Harvard grad and PCS alumna, Julia Meinhardt

Harvard grad and PCS alumna, Julia Meinhardt
Posted on 12/05/2023

Recent Harvard graduate and Plumas Charter School alumna, Julia Meinhardt returned to her alma mater to encourage high school students with a presentation about her educational and personal journey.


Meinhardt spoke to a group of 18 high school students at PCS’ Chester Learning Center on Nov. 29, 2023 about her adventure from Indian Valley resident to Harvard graduate. During her talk, she shared about personal struggles and getting over the thought that she was just a small-town girl who could never compete at the highest levels of academia. She shared a poem to inspire the teens and remind them that each student’s story is unique to them, and that they need to figure out their own journey without comparing themselves to anyone else’s. “She did an amazing job with our students,” said Chester site director Keri Reed.


After graduating from PCS’ Indian Valley Academy in 2015, Meinhardt went on to earn her bachelor’s in environmental studies from Montana State University in 2018 and then her master’s in urban planning from Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2023. 


Explaining to the students that no one’s path is linear, Meinhardt said that she didn’t leave PCS thinking she would ever attend Harvard. “I bounced around quite a bit, attending Feather River College, Santa Barbara City College and Montana State University. I’ve taken gap years multiple times, once to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail and I learned perhaps more during those years than any others,” she said. 


She is now planning to travel to Indonesia in January to do research on the changing needs and dynamics of the culture there. “I was very fortunate and surprised to be awarded a United States Fulbright Grant to travel to Indonesia for a year as a researcher,” said Meinhardt. When she arrives, her first three months will be spent in a language immersion program funded by the Critical Language Enhancement Award as part of the grant. 


Then, she will spend nine months on the island of Borneo completing research. “The region I am going to, called East Kalimantan, is facing intense urbanization pressure, in part because the Indonesian government is building a brand new capital city there,” said Meinhardt. She explained that the current capital, Jakarta, is facing serious challenges due to sea level rise, flooding, overcrowding and groundwater depletion, so, they have chosen to move their administrative capital to a new and more central location. Meinhardt’s research will focus on the regional impacts of this new city and the population growth and urbanization occurring in the province. 


Meinhardt says that so much of who she is and what she has been able to achieve has to do with growing up in Plumas County. “I love to be outside, I love rural communities and small towns, I believe in the sustainable use of management of natural resources and I want to be part of a future that allows the best parts of the rural and urban areas to thrive together in a healthy way.” 

After the Dixie Fire, a letter she wrote about the devastation to her home community was published at Harvard, if you are interested, you can read her submission here.  


When asked her advice for current high school students she said to expect a lot of twists and turns. “Your background coming from a small-town, a rural area or a non-traditional educational path like a charter school is not a liability or a disadvantage as you move into your future. These qualities can be some of your greatest strengths if you choose to view them as qualities working for you rather than against.”

By Rachel Goings, Public Relations Specialist  [email protected]