Alumnus offers $1.5K community award to NHS students

Courtesy photoNewburyport High School senior and Community Award recipient Alexander Parr, left, with class of 2011 alumnus Matthew Mottola at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington in October 2019.

NEWBURYPORT — Matthew Mottola has been dreaming up ways of giving back to Newburyport High School since he graduated in 2011 and so when he met then-junior Alexander Parr at the Future Directions Expo last spring; he went to work to create the Newburyport Community Award.

An entrepreneur and published author, Mottola most recently worked with Microsoft to build the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit which connects full-time employees with remote freelancers and consultants. He currently resides in Singapore where he is launching his next technology company.

In recent years, Mottola has stayed in touch with NHS mentors like social studies teacher Matthew LaChapelle and mathematics teacher Kevin Sheridan, who helped develop the idea for a $1,500 scholarship.

“We hadn’t formalized it or started identifying candidates at this time,” Mottola explained in an email. “All we knew was that we wanted to enable a student to pursue an experience they were curious about and that pushed forward their learning.”

This experience would not just be about giving away money, but providing a student with the connections and resources they would need to pursue a passion. “We knew the measure was impact, not a GPA or an athletic stat, but the impact a student was making on our community, with the tagline ‘Proud of You, Here For You’ being our guiding vision,” Mottola said.

In April 2019, the alumnus was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Future Directions Expo, a college and career fair for sophomores at the high school. He said he asked staff members a question about the audio and video and instead of receiving an answer, they immediately pulled Parr out of class to assist him.

“He knew everything from getting the audio right, to getting the presentation ready, and was extremely professional,” Mottola said. Impressed with the tech-savvy student, Mottola asked Principal Andrew Wulf and Director of Guidance Patricia Blackstock more about Parr’s background.

“I was honestly blown away,” Mottola said, after discovering that Parr was leading the school’s theater department and assisting local theaters — “the exact type of impact we were looking for.”

After speaking with Parr about some of his goals for college and beyond, Mottola thought a trip to Seattle for Microsoft’s Future of Work Summit in October 2019 would be a good experience for the talented student.

“Since the scholarship wasn’t formalized yet, there was no application process,” he said. “But in order to be chosen, students need a sponsor, and that sponsor will write a recommendation for them as part of the scholarship.” Parr secured a recommendation from performing arts and technology teacher Stephanie Williams. 

In fall 2019, with the school’s support, Mottola took Parr to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington for a week of meeting with industry experts and exploring the field of technology. He kept the itinerary open for Parr, saying “The best thing that my mentors in Newburyport did for me was make me jump right into solving problems with little to no guidance, so I wanted to carry that over for him in regards to the event and his meetings.”

Parr, who wants to become a live sound engineer, set up at tour at the University of Washington, where he is now committed to attend this fall. He also made his mark on experts in the field including Erren Gottlieb, Bill Nye’s first television producer. According to Mottola, Gottlieb said something to the effect of “well isn’t he the perfect representation of that town you won’t stop talking about.”

“This scholarship really helped me cement that dream,” Parr wrote in an email, “and it showed me what life looked like for someone in a similar field. It also made me feel as though it were more possible than I anticipated with every aspect of technology that I saw.”

Parr was grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Seattle, something he said he otherwise would not have been able to do. He also toured Bad Animals, a studio where some of his favorite artists have been recorded and an experience he will carry with him.

“I learned that a lot of what I previously assumed to be complicated within the field of technology is actually not that much different conceptually from the technology we have available to us every day,” he said. “The main difference is much more nuanced; it’s just about how technology has advanced over time. I saw a lot of things that I see every time I walk into the high school auditorium or local theaters, and it made me feel as though I would be a lot more comfortable in the professional world than I thought.”

In advising the future recipient of this award, Parr said it was important from him to understand why he was selected and to hone in on the things that interested him. “Whoever is lucky enough to go on this scholarship should absorb as much as they can of the world around them and really enjoy the chance they are given.”

Applications for the next recipient are currently open to any NHS student through April 1. Mattola has partnered with Callie Eiserman, founder of Top Knots CoWorking in Newburyport, to assist the winner with career placement.

For more information or to apply, visit www.gethumancloud.com/newburyport-community-award.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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