The award, which is presented each year to selected senior engineering students, gives recipients the chance to honor an influential secondary school teacher.
Cruz-Albrecht, 21, chose to honor Kathy Schultheis, an English teacher at OPHS known for a teaching challenging curriculum focused on writing.
The university paid for Schultheis to fly up north to join her former student in the celebration on April 14 at Stanford University’s Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center.
Cruz-Albrecht was picked for the award based on her academic achievement in the computer science program, part of the engineering school at Stanford. She is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science this June and a master’s degree in June 2019.
The top 5 percent of students in the engineering department are presented the award each year.
“Being able to honor and thank someone who has helped not only me but also countless other students like me throughout her years teaching was really special,” Cruz-Albrecht said.
“While I have been fortunate to have many amazing teachers while at OPHS, Mrs. Schultheis was one of those teachers who truly helped me grow tremendously as a student and thinker, and who inspired me with her love for teaching and her care for each of her students,” said the award winner.
In the brochure presented to guests at the awards luncheon, she wrote in part, “Through her extraordinary teaching and mentorship, Mrs. Schultheis had a profound impact on my education. Her exceptional English class helped me grow tremendously as both a writer and thinker, giving me practical writing, rhetorical analysis, and critical thinking skills that I know will continue to serve me throughout my life.”
Cruz-Albrecht touched on why English literature and writing are important regardless of what major a student chooses in college.
“In any discipline, it’s critical to be able to communicate your ideas effectively through writing, be it through a research paper or an email,” she said. “And while the study of literature might not be immediately related to all majors, I think that studying literature helps one develop critical thinking skills and gain a broader understanding of the human experience. I think it helps you become a more well-rounded person and a better thinker.”
Schultheis, a 25-year teacher at Oak Park High, spoke about the importance of English classes.
“I would say that so much of college life, no matter what field a student pursues, revolves around writing,” she said.
“(Laura) is a crackerjack writer, so she sailed through her required writing courses at Stanford, but she acknowledges how writing forms the basis of so much of what she does. Obviously, as a computer science major, she doesn’t write old-school style as I do with a pen and yellow legal pad, but she can write with the best of them, and she puts those writing chops to good use in all that she carries out.”
Cruz-Albrecht was a student in Schultheis’ Advanced Placement English class in her junior year. She graduated in 2014 with a 4.7 grade-point average and an SAT score of 2370.
In addition to acing academics, Cruz-Albrecht was in Oak Park’s Solar Cup Club, where students built and raced a solar-powered boat; the Science Olympiad; and the Key Club. She also worked on various environmental challenges during her high school years and volunteered at a senior living home and an elementary school after-school club while serving as a youth leader at her church.
“The only way to describe (Laura) is to plagiarize Lewis Carroll, who defined the little girl who inspired him to write ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as a ‘dream child.’ Laura was all that and more,” Schultheis said. “Just one of those kids you run across one or two times in a career—wonderfully curious, a gorgeous writer, highly perceptive and observant, more interested in others than in herself.”
As for the celebration at Stanford, Schultheis said the college “really rolled out the red carpet.” In addition to lunch at the Terman Engineering building, guests heard about the history of engineering at the school.
When Schultheis was invited to speak about her former student, she read Cruz-Albrecht’s college application essay, in which she described her hobby of knitting and “extrapolated from the twining of threads into the math stratosphere of string theory and mathematical patterns.”
“I wanted the audience to know just how Laura’s mind works, so I found it best to read her lovely writing,” Schultheis said.
Cruz-Albrecht’s family lives in Oak Park. She has three younger siblings. Her brother, Carlo, attends UC Berkeley. Two sisters, Sylvia and Athena, who are students at Oak Park High School.