Caption: Sabrina Helbig
By Chris Rodell
NEW KENSINGTON — It’d be no exaggeration to say the education Sabrina Helbig received at Mary Queen of Apostles School was electrifying. It was, in every sense of the word, and it could one day save the planet.
A sixth-grade experiment involving live circuitry charged her with a drive to become an electrical engineer. Today, she’s a 23-year-old grad student at the University of Pittsburgh, eager to grasp more degrees and the associated insights that could one day ease some of the environmental traumas of climate change.
“I hope to one day be in a position to contribute to ways that help us incorporate more renewable energies into our power grids to make our systems safer and more efficient,” Helbig said. “I really enjoy finding solutions to complicated problems, and for me it all started back at MQA.”
Shocked? Don’t be.
“We’re very proud of our curriculum and how students who attended MQA have taken the disciplines they learned here and are using them to give us a better world,” said Principal Cathy Collett.
The school has long stressed the importance of a well-rounded education through ample extra-curricular activities. The school emphasizes students becoming agile thinkers capable of communicating thoughtfully either on paper or through the spoken word.
But the lessons don’t end there, Collett said. The school also stresses the importance of giving back through helping the less fortunate.
“We make it a practice to fully engage all our students with community service,” she said. “Our students learn to be grateful for what each of us has and to be mindful of the needs of others.”
The school operates under the bedrock beliefs that every child is a child of God and worthy of respect and dignity; that children learn at different paces; and that high expectations are a sound way to get the most out of teachers and students.
“I’m always proud to hear high schools say our students are fully prepared for any challenge that might come up,” Collett said.
For Helbig, the challenges all involved striving to do more, better and faster.
“MQA really helped put me in advanced positions to understand or surpass the requirements going in,” she said, adding that she was able to skip some high school requirements and go right to Algebra II.
She said MQA gave her room to grow into a more well-rounded and interesting individual than she assumes other more rigid systems would have allowed. For example, she’s become fluent in French and has nurtured an appreciation of fine art.
She is also grateful for the way the Catholic school encouraged its students to learn about other faiths. This tolerance-encouraging mindset is particularly welcome for a girl who is neither Christian nor Catholic. Helbig is a practicing Muslim.
“The tolerance they encouraged among those of differing faiths is a valuable lesson for children to learn at an early age,” she said.
More earthly concerns hit home, too.
“And they really stressed writing and reading. I have a love for reading that started back then,” she said. “And I get lots of teacher compliments for my writing, which is something that, stereotypically, engineers are supposed to struggle with. With me, it’s a strength.”
The combined factors have given her confidence to enter a field that has traditionally been dominated by men. Her program at Pitt is 70% male, she said.
She enjoyed a summer internship in Milwaukee with Eaton Corporation and said she is open-minded about relocating should the right opportunity present itself. Right now, her focus is on furthering her education so she’ll one day be poised to make a difference in a world that needs bright young minds like hers.
And it all goes back to the New Kensington school where she crowded around a table to watch some electrical circuits perform their magic.