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Sienna Shille — The sky’s not the limit

For an overview of the Northfield graduating class of 2024 please go to the profiles of Alee Reed and Angel Toribo.

Sienna Shille — The sky’s not the limit

Back in elementary school, Sienna Shille was captivated by the children’s TV show “Dora the Explorer.” Her favorite character was Dora’s cousin Diego, a helicopter pilot who flew rescue missions in the jungle to save animals.

NHS 2024 grad Sienna Shille.

“All my friends wanted to be veterinarians,” recalls Sienna. “I would say to them, you know what, I get you. But I will be a helicopter pilot and go and rescue animals. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Once she learned that Diego’s adventure “wasn’t a real job,” she decided she would learn to fly planes. Growing up in Central Park, she can see the old Stapleton Airport control tower from her window, a constant reminder through the years of her dream to be a pilot.

In her sophomore year at NHS, she explained her dream to her career counselor, who steered Sienna toward aviation scholarships. Initially, Sienna was reluctant to pursue them over concerns of the environmental impact of aircraft emissions. But she learned that new technology and carbon offsets have made aviation less problematic.

She competed and won scholarships from the Tuskegee Airmen’s Mile High Flight Program and the James C. Ray/Wings Over the Rockies organizations that enabled her to start flight training. That led to piloting single-engine Cessna trainers at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield.

“After my first solo flight, I loved it. Oh my gosh, this is so cool, I want to do this and get my pilot’s license.”

So, at age 18, Sienna is on the verge of passing the requirements to earn her license in the coming weeks.

But here’s where her story changes directions.

As much as she loves to fly, Sienna’ s career plans recently shifted to international relations. She was vice president of her freshman class at NHS and then president of her sophomore class. That gave her leadership experience. More importantly, she speaks fluent Mandarin after language and cultural immersion in the Denver Language School prior to NHS, and she launched a Chinese Language Club as a ninth grader.

Then last summer, she was chosen to attend a student leadership conference at Georgetown University in Washington. D.C. and at Columbia University in New York City.

All that has inspired her to consider a career in international diplomacy or foreign policy analysis.

“My mom is a therapist, so I always joke that diplomats are just therapists for countries.”

Languages are her specialty, as she speaks some Spanish in addition to Mandarin and hopes to learn French and Russian. Her recent 4,000-word International Baccalaureate research paper explored how translation impacts U.S.-China relations, sometimes resulting in serious miscommunication.

“We need to find and create better ways to train translators and interpreters,” Sienna argues. “In general, we undervalue the impact of language in how we understand the world.”

For the fall, she is still deciding between UC-Berkeley and CU-Boulder and is waitlisted at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

In addition to her IB tests this month on her way to an IB diploma, Sienna also has been busy wrapping up the final edition of the NHS Nighthawk Times digital student newspaper as the formatting editor.

It’s been quite a memorable high school experience for her, and she credits NHS teachers and staff for all their support over four years.

“I loved it here. I loved being part of a school that is still growing and coming into its own.”

(The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities gives grants to the Northfield High School International Baccalaureate program.)

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