavy, like working with underprivileged people, whereas mine’s really lighthearted and fun. It’s been a good stress reliever. Winnow some nibs and it makes you feel a lot better.

M: Are you ever tempted to take a spoon and taste some of the liquefied chocolate when nobody’s looking?
CB: Yeah, because I have a serious addiction to chocolate. That’s also a big part of what I do because when we make the chocolate we do have to actually taste it, so I don’t need to be quite so secretive about it.

M: Are there any magical ingredients in your chocolate?
CB: These beans are organic so occasionally insects and moth webs; maybe that would have magical effects.

M: In what ways is your work similar to Willy Wonka’s?
CB: Well, in the warehouse where I work they play really weird loud music, like 70’s soul music. It’s kind of like how [Willy Wonka] listens to the Oompa Loompas weird singing while he works.

M: What other roles do you play in the chocolate making process?
CB: One other big part of my work is acting as a representative for kids under 18. Dark chocolate tends to appeal more to adults, so I advertise the chocolate by giving samples to my friends or people that ask for them, and that spreads the company’s popularity and allows them to reach a different demographic. I think it has been successful because people like the chocolate I bring, so it helps to put us on the map a little better.

M: What’s your favorite type of chocolate?
CB: I know it sounds really gross and I refused to try it for years, but milk chocolate with bacon is my favorite bar. Another one that’s good is milk chocolate with pickled ginger (like from Japanese restaurants) and milk chocolate with spicy cayenne pepper. I saw them on the shelf and thought that they would be gross, but I decided to try them one day and I thought they were amazing.

Chocolate photo: C. Byrne. Byrne pours melted chocolate into a cooking bin.