Alumni Spotlight: Roger Diehl

"Abintra allowed me to proceed at my own pace and pursue my own academic interests...areas where I felt comfortable, confident, and connected to an otherwise confusing world."
- Roger Diehl, Biochemist 

Roger during a trip to Yorkshire.
Roger Diehl graduated from Abintra in 2005, and then attended Hillsboro High School. He got his Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, and is still there today working towards his PhD in Biochemistry. Learn more about Roger as he shares his story!

Abintra: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Roger: I am currently a graduate student in Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying under Professor Laura Kiessling. I study interactions between carbohydrates and proteins, which are important for myriad biological processes, particularly development and the immune system. I really enjoy my work, though it involves a lot of uncertainty since many of my experiments have never been done before and might not work even if done correctly.

When I am not analyzing data, reading the literature for recent scientific developments, or mixing mysterious peach-colored liquids, I have gotten myself involved in several extracurricular activities. I am currently an officer in the college Model United Nations club here in Madison (I highly recommend Model UN for high school and college students with any interest in world affairs), and just a few weeks ago was in charge of a high school conference in Milwaukee with 700 students attending. I also do volunteer work with the Ice Age Trail Alliance, which is building a 1200-mile trail across Wisconsin and restoring natural conditions (including a fair share of honeysuckle removal) nearby. I also really like hiking, bicycle touring and, when trail conditions are good, mountain biking.

Roger at Abintra in 1997
Abintra: How do you think your time at Abintra influenced your future experiences?
Roger: First of all, Abintra allowed me to proceed at my own pace and pursue my own academic interests. This was particularly important for me since I am autistic and have an affinity for chemistry and, to a lesser extent, biology and math. In other words, these were areas where I felt comfortable, confident, and connected to an otherwise confusing world. My guides helped me achieve some degree of academic balance and encouraged me to teach other students, which helped me get respect I may otherwise have had trouble obtaining. I still remember the unofficial Lower Elementary chemistry club that I started, and I learned some important lessons about science back then that I carry with me today.

Secondly, Abintra really helped nourish my love of nature and the outdoors. I still fondly remember exploring around the woods, collecting random shiny objects and making face-paint from bricks, and attempting to enter a cave near "Crystal Palace." This has certainly played a major role in my deciding to pursue outdoor recreation and volunteer opportunities as an adult, and probably also helped pique my interest in ecology.

Abintra: What is your favorite Abintra memory? 
Roger: There are so many since I went there for 10 years, but I'll probably go with one that is also one of my last. During the 2004-2005 school year, Kim was teaching a series of courses about colonialism and revolutions to the 7th and 8th graders, while the other 9th graders and I were learning American history. That said, we did participate in one demonstration where the Middle School "colonized" Upper Elementary and made them worship our idol, Larry the Lobster (May she never crack her shell).

Later that year, we came back early from an art project to find some of the 6th graders running away with our beloved lobster (may she never crack her shell) and the mock guillotine the 7th and 8th graders made for the unit on the French Revolution. We were able to save the loom that we made for the Gandhi unit since we convinced them it was no threat to them as a peaceful device. Shortly after we got a ransom note from a revolutionary front known as the Tangerini Lamborghini (aka the 6th graders) with a picture of Larry (msnchs) under the guillotine. In true Abintra fashion, this was resolved by one of the most epic Capture the Flag games of my time there. Half the revolutionaries were in jail by the time a negotiated agreement was reached (due to the end of recess) by which UE would regain its independence, the lobster would be returned, and the 6th graders would "immigrate" to Middle School, since it was the end of the year.

Abintra: If you could give one piece of advice to a current Abintra student, what would it be?
Roger: Here at Abintra, you have the opportunity to discover your interests and pursue them. Work with the guides to take advantage of that opportunity.

And if I could possibly give a second, it would be this: Treasure your time at recess. It's every bit as important as work at defining who you will become.