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by Tom Moore

Marisa Fang’s earliest memory of Rainier Scholars and, one she will never forget, was in her first summer in the Academic Enrichment Program (AEP).  She was sprinting with sixty other 11-year-olds from class to class in the hallways of Aki Kurose elementary school pulling huge roller backpacks overloaded with books, binders and papers all thumping down the stairs. The recollection comes with a mix of embarrassment – at the unwieldy bags – and jealousy of having to be indoors on a summer day while her neighborhood friends were free to be outdoors doing whatever they liked.  And, while not an exactly an existential crisis, she did wonder, “Why am I here? What is the purpose for all this?” She would have some of these feelings again when she transitioned to University Prep, where so many things were new and unfamiliar. Why endure this level of discomfort and angst?

It was not until her sophomore year at the University of Washington when she came back to the AEP as a Student Advisor for Cohort 11 that, as she says, “Rainier Scholars became real for me.”  Spending a summer with ten versions of her former, younger self allowed Marisa to see how she had grown, and the impact Rainier Scholars was having on her life. She was beginning to understand the purpose behind the unfamiliar, realize what is earned through the sacrifices, and find satisfaction in sharing what she had learned with the next generation Rainier Scholars.

Fast forward some ten years. Marisa now lives in Atlanta and is a Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young – one of the Big Four international accounting firms. Among a range of skill sets, one of her core competencies comes from being a certified SAFe 4 Agilist.  A SAFe 4 Agilist is a technical title for what, in layman’s terms, can be understood to be solving problems through the practice of an agile mentality.  As Marisa explains, an agile mentality is “being comfortable with the unknown, trusting the people around you to give you what you need to solve the problem at hand. So, while the end goal might not be defined, there are steps, or in the business we call them ‘sprints,’ that create experiences and problem-solving, which in turn reveal knowledge that can be built on.” A recent example of her work in this area was as an Agile Project Manager managing multiple teams across a one hundred-million-dollar digital transformation project for an Ernst & Young client.

In looking back, tying her work now to her Rainier Scholars experience, Marisa can see her maturation coming as it does in one of her projects, in a series of “sprints.” Not the literal ones she used to do in the hallways of Aki Kurose, but in the time spent in the AEP with those transformative books she was lugging around in her back pack – Black Boy, The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, The House on Mango Street. Learning to deal with cultural differences on the campus of University Prep and then moving on to the University of Washington, where she became the first in her family to graduate from college. Her employment at The Boeing Company, The Gates Foundation and the move to a new community in Atlanta for her MBA at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. All these steps or stages in her life were challenges in the unknown, but they were always, from the beginning, shared with a pack of equally driven friends and came with the support of peers, teachers and advisers who believed in her.

But even before that, at the very beginning, Marisa’s parents believed in her. They emigrated to America from China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1980s to a place unfamiliar, full of challenges, discomfort, and angst. What is the purpose? Why are we here? They knew; they were agilists way before the process was labeled. They believed in the power of education and found a place in Rainier Scholars where it could become a reality for their daughter.

And so, with agile thinking comes the belief in the collective experience: confidence in the ability of the group to identify the parameters and key elements of success for any given project. And once that knowledge is found, to share it with the community.  This is the mission of Rainier Scholars, and it is reflected in its scholars. Marisa, having gone through her ‘sprints,” gives this advice to the rising fifth-graders who enter Rainier Scholars, “Recognize that people will have very high expectations of you, that you will be challenged by many things you do not know, and you will need to work your butt off. But you should always know there is a community surrounding you that will help you.”

 Proven, priceless, and fortunately pro-bono advice from a veteran Agilist and Ernst & Young consultant, Marisa Fang, proud member of Rainier Scholars Cohort 1.