South Western TSA program competing for success

Junior Gonzalez

When Daphne Weiss was in fifth grade, she already knew she wanted to be part of the Technology Student Association program at South Western High School.

“When I saw their uniforms, I thought, ‘I want to be in that,’” she said of the navy blue blazers, which are emblazoned with a large TSA logo.

Students from the South Western Technology Student Association program gather during the state conference earlier this year. The group has grown in numbers and in success in the past few years.

Now a senior, Weiss appreciates more than just the trademark look.

South Western Technology Student Association adviser Melissa Wilson, left, and TSA state President Daphne Weiss, a South Western senior, have seen the student group grow in numbers and success in the past few years.

She's now president of the Pennsylvania delegation of the organization, which looks to impress STEM, business and leadership skills on its membership of more than 230,000 middle school and high school students from some 2,000 schools in 45 states.

The program has more than two dozen science, technology, engineering and math categories in which students can compete for county, regional and state bragging rights. Competitions range from tests in 3D animation, coding and engineering design to public speaking, fashion design and music production.

“You can compete for anything,” said Mark Weiss, Daphne's twin brother and another member of South Western’s TSA team.

The Weiss twins and many of their fellow TSA members have been part of the club during a period of significant growth for the district’s group.

Success: In 2012, the South Western TSA chapter had four top-10 finishes and zero wins above fifth place in four categories. In 2017, the group achieved dozens of high-ranking finishes in 18 categories, including 26 top-10 finishes, 14 top-five finishes and six top-three finishes.

Gifted support teacher Melissa Wilson advises the high schoolers on the team, while technology and engineering teacher Jana Bonds advises the middle schoolers. Both teachers said TSA helps prepare students for their futures.

Daphne and Mark Weiss, along with fellow student officers Jonah Proepper and Hunter Conrad, joined the program in seventh grade.

The TSA officers from South Western have had a successful season at competitions. Seated at center table, from left: chapter treasurer Jonah Proepper, President Mark Weiss, adviser Melissa Wilson, incoming Vice President Hunter Conrad and state President Daphne Weiss.

“(Students think) it’s enjoyable because they get out of classes, but it’s a lot more work than school,” said Proepper, who stressed the club is much more than an extracurricular activity.

Learning experience: Several South Western students said they felt they have grown with the program.

Proepper, a freshman, said he was disappointed at coming up short in the recent state race for TSA treasurer, but he said failure makes him even more determined to win the seat next year. “In a way, losing was a blessing,” he said.

Conrad, a junior, said he used to be more introverted but has grown out of his shell thanks to the program.

“I’m definitely talking more,” he said, prompting Daphne Weiss to joke that she didn’t know what Conrad’s voice sounded like for the first few years.

Conrad, who is also a student representative for the South Western school board, will be vice president of the district’s TSA chapter in the coming school year.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into the school I’m going to if it weren’t for TSA,” Mark Weiss said.

His twin gave a similar account.

"I wouldn’t have been invited (for a scholarship interview) if I wasn’t state president,” she said. “TSA forces you to build your life skills to become successful.”

Both Mark and Daphne Weiss plan to attend Emory University in the fall.

Proud teachers: Wilson and Bonds said they are immensely proud of what their students have accomplished in the past five years and they hope the momentum can continue in years to come.

“I’m so proud of this group,” Bonds said. “They’re some of the reasons why this program has been so successful. ... They say tradition doesn’t graduate, but (future students) have big shoes to fill.”

Wilson, who has advised the program for more than 10 years, said watching the students makes her optimistic about the future.

"If you’re worried about the state of our future, don’t be,” she said. “It’s so impressive to see these students doing such great things at such a young age.”