Meet our talented 2016-2017 SYI participants who will set the tone for years to come in terms of publishing both creative and academic work as ambassadors of intellectual curiosity. These students will be led by our dedicated faculty who will mentor them throughout the year.

Anum Damani, a student at Santa Monica High School, is thrilled to explore the hidden treasures of John Steinbeck’s realm. She is an avid writer and painter, so she hopes that this experience will help provide inspiration for future art pieces. Anum has visited the Central Coast of California in the past, but she believes that this program will truly allow her to view the scenery through the eyes of Steinbeck and his companion, Ed Ricketts. She is curious to detect the similarities between the ambiance described in Cannery Row and in the reality of Cannery Row’s local landscape. She is honored to be a part of the Steinbeck Youth Institute and cannot wait to go whale watching on the pacifying waters of Monterey Bay.

Kelly Dunn is a junior at Santa Monica High School. She is a painter, a violist in the Symphony Orchestra, and an aerial performer. Her appreciation for Steinbeck’s works stemmed from her reading of East of Eden; since then she has read The Log of the Sea of Cortez, Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle, To A God Unknown, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and Of Mice and Men. In addition, she competes in the National Science Bowl competition annually, where she specializes in biology. She hopes that this will shape her experience on the Steinbeck Youth Institute summit, immersing herself in the dynamics between Ricketts, Steinbeck, and the sea.

Natalie Gold, a senior at Santa Monica High school, is excited to be part of the Steinbeck Youth Institute. 2 years ago she traveled to El Polmo, the lungs of the sea, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, and Isla Espiritu Santo. Natalie witnessed the beautiful views and marine life just as Ricketts and Steinbeck did 70 years earlier. The windy journey was filled with whale sharks, sea lions and rocky islands with stark desert landscapes. So much of Steinbeck’s literature, such as The Log of the Sea of Cortez, Cannery Row and The Pearl all have the ocean as the backdrop for his writings. Natalie’s relationship with the ocean is just as strong and passionate as Steinbeck’s.

Chloe Gottlieb is an artist and junior at Santa Monica High School. She has been a writer since the beginning of time (1999 for her) and loves poetry more than anything, which is saying a lot considering all of her childhood pets are still alive. Obsessed with reading and learning French, she often spends her time fantasizing about the lives of poets living out her dream of writing and eating cheese in France. Born and raised in California, she is trying to master the art of ukulele as well as the newly created art form of melting plastic, and yes she promises it is in fact art. When she isn’t making collages of dogs or zines, she can be found hiking in nature or writing music in her bathtub. She hopes it will start raining soon and is extremely excited to participate in this Steinbeck Youth Institute program.

Hanna Gratch is a senior at Santa Monica High School. She is a science fiction lover who plans to invent warp drive while studying astronomy and planetary science on the side. Outside of school, Hanna enjoys hiking with friends, playing soccer, and swimming in a large body of saltwater. She is excited to go on the trip and live through Steinbeck’s books. She aspires to be like Doc in Cannery Row and drive slowly and drink a lot (of water).

Weston Gray is currently a junior at Santa Monica High School. He is a sailor on the SAMOHI sailing team, plays euphonium in the Wind Ensemble and All-State/All-Southern California honor bands, and enjoys traveling and spending time in nature. When he is not out on the water sailing or marching with a baritone by his side, he is indulging in books and on culinary adventures. His refined palate led him to a life that revolves around food and he hopes to combine his passion for food with the works of Steinbeck. Through completing several books by Steinbeck, he has gained an appreciation for his work and looks forward to expanding his knowledge of California’s most revered author by seeing how the beautiful landscapes that are depicted in his novels come to life.

Rara Gumbel has lived in Los Angeles her entire life. She is a senior at Santa Monica High School and is on the school newspaper as well as the Mock Trial team. When not reading the best of Steinbeck, she spends her time taking sewing classes and designing clothes and hopes one day to work in the fashion world, hopefully improving the lives and protecting the rights of clothing factory workers.

Kimi Holsapple is a serious dreamer who runs a humble gardening program at her school, Santa Monica High. She once subsided on nothing but Nutella for a week and what she found transcended the obvious negative physical manifestations on her health, and much akin to the Spartan Buddhist monk, discovered some virtue that a hungry and dogged seeks for comfort. At the core of her intellectual curiosity, she has become enamored with Steinbeck’s portrayal of the grand aristocratic dynasties and graphic complexities of the common man. Her penultimate wish is to be lucky enough to grasp, even just the tail, of the human existence.

Katie Hoover is a junior at Santa Monica High School. She is a member of the Symphony Orchestra and of the tennis team at Samo, both of which take up a good portion of her time. She is a member of two book clubs and an avid reader, when not overloaded with homework. She loves backpacking and the outdoors and hopes to tie in her love of nature with her work she will do in the Institute. Katie has loved visiting the Monterey Bay area since she was only a few months old, so she is particularly excited to be able to gain a deeper appreciation of the place through the works of John Steinbeck and the experiences during the Institute.

