Lucas Haas ’08 : Learning Outside the Box and Following His Passions

By Brenda Lange

As is the case with most, if not all, of his fellow Miquon alumni, Lucas Haas ’08 (known at Miquon as Luke) has many fond memories of playing outside on the school’s campus. And he knows that he learned a lot from those outdoor adventures in Miquon’s woods and creek. 

“In the wintertime, we collected sap from the trees and made maple syrup. We also built intricate forts in the woods during recess, using whatever natural objects we could find,” he says. “Indoors, I played with Legos, but outdoors, we built with the abundance of branches and rocks at our disposal.”

“And in Kindergarten, we raised chicks in an incubator. Some grew up but some died, and our whole class learned about birth and death through those chicks,” he remembers. “The point is that we were learning about life through it all, not just in theory, but by going out, touching nature and natural things with our hands and interacting with them.

“We were encouraged to go outside and learn, to follow our own curiosity and it’s so cool to learn that way—hands-on, and in a natural environment that even the best city schools cannot provide without field trips.”

Encouragement to follow what you love

Luke also remembers having an intuitive understanding of math concepts early-on. He didn’t need repetition, and “got it” quickly. Teachers took notice and challenged him to stretch even further through different games that made the study fun.

“In 3rd grade, my teacher, Lisa Cooper, gave me double-digit multiplication problems, advanced math, while others were doing simpler work. And in 4th grade, [my teachers] gave me Mad Minute problems so I could solve problems in a different way,” he says.

He is grateful for that encouragement and for the opportunity to pursue what was clearly a gift once he showed a proficiency for mathematics. The 5th grade class was separated into two math groups at the time Luke was a student, and his teachers, MaryBeth Bongiovanni and Jeri Bond Whatley, sat down with him and encouraged him to pursue different methods of study beyond what other students were doing in the classroom.

Luke also cherishes memories of such classic Miquon projects as the remote-controlled cars built in 6th grade with science teacher, Tony Hughes, whom Luke calls “legendary.” 

“The cars were quite simple, they basically went backwards and forwards with a simple switch,” he explains. “But that project taught us how batteries worked and how to create a circuit, so we learned the basics of electronics and circuitry.”

Luke also remembers impressing his teachers with a thoughtful presentation he made about Japanese-American identity during World War II and the internment of Japanese in the United States—something he had learned about through his family (his grandfather was an Oregon-born Japanese-American with two Japanese parents, making Luke one-quarter Japanese).

Transitions . . .

Although Luke’s transition to his next school—Germantown Friends—after graduation from Miquon was hard initially, he says he recognizes now that his Miquon experience eventually paid off, and prepared him well to work through, and with, the challenges he experienced throughout his transition to adulthood. 

“Initially, I struggled socially and felt awkward,” he says. “I got a lot of homework, which was overwhelming, especially the reading. But I was in accelerated math classes at GFS, which reinforced for me that I was really an excellent student.”

Luke found his true athletic self at GFS and believes that all that running around at Miquon prepared him for that too. He was a member of the Chestnut Hill Blue Lightning travel soccer team in middle school and participated on the varsity soccer and baseball teams later in high school. In college, Luke successfully walked onto a Division III NCAA soccer team, being recognized by the coach for his “raw athleticism” and contagious work ethic.

“But growing up was still hard, in general,” he says. His parents divorced and he began to play a lot of video games. “Halfway through high school, I realized I was becoming a lazy kid and got myself up and into the gym. I got fit and fell in love with baseball and played varsity my senior year.”

Because he found high school stressful, Luke wasn’t initially prepared to go directly to college, so he decided to take a gap year that he split—enjoying two totally different experiences.

Making the most of his gap year

During the first half of the year, Luke traveled to England where he took college prep classes at a program that partnered with Oxford University. He didn’t fit in very well with the other students; however, he befriended some Somali soccer players in a local park and began exploring the city through its soccer scene. 

During the second half of the year, which he calls “more interesting,” he returned to Philadelphia and lived on his own and worked moving furniture and as a landscaper, while taking night classes to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) at Jefferson Hospital where he discovered a love of medicine. 

“I biked everywhere or took the train and worked,” he says. “It was eye-opening. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to college … I got up, took care of myself, worked, took classes, paid my own bills and bought my own groceries. I know I was privileged growing up and this experience was so good for me … to see what life could be like on my own, without college. 

“I got my EMT certification, learned about my city, volunteered in Kensington as a soccer coach and realized that I wanted to go to college.” That half year on his own gave Luke a certain appreciation for college once he got there that classmates didn’t seem to have. “They didn’t really know why they were there. I did.”

During that time, he decided to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, where his older brother, Caleb, also a Miquon alum, was a student. Luke studied pre-medical coursework and psychology, graduating in December 2019 with a degree in psychology.

Ironically, Luke says (sounding somewhat surprised) that he “grew out of math!” But he eventually noticed that his old skills prove extremely useful in the mathematics of college chemistry classes.

Currently, Luke lives near Glendale, California, with Caleb, and works with the Pasadena Fire Department as an EMT. He also coaches youth soccer for Los Angeles City Park and Rec while he continues to prepare for PA (physician’s assistant) school, where he will receive professional training similar to medical school.

Learning done outside the box

Luke always has considered himself to be an independent, self-motivated person who has consistently searched for ways to learn outside the classroom.

“I’ve tutored for nonprofits, working with homeless kids, and have looked for ways to coach soccer every week, even while taking classes,” he says. “I’ve always looked for different things I can do, and I know that I love learning. Looking back, I realize that all my extra-curricular experiences have been more valuable than just getting an A versus a B … although my grades aren’t awful,” he adds with a laugh. “I had a 3.3 – 3.5 GPA.”

“I believe that I gained confidence at Miquon, which also fosters and fuels creativity,” Luke says. “I have always looked for better ways to do things. Others might just accept things the way they are, but I’m always looking for ways to make things better.

“Miquon always encouraged us to go out and find new ways to do things,” he adds. “They gave us a lot of freedom, which is where I gained my confidence and independence and I learned from the mistakes I did make … going outside of my comfort zone gave me courage. And I got that from Miquon.”