Millennials Making a Difference

By Liz Onufer

At Teton High School (THS), the graduating class typically teeters somewhere around a hundred students. Many of these small town grads head out into a much larger world, to colleges where their names might not be known by faculty and competition for good opportunities can be much tougher than back home. But THS alumni are proving that it doesn’t take big money and a ton of resources to create a solid foundation for their lives ahead. Social entrepreneur, nuclear engineer, heli-ski operator, Air Force Pilot, EMT—these five young men and women are evidence of just what a sound foundation a small-town school can provide. (In italics are some of each individual’s thoughts about their experience at Teton High School.)

Todd Sherman, Class of 2001, Nuclear Engineer

Todd Sherman did not originally set out to be a nuclear engineer. His route to the profession was part curiosity and part persistence and hard work, and he recognizes the opportunities he had at THS provided a solid underpinning. 

“I treasure my days at THS. Many people trash on the small town and small school experience, but I found it to be extremely advantageous.” 

After graduation and a season working at Trail Creek Nursery, Todd served his LDS mission in Managua, Nicaragua. When he returned to the states in 2004, he headed to the University of Utah to pursue a degree in architecture. He completed the prerequisites but was not accepted into the competitive full bachelor’s program. Formulating a plan B, he looked at the College of Engineering. 

In the midst of the difficulty and rigor of the engineering classes, Todd found his career path. He enjoyed the work so much, he decided to go on for a Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering. With the offer of a research assistantship, which included a full scholarship and living stipend, Todd began his way to the graduate degree. 

“I wanted to learn more, and it was in graduate school that I truly learned how to learn,” he says. “Now, I must emphasize that I am not academically gifted. It took me two times to pass the fundamentals of engineering test and two times to pass my Ph.D. qualifying exam.” 

Today, Todd is completing his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering through Idaho State University. He works at the River Bend Station nuclear power plant near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as he completes his research project to finish the degree. 

“THS can be a great starting place for students to begin to get involved in school as well as the community. Our schools are assets; invest in them.” 

Alexandra Meiners, Class of 2003, Heli-Ski Owner/Operator

Photo by Frank Shine

Alex Meiners’ journey from THS to Alaska’s heli-skiing world was a bit circuitous. A combination of events over the years, including a high-level internship, severe tonsillitis, and a tragic accident, led her out of the valley to New York City and back home again over the last decade. 

In 2007, after graduating from Idaho State University, Alex secured an internship in New York City at the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. After her internship, she moved on to work as an associate editor at True Romance Magazine and the quarterly True Experience Magazine. 

“I always had a desire to be a writer, but it wasn’t until Neil Gleichman’s freshman World History and Lance Fuisting’s Newspaper class that I knew I wanted to be a journalist.” 

But after a being diagnosed with chronic tonsillitis and spending a week in the hospital, Alex returned to Teton Valley to have a tonsillectomy and recover. It was during this time that she began helping her father, Theo Meiners, with his business, Alaska Rendezvous Guides and Alaska Rendezvous Lodge. Within her first week, Theo had made her a signer on the bank account and handed over the administrative duties. For three years, Alex worked alongside her dad to run the heli-skiing operation and guest lodge. 

When Theo passed away unexpectedly in an accident in Anchorage in 2012, Alex found herself at the helm of the enterprise. The learning curve was steep from the moment she stepped into the business and has continued to be over the last few years. 

Alaska Rendezvous Guides canceled the 2013 heli-skiing season after Theo’s death. In 2014, with Alex serving as the owner and operator, business resumed in full. Today, she carries on the legacy of her father and has been recognized for her leadership by the National Association of Professional Women, and profiled in Big Life Magazine as the industry’s only female owner and operator. 

Victoria Cook Farmer, Class of 2003, Social Entrepreneur

When Victoria (Cook) Farmer wrote in the THS yearbook that her goal was to be a successful businesswoman, she figured she would find work with a large, established company. Her plans did not include creating and co-founding her own business. But she has done just that with The Doll Kind, a children’s company creating soft, huggable dolls that promote kindness. 

“The people who I met and became friends with [at THS] are a vital part of who I am today. I had teachers that truly cared and were very accessible. Being a part of a small student body really helped me to feel significant. It wasn’t easy to get lost in the crowd.”

