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Once, Always | The Road to Purdue University and Becoming a Space Engineer

Through the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), our students at Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) have the benefit of developing an excellent breadth and depth of knowledge, by flourishing physically, intellectually, emotionally, and ethically.  

Our alumni and Golden Dragon, Sota Yanagisawa, is a perfect example of the success of the IB Programme and how it prepares students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world. We had the opportunity to speak to Sota about his 13 years at SCIS and his ambition of becoming an aerospace engineer at Purdue University.  

Read about the perfect IB Scorer and his academic achievements in our latest Once, Always article.  


Hi Sota! Can you tell us what brought you to SCIS?  

Hi! My name is Sota Yanagisawa from the Class of 2022. I am from Japan, but I have been at SCIS since Kindergarten, which means I was a Dragon for 13 years! The reason why I joined SCIS is that my friend also went here. When I first came, my parents and I were surprised at the diversity of this school.  


What is your favorite memory at SCIS?

Recalling my experience at SCIS, there are many notable memories, such as the invention convention, egg drop, Qingdao math competition, jazz band, International Food Fair, filming, and many more. Honestly, because I’ve been here so long, defining one favorite memory is nearly impossible. But, it’s also the tiny details in my memories, such as ordering Waimai during lunch, that made my experience more fun and enriching.  

If I were to raise one of my most profound memories, it would be my filmmaking experience at SCIS. For instance, the award-winning film “Symmetric Shanghai” I made in 9th grade was challenging, but I loved the production process. 

What do you miss about SCIS?

I already miss the intimate and close-knit community we had in SCIS. I knew everybody in my grade and many people from other grades. I also often talked a lot with my teachers. I am grateful for how open all my teachers were; it was a welcoming environment where I could easily ask questions during break or after school. In university, there are lectures with over 400 students in one hall, which makes reaching out to professors rather difficult. 

Were you involved in any ASAs, sports, or extracurricular activities?

I have an extreme passion for drones. I like to design, prototype, build, fly, and repair drones. Using my drones, I participated in drone races and worked as an aerial cinematographer. I would often spend hours every day searching and designing new concepts. My other interests are filmmaking (cinematography), CAD, and 3D modeling/animation. I also used to be a swimmer and played the trumpet in the jazz band.  

We heard you received a perfect IB score of 45. Congratulations! How did you achieve this outstanding accomplishment? What obstacles did you go through and how did you overcome them?

Thanks! Firstly, I did not even know my predicted grade was a 45 until Mr. Simmons, the IB Coordinator, told me. And, of course, I was even more surprised when I saw my final grade!  

There were obstacles and constant challenges – DP made me push to my limits. One of the most significant obstacles was time management, especially during the first semester of grade 12. I had to complete my extended essay, TOK essay, IAs, university application essays, and CAS while keeping up with the academics. What I first did was I tried to make my tasks related to my passions (drones). For instance, my physics IA was about drone motors. This helped with my motivation, and in a sense, it made some of these tasks enjoyable. I also often spent much time with my family during this period. I would discuss how I felt and what I needed to do and tell them what I was struggling with. And finally, playing with my cat always helped me relieve my stress.   

What helped you the most get through the IBDP?

I am incredibly grateful for all my teachers. I often asked many questions to my teachers outside of class, and all of my teachers responded with sincerity. If I had to choose one teacher, it would be Mr. Dunbar. Mr. Dunbar is the most sincere and passionate teacher I have ever met. Literature has always been complicated for me, but he always encouraged me to do my best and seeing his passion made me passionate too. 

What are your top three pieces of advice to IBDP students?

1. Ask questions. Be curious. Teachers are eager to see you, and they want you to succeed! 

2. Sleep. This is very important. IB exams require you to think, so having a clear mind is critical to your performance.  

3. Constantly reflect on your academic habits. Think about what went well and what didn’t go well. Ultimately, everybody has different studying habits, and you must be able to find your own. For me, it was studying in my room and silence. I studied for around 30 mins, then played with my cat for a while, and went back to studying again. 


What university are you currently attending and what is your major?

I am attending Purdue University for Aerospace Engineering with a full scholarship from the Yanai Tadashi Foundation! Currently, I am in the First Year Engineering program, where all freshmen in the College of Engineering are enrolled. From sophomore year, I will be pursuing aerospace engineering.  

What made you choose this major?

I was always interested in drones, but also anything that was in the air or space. I wanted to learn more about the theories to apply them to real life. Within aerospace engineering, there is aeronautical engineering, which focuses on flight in the air, and astronautical engineering, which focuses on space. I am still undecided on which to pursue, but Purdue University is one of the best universities for both aeronautical and astronautical engineering.  


What do you plan on pursuing post-university?

First, I will most likely pursue a master’s degree. For my career, I plan on joining a private company as an aerospace engineer in the research and development section.  

Our current seniors will be applying to colleges and universities soon. What essential advice would you share with them?

Keep in mind that although IB is a diploma that works internationally, some countries value IB more than others, such as the UK and Singapore. Also, look at universities worldwide because we are eligible to apply to many universities. In simple words, keep yourself open-minded.  

If you could go back in time to redo your college applications, what would you do differently?

The one thing I regret is that I should have started my college research earlier, but other than that, I do not have any regrets. I am grateful and very excited to study at one of the best universities in aerospace engineering with a full scholarship.  

Any closing words of wisdom?

This is a quote from Steve Jobs that I resonate with: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”  

And also, Mr. Dunbar would always tell us, "Be nice to your parents." 


Thank you, Sota for sharing your experience, and best of luck at Purdue. 


SCIS. Once a Dragon, Always a Dragon.

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