Madeline Kresin is a senior at Santa Monica High School. She has traveled to the Monterey and Pacific Grove area many times and is looking forward to seeing it through the lens of Steinbeck’s novels. She enjoys playing soccer, hiking, and kayaking, and plans to major in environmental studies in college. Having read Cannery Row while studying environmental sustainability this summer on the Atlantic Coast, she’s glad to have gotten her geography straightened out and to be heading to the real center of Steinbeck’s world.

Xander Lee is a keen high school student, a talented musician, and an avid analog photographer from Santa Monica, currently attending Santa Monica High School. Focused equally in the sciences and humanities, Xander enjoys interdisciplinary work linking literature to art forms and music in its time, as well as field-based biological work. He is rarely seen without one of his instruments, be they musical or photographic, and annoys his orchestra director to no apparent end by carrying and using both at the same time.

Angela Matic is currently a junior at Santa Monica High School. She was born in Santa Monica, CA, and lives right by the beach. She enjoys walks to the beach before sunset; there, she appreciates ethereal nature and absorbs the beauty around her. She is also very eager to attend the Steinbeck Youth Institute and learn more about her newfound love towards her favorite author, John Steinbeck.

Dustin Morris is a Santa Monica High School student. He has gone to school his whole life and plans on continuing in that trajectory until he doesn’t have to anymore. His hobbies include but are not limited to, reading, writing, swimming, long walks on the beach, and music. He has participated in band since sixth grade and still wonders why he chose to play the oboe, partly because he believes it sounds like a duck. He enjoys watching movies but he has learned to accept that junior year is terrible and he may never see a movie again, even though he really wants to see Sausage Party. He is humbled and excited to be a part of the first official Steinbeck Youth Institute program although he still has to finish The Pastures of Heaven.

Katie Osaki is an 11th grade student at Santa Monica High School who found her love for Steinbeck in the literal elegance of Cannery Row. Since her critical reading of Cannery Row, she has gone on to read some of his other works such as The Pastures of Heaven, East of Eden, The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, and The Log of the Sea of Cortez. Along with her devout relationship with the works of Steinbeck, she also followed her passion for journalistic writing by working as an intern at the local newspaper, the Santa Monica Daily Press. Through the many opportunities she has received, she hopes to continue writing many types of genres and reading the literary library of Steinbeck and other authors before her time.

Anya Pertel was born and raised in Santa Monica, CA and is now a senior at Santa Monica High School. She is involved in a variety of extracurriculars and clubs, from environmentalism to feminism to economics. When she isn’t reading or working on her college applications (where has the time gone?), she is usually painting or drawing in the small studio space she set up in her garage. Although she will venture east soon for her undergraduate education, most likely studying art or the social sciences, she plans to fill her longing for California’s sunlight and beautiful coastline with Steinbeck’s books.

Ruby Shaich is currently a junior at Santa Monica High School. She is a member of the high school leadership program and rows for a crew team. She spends lots of time outdoors and loves to travel. Her favorite genre of writing is fiction, and she thoroughly enjoys the work of Steinbeck. She has taken interest in him since the beginning of her first novel, Of Mice and Men. She is looking forward to further deepen her knowledge and interest with the Steinbeck Youth Institute.

Kyla Walker is a junior at Santa Monica High School, and one of her many passions includes writing. She is able to contribute her work as a journalist on The Samohi newspaper. She plays on the Varsity Softball team and recently returned from the 2016 Softball Junior Olympics during the summer, which happened to be in Salinas. Kyla has played violin for eight years and guitar for two years and enjoys listening to music every day. She became intrigued by Steinbeck and his beautiful novels after reading The Pastures of Heaven. She fell in love with the characters and the little valley outside Monterey that held too many stories to be told.

Emma Ware is a 16-year-old high schooler at Santa Monica High School. She is a violinist in the school orchestra and a goalie on the Samohi girls water polo team. Recently, she has become an avid coffee drinker because of the early hours her activities require. In her free time, she loves watercolor painting. After reading Steinbeck’s vivid and awe-inspiring descriptions of the Northern California landscapes, Emma is eager to visit and possibly paint these same sites. Her goal is to capture the same humanity that Steinbeck paints with his words.

Will Wisen is a junior at Santa Monica High School. He was born in Virginia, but he has lived in the Santa Monica/Malibu area for most of his life. He has always had a close relationship with the ocean tides and animals ever since his weekly trips to the Malibu tide pools in kindergarten. His ties to the ocean have continued throughout his life through surfing. After reading Sea of Cortez, and learning about all the species Steinbeck encountered, he has been very interested in Steinbeck’s work. The Steinbeck Youth Institute seemed like the perfect opportunity to continue and renew his interest in both Steinbeck and the roles of nature.

Li (Thomas) Xu is a junior at Santa Monica High School. He has lived in Santa Monica for most of his life. He really likes physical science, and it is the reason he aspires to become an aerospace engineer. He is also fascinated by human behavior. Steinbeck’s ability to turn the apparently mundane community in his novels into a real town with real people, in which the readers are a part of, is his favorite aspect of Steinbeck. On this trip, he hopes to thoroughly understand how Steinbeck can turn fictional characters into real-world people.

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