Victoria attended Idaho State University before volunteering to teach English in China. After returning to the states, she moved to Denver, where she met her husband, Tim. The couple started a family and have two young children, with a third on the way. 

It was Victoria’s oldest who gave her the business idea, in a most unusual way. One day while Victoria was nursing her young son, her oldest child, Anistyn, two at the time, submerged herself in a bucket of white paint. Victoria had been painting the living room in preparation to sell their house and had been unable to secure the lid. Before whisking Anistyn to the bath, she snapped a photo and later posted it to social media. What followed was a media storm that both berated Victoria for her parenting skills and commiserated with her for her predicament. Reading some of the abusive comments made Victoria think about what kind of people her children might become, and how she could inspire more kindness in them.

 “A good education doesn’t rest solely upon the teachers, or the school district, or even the student. It takes an entire community.”

This led to Victoria—along with fellow parent and friend Jackie Konczol—starting The Doll Kind. Each doll comes with a kindness kit, a set of heart tokens with phrases to inspire gratitude, love, and kindness. For every doll purchased, another doll is donated to a child less fortunate. So far, The Doll Kind’s work and mission have been recognized with the First Year’s Parentpreneur Grant and featured in Real Simple magazine’s holiday gift guide. 

Sean Dronen, Class of 2007, Air Force Pilot

From THS track meets to pilot training in Texas to his Middle East deployment, Capt. Sean Dronen’s journey has been focused on serving his community and his country. In 2011, Sean graduated from the United States Air Force Academy with the rank of second lieutenant and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. 

“Although my desire to join the Air Force and pursue a career in aviation stemmed primarily from my family roots, I owe everything to Teton High School in the preparation it offered me in pursuit of these goals.”

Upon graduating from the academy, Sean was invited to attend the Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. After two intense years of training, he earned his Air Force pilot wings and was assigned to fly C-17 military transport aircraft out of McChord Air Force Base in Washington state. He left Texas with his wings and his future wife, Tracy. Today, the couple have two young children. 

“The preparation and knowledge I gained from my insightful coaches [at THS] not only prepared me for whomever my next wrestling match was against, but also for the challenges and frustrations we’re all accustomed to facing on a daily basis.” 

For the last four years, Sean has been flying the C-17 across the world. In 2014, he was deployed to the Middle East and was recognized for his service, with two Air Medals for sustained aerial achievement. Today, he serves as a flight instructor out of Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where he trains the newest C-17 pilots. 

“I still worry that this high school, and particularly its teaching staff, are severely underappreciated for the incredible work they put in each year. Teton High School does an amazing job preparing any and all students that are willing to learn and accept the challenge.” 

Edgar Chavez, Class of 2012, EMT

Edgar Chavez’s desire to enter the medical field was born during Mr. Beard’s Anatomy class at THS. Since then, Edgar’s academic and professional decisions have been driven by his goal to be a doctor. 

“THS solidified my interest in science. I was able to take work experience and see what it was like to be in a hospital.”

Edgar went on to graduate from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. While in college, he served as a translator at a free clinic for low-income families, volunteered at Primary Children’s Hospital, and taught kids about chemical experiments through the American Chemical Society. But it was his work with Dr. Bonnie Baxter and her research that Edgar defines as one of his greatest achievements. 

“The research project was to simplify DNA extraction from salt crystals in hopes of one day implementing our protocol on a rover that would be sent to Mars,” he explains. The project was funded by NASA, and Edgar had the opportunity to present at two regional NASA conferences. 

During his final semester at Westminster, Edgar earned his EMT certification and is currently working for Gold Cross Ambulance in Salt Lake City. He is taking classes for his Advanced EMT as he applies to medical schools and awaits acceptance letters for the fall semester.

“In order for THS to build strong academic foundations, it needs the help and support of the community—to provide the current academic opportunities and to create new ones that will broaden the possibilities for students and their futures.”

Teton High School has served as a springboard for thousands of graduates. Most often, their success stories are shared quietly in the aisles at Broulim’s or on the bleachers at homecoming. Alumni go on to earn prestigious degrees, serve missions, start families, build businesses, save lives, and protect our nation. THS and the success of its graduates are the result of a community that has come together—faculty, staff, parents, and students—to nurture small town kids and help them grow to become citizens who are making a difference.