Headed for Washington: PVCICS student Katherine Nessel chosen for prestigious youth program through U.S. Senate

  • Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, talks about being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program as teachers Michael Locher, center, and Bruce Rubin listen, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, talks about being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, talks about being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Above, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, reads “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien in the school library. She has been selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program. Above, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, reads “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien in the school library. She has been selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program.

  • At left, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, talks about being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program as teachers Michael Locher, center, and Bruce Rubin listen. At left, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, talks about being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program as teachers Michael Locher, center, and Bruce Rubin listen.

  • Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School student Katherine Nessel, of Florence, talks about being selected as a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Katherine Nessel, of Florence, shares her examination of whether advances in technology make life simpler or more complicated during her Chinese language class, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley. She has been selected as a delegate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Katherine Nessel, of Florence, shares her examination of whether advances in technology make life simpler or more complicated during her Chinese language class, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley. She has been selected as a delegate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Katherine Nessel, of Florence, shares her examination of whether advances in technology make life simpler or more complicated during her Chinese language class, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley. She has been selected as a delegate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At top, Katherine Nessel, of Florence, shares her examination of whether advances in technology make life simpler or more complicated during her Chinese language class at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley. At top, Katherine Nessel, of Florence, shares her examination of whether advances in technology make life simpler or more complicated during her Chinese language class at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley.

Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2020 9:48:36 AM

When Katherine Nessel first enrolled in the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School (PVCICS) in the ninth grade, she didn’t know anything about the Mandarin language — a daunting challenge for anyone surrounded by highly proficient peers on a daily basis.

But Nessel took that obstacle and turned it into an opportunity, reading extra after her higher-level Chinese classes to further her language skills. Now, the 18-year-old senior has been making waves with her leadership skills and smarts, having been recently chosen as one of 104 students in the country to participate in the prestigious United States Senate Youth Program.

“The younger generation is the generation that will be most impacted by any governmental changes,” said Nessel, who leads a workgroup advising state education officials on world language curriculum reform as a member of the State Student Advisory Council. “It’s crucial that young people are involved in politics so they are able to guide government policy in the direction that best helps the majority of people and best includes all Americans.”

Nessel, of Florence, is one of two students from Massachusetts to participate in the week-long government and leadership program created in 1962 by a resolution passed by the United States Senate. In addition to an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in early March, Nessel and the other students each receive a $10,000 scholarship for college which the students are encouraged to use for studying government, history or public affairs. Nessel said she will also meet with at least one of Massachusetts’ two senators.

The competitive program, which is now in its 58th year, has a stated mission to provide the country’s top students an opportunity to learn more about political processes and careers in public service and is funded by The Hearst Foundations. The program accepts two students from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Nessel was first told about the program by an advisor of the State Student Advisory Council, a body of students elected by peers in the commonwealth that’s tasked with advising the state education department on student issues. There, Nessel combines her passions for Chinese and public service as a student voice for better world language education in the state as chair of the body’s Global Outreach Work Group.

“Just beyond being able to express yourself in Chinese, I love being able to change the way I think and think from a different perspective, critically, about issues,” Nessel said. “I want to work as hard as I can to make sure every student in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and all across the world has access to strong world language education so they can reap the benefits as well.”

Nessel’s success on the state advisory council did not come easy — she was the only candidate a few years ago to lose a regional election for a seat on the state body. But like how she dealt with learning Chinese, Nessel worked hard and moved up through the body to where she is now.

“That’s been a very encouraging story for me, that things won’t always work out the way you want them to at the beginning but you can still get to where you want to go and achieve what you want to do,” she said.

Nessel said she was “beyond excited” when she received a phone call from her advisor that she’d been selected for the Senate youth program. She was one of 11 who scored high enough on a civics exam for an interview, but she didn’t think she’d be chosen.

“I was in the car with my dad when I heard,” she said. “It was just surreal.”

In the past, students who participate in the program have spent time meeting with senators, Senate co-chairs, Senate leaders, officials from the Departments of State and Defense, foreign ambassadors, senior members of the media and the president. Nessel said she’s excited to connect with other student delegates from across the country as they discuss the most pressing political issues.

Nessel, who is transgender, said she is interested in talking with the country’s political elite about LGBTQ+ issues and world language education reform. She’s hoping to promote a better understanding across party lines on divisive political issues.

“Politely uncovering the basis for certain positions on civil rights would be beneficial to promoting equality, not only LGBT+ equality, but equality across all different minorities,” Nessel said.

Bruce Rubin teaches history and theory of knowledge at PVCICS and said that Nessel is not only a great student, but a great person as well. Nessel also is co-editor-in-chief of the PVCICS student newspaper and helps to run the school’s model United Nations.

“I think the thing that really stands out to me … is that she’s so open to everybody else’s ideas,” Rubin said. “She’s the type of person who will listen to someone’s point of view, take in what they say, genuinely try to understand and then share her point of view.”

“She is an extremely self-motivated learner,” said Zhaohong Wen, Nessel’s Chinese teacher. “She has a very inquiring mind.”

Nessel’s mother, Mary Ann Nessel, said her daughter’s interest in government and public policy started at a very young age, as she would rather listen to NPR than music while doing the dishes or other chores. Mary Ann Nessel said she is thankful for the opportunity the program gives her daughter.

“She’s definitely a self-starter,” Mary Ann Nessel said. “I’m always in awe about how she makes us better people.”

As for the scholarship money, Katherine Nessel has committed to attending Barnard College in New York City where she will study Chinese and urban studies. Also interested in international affairs, Nessel said she’s unsure of her future career, but said she’s leaning toward urban planning.

“I’m very grateful to be chosen and to represent my school,” Nessel said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to delve more into government.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy