Trailblazers

This year, when we interviewed our towns’ top teens, they had stories of how they’ve reflected, grown, processed and kept it together in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. School was far from normal in 2020—proms were cancelled, graduations halted. Despite it all, this group of young people are incredibly positive and most reported an ability to adapt and be more flexible as the world was in upheaval around them. As usual, their accolades and achievements are varied and outstanding. Among our 10, we feature teens who are incredible athletes, STEM and STEAM standouts, flourishing researchers, rising stars of stage and film, public servants, activists and social justice seekers.

Daniel Fuentes
Brien McMahon High School, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the NJROTC (Naval Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps) classroom.

This fall, I’ll be… at Army basic training in Fort Benning, GA.

And after that… studying computer science at UConn when I return next spring.

What impacted me most during high school was… For two years I was in the Medical Academy where I learned basic healthcare. Afterwards, I joined the NJROTC for two years. I took on two leadership roles, and this organization made me want to pursue being an officer in the armed services. I made friends, learned how to lead and improved my skills at working with others.

One of my biggest challenges so far was when… I immigrated here from another country in seventh grade, and it was hard. Cultural things were completely different and I didn’t know the language. I had a goal to learn the language as quickly as possible and I also read every day and pushed myself to learn conversational English so I could communicate clearly.

I stayed sane during quarentine by… I knew I was shipping out for three months of army basic training in July followed by three more months of AIT (infantry training), so I worked out every day, running or strength training. I was also still responsible for my platoon, so I supported those 33 people by reaching out continuously to make sure they were okay. For fun, I experimented with digital art and Scratchboard.

This year I learned that… Things can always change, so don’t get too comfortable. Be mentally prepared when things don’t go your way.

I’m most proud of… being able to adapt so quickly to the new environment when I moved here.

My biggest life goal is… no one in my immediate family has graduated from college in the U.S., so I want to be the first and want to inspire my own kids to do the same. I’m also the first in my family to join the U.S. military.

My role model is… My Senior Naval Science Instructor, in charge of the NJROTC. He was an officer in the Marine Corps and overcame a difficult life. He knows how to talk to people and gives great advice.

My personal motto is… Be the best at what you do, keep in mind that things can always be worse, and God has a plan for you so just hang in there and keep going.

The biggest dilemma facing today’s teens is… not succumbing to peer pressure.

My favorite subject is… science. There’s always something new to learn.

People may be surprised to learn that I… like art and it’s my creative outlet.

WHY DANIEL IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Cadet Platoon Commander and Color Guard Commander for NJROTC

Top 12 percent of his class

First in his family to attend college

Wants to become an officer in the armed services

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Daniel and other members of his AP computer science class developed a website to help people locate goods at various stores.

Skyler Bennett
Darien High School, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the theater program. The people are unbelievably supportive, and they form an unbreakable community.

This fall I’ll be at… The University of California, Berkeley.

Majoring in… molecular and cell biology, with a minor in theater.

My most successful study tips… I live religiously by color coding my study notes, especially in STEM classes. I have a set of Staedtler limited edition color series fine line pens and every single subject is color-coded based on difficulty, levels of concern I have and what I need to work on.

My favorite teacher was… Janet Keeler, my freshman bio and AP bio teacher. She’s so kind, understanding and inspirational.

During quarantine I spent time by… exploring new things. I spent time with my grandmother since she lived with us for the first few weeks. We knitted, sewed and crocheted together. I also spent time painting, doing arts and crafts and made gifts for several friends.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far was when… I was working on a production of Godspell with Theatre 308, Darien High School’s theater group. I found that I’d spread myself too thin and realized that despite loving to be in control that I need to depend on other people. Collaboration is always best.

I give back by… being involved with several clubs, but the most memorable was volunteering with the Darien Arts Center last year. I worked as head production volunteer for A Wrinkle in Time with middle schoolers. I loved spending time with these kids and teaching them about the technical side of theater like writing and stage managing.

I spent my summer… taking online classes in Swift programming and Pearl, worked for my dad’s software consulting company and went to Nantucket with my family.

My favorite app is… Scrabble. My entire family is super competitive.

The biggest dilemma today’s teens face is… discrimination is the biggest problem. The good news is that our generation is so obsessed with equality. I joined a college group called College Students for Black Lives Matter. During quarantine, we set up a program where people could donate, sign petitions or write articles to support various charities that supported Black Lives Matter. In return, we peer tutored them or helped give feedback on their college essays.

I’m dedicated to… Madre, a women’s global nonprofit run out of South America. They focus on a variety on women’s issues including female genital mutilation, providing sanitation products and educational programs.

My dream job is… an environmental lawyer with
a focus on bioremediation.

People might be surprised to learn that… I’ve done a few culinary internships and received training in culinary arts. For my AP art and ceramics classes, I submitted an AP art portfolio including several of my cake designs.

I relax by creating… ceramics. My father bought a wheel and turned our outdoor shed into an art studio.

In 10 years, I’ll be… in medical or law school. I’m currently pre-med and pre-law at Berkeley. I want to pursue higher education.

My favorite local spot to meet up with friends is… My BFF and I have been going to the Darien Diner every Sunday since freshman year. Each time, we order Nutella milkshakes, Nutella crepes and a side of Nutella.

WHY SKYLER IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Model UN Member

Assistant Stage Manager and board member, Theater 308

Production Volunteer, Darien Arts Center

Business Manager, Darien High School Filmmakers Club

Received the 2020 CT State Halo Award for Stage Managing for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Ian Brown
Greens Farms Academy, class of 2020

This fall I’m attending… Grinnell College playing baseball

I’m majoring in… computer science, economics and artificial intelligence. I want to be a part of the AI evolution.

What I love most about GFA… The beauty of GFA is its desire and ability to include everybody
in everything. The small class sizes and student teacher ratio helps everybody learn from each other and stay focused and passionate about learning.

I stayed sane during quarantine by… video conferencing my friends once a day and play virtual games to stay social. I focused a lot on baseball, keeping in contact with my coach and doing lots of strength training and conditioning.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned… Live in the moment. Stay present and don’t look too far into the future.

My most successful study tips are… Don’t procrastinate. Learn the material early and don’t just memorize it— be able to apply what you’ve learned.

I give back by… On the robotics team for a few years I led a team that held a tech fair for younger kids. I volunteered at BVSA (Bobby Valentine’s Sports Academy) running clinics in Stamford and was an assistant coach for one of their younger teams. I also tutor math and science to high school students.

My personal mantra is… Think big. Don’t settle and push yourself beyond what is required.

My role model is… Aaron Judge because he’s an amazing player and physically big like me. People would always look at me and think I should be a football player because I’m 6’6” and 290 pounds. Aaron has shown that bigger people can play baseball and be really great.

The biggest challenge facing today’s teens is… the perception that everyone has to fit into a certain mold, look a certain way and be a certain way.

I’m dedicated to helping… food pantries and soup kitchens. I volunteered for several of them when I was younger and as a person who appreciates food I want to make sure others always have enough to eat and also experience a sense of community.

My best vacation ever is… my family’s house in Lake George. Both sets of grandparents and my extended family spend summers there. It’s my favorite place in the world. There’s limited internet service and no distractions, you can just have fun being in the water and playing board games.

My pre-game ritual… I have to wear a certain undershirt and a pair of white socks. If my team’s color is red that day, I wear the white socks under my red ones. I always listen to my country music playlist to get me in the right mindset.

People are surprised to learn that… I can play four instruments: piano, guitar and two different saxophones, the baritone and alto.

If I could travel anywhere in the world, I would visit… either the North or South Pole.

WHY IAN IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Head of School distinction first semester senior year

Head of School High Honor Roll

Received a certificate in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math)

His yearlong STEAM research project produced the invention of an adaptive hydrofoil technology that improves fuel efficiency in power boats.

Ranked Top 10 Nationally for baseball recruits in batting average, exit velocity and distance traveled

Selected as FAA (Fairfield Athletic Association) First Team, first baseman, 2019

GFA Robotics Team, two years

Baritone saxophone soloist, GFA Upper School concert band and wind ensemble

Piper Van Wagenen
Sacred Heart Greenwich, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the community and my friends.

My most successful study tips… Time management is important, but so is taking time to have fun. I make a schedule of when to do homework, I often study with flashcards, and I always make sure I have time to see friends and relax.

This fall you can find me at… Stanford University.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned this year was… the need to be flexible. Not everything will go according to plan and perseverance is a big part of dealing with that.

I’ve been staying sane during the pandemic by… trying to stick to a schedule. Besides synchronous learning, I went on a lot of walks and spent time with my family.

This summer I… did a lot of research for some documentaries I’m working on and was a lifeguard at the Greenwich Water Club.

My greatest challenge has been… My youngest brother has some learning and developmental disabilities. I’ve seen his challenges, how other people treat him and how that makes him feel. I want to be able to help him and kids like him so I’ve become active in some nonprofits that focus on kids with disabilities.

The organizations that mean the most to me are… I volunteered for two years at the Waterside School helping to tutor kids on the weekends. I’ve worked at Sibs Gym, a YMCA gymnastics program for children with disabilities and their siblings. In addition to being a member of the Abilis Teen Board, I started the Abilis club at my school and did my research project on the impact friendly interaction in a respectful setting has on the social and emotional well-being of children with disabilities, as well as how that interaction builds character in those without disabilities.

In the future I hope to… pursue broadcast journalism. I was very active in the broadcast journalism program at Sacred Heart, and because I love acting, writing and directing films I hope to go into the field.

My personal motto is… Start with yes. I adopted this from my mom and it motivates me every day. Sometimes our first instinct is to say no, but this impulse can hold us back from experiencing our true potential.

Favorite book… The Alchemist. Everyone should read it because it’s about a man, Santiago, who spends his whole life trying to achieve his personal goals and find a treasure. In the book, he finally realizes the treasure was in front of him the whole time.

Favorite teacher… Dr. Mottolese, my sophomore and senior year English teacher. He pushed me to work hard, his classes were so interesting and he prepared us well for writing in college.

WHY PIPER IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Participated in her school’s Science Research Program with a group that analyzed effects of the sunscreen chemical oxybenzone on aquatic environments.

Recognized, with a group, as a Conrad Challenge Innovator for developing a chemical-free sunscreen with dissolvable film packaging to help eliminate plastic in the oceans.

Member of the Teen Board at Abilis, a nonprofit that provides services to individuals with special needs and their families.

Helped plan and earned coveted role of Cohost of the Sacred Heart Film Festival 2020

Acted in the movie First Man, a documentary about her grandfather, Neil Armstrong

Jamie Ullman
St. Luke’s School, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the community—the faculty and student body are incredibly supportive and kind.

This fall, I’ll be at… Stanford University.

The greatest challenge I’ve faced was… In middle school, I joined theater to overcome my fear of public speaking. It took me years to realize that my fear couldn’t be shed like a skin but had to instead be channeled and transformed. This process ignited a new passion for me, and I found a love of singing.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned was to… become more adaptable. I’m naturally a structured person and fairly rigid with plans, so going with the flow is something I’m learning to enjoy more.

My best quarantine coping strategies were… enjoying the great outdoors and Zoom. I regularly hiked, mountain biked and worked out. Also, Zoom-ing with friends helped me stay connected.

I give back by… having interned at a socially conscious trail mix start-up in Idaho called Play Hard Give Back the summer before junior year. That, along with my experience working on a team to build a scheduling application for the SLS student body in ninth grade, were extremely motivating because they enabled me to use computer science to create something that had a palpable benefit for others.

My favorite app is… the camera. Most of my storage is taken up by photos.

The biggest dilemma today’s teens face is… conflicting expectations. On one hand teens are expected to be teens—living in the moment and being independent—at the same time, there is a sense of social pressure to plan our whole lives out, from what college to go to, what to major in, and even what job or master’s degree to shoot for. I’m involved in the Lunch and Lead program at SLS where we invite leaders to share their life stories, and the common thread that many of our lecturers discuss is how life is full of course corrections. More times than not, the speakers share times when their career, goals or outlook shifted as they continued to move through an ever-changing world. I feel like the message that it’s okay not to have your life planned out can be lost sometimes in our fast-paced world.

In college and beyond I’d like to… be involved with innovation that helps society in some way, likely blending computer science and other STEM fields. One example would be genetics and bioinformatics. I’m also very intrigued by physics and quantum computing. Whatever job I end up in, I want to have a sense of purpose and feel that my work will make a difference in society in some capacity.

I was honored to receive… academic distinction in St. Luke’s choir. STEM coursework, which I very much enjoy, tends to come more easily to me than other subjects. With singing, on the other hand, it has been a long and difficult process to improve my technique and learn to be comfortable performing, including learning to push aside my perfectionistic tendencies. As a result, I felt very rewarded by this acknowledgement.

WHY JAMIE IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Last year’s recipient of the Harvard University Book Prize

Member of SLS winning Hackathon team every year since 2018, and winner of the Rube Goldberg competition at SLS in middle school.

Took seven AP courses at SLS including AP Computer Science in eighth grade. Took 19 other honors/advanced courses in high school.

Completed every Computer Science course offered by St. Luke’s by the time he was a junior, including three post-AP courses.

Member of St. Luke’s Cum Laude Society

Accepted to and attended the Applied Science and Engineering session as part of the Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) program

Accepted into SLS Senior STEM Scholars program: A yearlong, self-study and coursework program

Completed 191 hours of community service (more than double the 80 requisite hours)

Served on SLS Honor Council for two years

Cocaptain of Varsity Cross Country team

Olivia West
New Canaan High School, class of 2021

The best thing about my school is… the many learning opportunities and amazing people.

I’m most dedicated to… LiveGirl which I cofounded with my mom in 2014. It’s a nonprofit girls’ leadership organization dedicated to building confident leaders. I currently serve as the leadership council president and cohost a podcast with my mom—it’s a huge part of my life. I’ve learned a lot through LiveGirl, really found my voice and it’s taught me how to activate to make positive change.

The greatest challenge I’ve faced has been… my grandma is battling metastatic breast cancer. It has been tough because we haven’t been able to see her due to the risk of the coronavirus, but we FaceTime daily and I am inspired by her courage and strength.

I stayed sane in quarantine because… our family got a puppy! We adopted an adorable mini Goldendoodle named Lucy. She brought our family even closer and we have taken a lot of walks together.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far… the pandemic taught me how to deal and lead through uncertainty. At LiveGirl I had to plan, then re-plan and re-work many of our meetings and activities. I’ve learned the resilience of how to lead and how to be flexible.

In the future I’m… considering majoring in political science, public policy or even law. Whatever I do, I want to fight for social justice and make a difference.

I spent the summer… interning at the CT Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit that provides legal, economic and social services to immigrants, refugees and survivors of human trafficking throughout CT.

My personal motto is… I love to welcome all voices at the table and listen to people whose experiences are different from my own. Inclusivity is vital if you want to be an effective leader, make change and provide a welcoming environment.

My role model is… Michelle Obama for her passion, leadership, compassion and charisma. She’s truly an amazing leader. I love her quote, “There are many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.”

The biggest dilemma today’s teens face is… body image and mental health issues. Social media is great, but there’s a point where it can be toxic and fuel the fire for these issues.

My secret talent is… Cohosting the podcast “Confident”. It’s an amazing experience and I learn so much from the people I interview, such as Janneke Niessen (Harper’s Bazaar Woman of the Year) and Yiffat Susskind (Madre CEO). I also have been inspired by people like poetic activist Cheyenne Tyler Jacobs. My mom and I do this together so it’s a great mother-daughter activity.

My creative outlet is… producing a sports podcast on YouTube with my younger brother. I love video editing and creating graphics for that.

In ten years, I’ll be… graduating from law school and fighting for social justice.

I aspire to learn… how to be a better ally and to continue to use my voice for change.

I would love to cure… metastatic breast cancer.

The last book I read was… I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown. It’s a powerful account of a black, Christian woman. It’s so important that we listen to and amplify the voices of color and experience.

If I could change the world, I would… create equality for all.

WHY OLIVIA IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Cofounder and Leadership Council President of LiveGirl

Cohost of Confident Podcast

Editor for NCHS Courant, the school newspaper

Member of WE Club, which focuses on mental health and women’s rights

Member NCHS Girls’ Basketball team

Ben Carpenter
The Brunswick School, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the tight-knit community.

This fall, I’ll be at… Yale University.

I’m interested in majoring in… economics.

My most successful study tips… Stay organized and focused, even if it’s for a short period of time. Studying hard for 15 minutes is more valuable than half the effort for an hour.

I stayed sane during the Covid-19 pandemic by… I’m a huge golfer, and the courses stayed open throughout the spring. I’d have online school, get lunch, then go to the course. Having a structured routine, being able to play golf anfamily movie nights helped a lot.

The greatest challenge I’ve ever faced was… Between my freshman and sophomore years I wasn’t playing golf as well as I wanted to—I was down mentally and physically. That fall, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I was put on antibiotics for six months and went to see a mental coach to get back on track for golf. Overcoming the physical and mental challenges were tough, but I was able to build up my confidence and improve my mindset until I felt stronger and able to play well again.

My role model is… my grandfather. He drives me to be my best and push myself.

My personal motto is… Never ever quit. I’m a Texas Rangers baseball fan, this is their motto and I strongly believe it.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned… Don’t take anything for granted, even the smallest things.

The last book I read was… Ready Player One. I watched the movie and then had to read the book.

The biggest dilemma facing teens today is… stress. Living where we do, there are high expectations across the board.

My most favorite family vacation was… After I committed to Yale we went to Switzerland for a week. It was an awesome experience, and we went hiking, mountain biking, did ropes courses and a lot of sightseeing. It was the first trip in six years that I didn’t bring my golf clubs.

My favorite course is… Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach, CA. The history is interesting and it’s beautiful— right on the coastline.

My dream job is… a professional golfer.

My preferred subject is… math. I enjoy solving problems.

My sports idol is… Jordan Speith. He is all about perseverance, and I really look up to him.

WHY BEN IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Top-flight junior golfer in middle school

Made storied Brunswick team as a freshman

Tackled five AP courses his senior year

Last spring, his high school team was undefeated and set two golf tournament records.

Last summer, he won the MGA Carter Cup at Baltusrol Golf Club.

Daniella Donzelli Scorza
Brien McMahon High School, class of 2020

This fall I’ll be attending… Barnard College.

The best thing about my school is… the Center for Youth Leadership Club, which advocates for social issues such as child abuse, dating violence, sexual harassment, mental health, immigration workers’ rights and soon, racism and racial bias. This club provides a place where students can learn that awareness brings real change. We participate in peaceful protests, create exhibits in the school hallways, and attend public hearings to advocate for the passing of certain bills. It’s the reason I fell in love with activism.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is… We can reset expectations of ourselves, goals or society. Once we do that, the possibilities of achievement are endless. We don’t know what the future brings, so as long as we adapt to change and continue moving forward, anything is possible.

My most successful study tips… Quizlet was my best friend in high school. I used digital flashcards and wrote out my notes for certain classes. Visually seeing information helps me retain it.

I give back by… working with the community. At college, I want to study English, social issues and human rights. My work will be focused on uplifting marginalized voices in society.

My personal motto is… A quote I hold dear from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” is— “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” To me, this means that I’ll continue to be unafraid when standing up for what I believe in, even in the face of adversity.

The best book I’ve read was… Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman. The story is incredibly detailed and lets you into the mind of the protagonist, Elio, sharing with you all his vulnerability.

My favorite app… Medium. It allows you to read blog posts and essay entries. It’s like TED talk for writing.

My biggest pet peeve is… performative activism where people outwardly say that they advocate for a social cause just to not fall behind the movement, yet they don’t take any action themselves.

If I could travel anywhere in the world, I would visit… my family’s home country of Venezuela. Due to the continued economic and social crisis, I haven’t seen my family in a very long time. I’m curious to learn more about my family history.

I unwind by… meditation or painting, reading or writing in my journal.

In 10 years, I’ll be… a politician or journalist working to uplift marginalized voices.

I aspire to learn… as many languages as possible.

My favorite meal is… my grandmother’s homemade gnocchi or paella at my family’s restaurant, Basso Cafe.

If I could change the world, I would… reroute the funds of police into the community to go toward education, public housing, mental healthcare and free transit. The hope is this would lower the crime rate and eliminate the prison industrial complex that continues to marginalize people in society.

One day I hope to… work on Capitol Hill or possibly become a lawyer or a writer.

WHY DANIELLA IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Member of the Center for Youth Leadership Club Executive Committee

Drama Club student director

BMHS Political Club Cofounder

Member of Chamber Singers

Member of the Student Safety Committee

Member of Norwalk Women Who Vote

Henry Jodka
St. Luke’s School, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the close relationships between everyone, especially teachers and students. It’s amazing to have great role models that also teach us important things.

This fall I will attend… Bowdoin College.

I plan to double major in… chemistry and theater..

My best advice for students… Don’t procrastinate. Finish the work now, relax later.

I stayed sane during quarantine by… staying very busy. I was doing online school until 3 p.m., and in a Zoom production of The Imaginary Invalid, so we rehearsed for two hours each day. I also produced two different acapella videos and finished my yearlong independent STEM study.

For my STEM project… Three students including myself tried to find an efficient, affordable way to remove ink from paper so the paper could be recycled.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned this year was… Staying on a schedule is key. It helped me stay positive, be resilient and able to focus on the things I could control.

The most challenging time in my life was… In seventh grade I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and had to wear a full body brace for a year. I ended up having to have full spinal fusion surgery in eighth grade, so sports weren’t really an option anymore. My older brother encouraged me to get involved in the world of arts and musical theater, which is one of my biggest passions today.

I give back with… For my STEM research this year we did something that tried to help climate change. Also, I love giving back as an actor and singer by entertaining people and helping them get lost in a story.

My favorite teachers are… my music teacher Mr. Griffa, theater director Mr. Peck and my chem teacher Mr. LeBris. I love the way they engage with students and the material. I’ve grown very close to them, and they inspire me.

The biggest dilemma today’s teens face is… uncertainty. After Covid, everything changed and became a “maybe.” Also, with our country being so divided right now it just feels very stressful.

I’m dedicated to… The Summer Theater of New Canaan. I completed a lot of community service hours for them and they’re an amazing organization.

My most favorite spot on earth is… Cape Cod, where our family goes during the summer. We go to the beach, do a lot of walking and running and totally recharge.

People might be surprised to learn… that I became three to four inches taller after my scoliosis surgery.

In 10 years, I’ll be… a chemist and inventor, or an actor on Broadway.

I aspire to learn… guitar.

If I could change the world, I would… eradicate COVID.

WHY HENRY IS A TEEN TO WATCH

Recipient of The Selden Performing Arts Award

Recipient of The Daniel Ireland Award, for bringing pride to SLS

Recipient of the Fred Waring Director’s Music Award

Recipient of Best Actor CT Halo award for his role of Charlie Luther in Admissions and two CT Halo Best Play awards given to the production cast for other plays.

Winner of three St. Luke’s Thespie awards.

2019 BMA Stephen Sondheim Award nomination

First Place for his group at the 2019 SLS Hackathon.

Winning musical group at SLSing Off acapella competition three years in a row.

Active member of Chorus and the Acafellas acapella group.

Olivia Sheridan
King School, class of 2020

The best thing about my school is… the community. Everyone is so supportive, and the teachers are always willing to provide any help you might need.

Next fall I’ll be… rowing at The University of Virginia.

I’m majoring in… biology. I’m also interested in going to med school to get my MD and would like to incorporate research with that as well.

My best study hacks… Study well ahead of time. Hand write flash cards and make study guides.

I stayed sane during quarantine by… staying on top of online school and work and crew practice. Every day at 4 p.m. I had team Zoom calls and workouts, so this gave me something to center my day around.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is… the importance of perseverance. Even things that don’t seem achievable really are if you persist during setbacks.

My greatest challenge was… Last spring I injured my back while rowing. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong until they realized I had herniated discs. In addition, I injured my hip and needed surgery. It was a tough time, but because I was so determined to get back to crew, I had a positive goal to work toward that got me through it.

My pre-race ritual… My rowing team warms up together, I have a favorite playlist that I listen to and I have special snacks that I save just for race day.

I give back by… being a member of National Charity League, a mother-daughter organization that offers opportunities to volunteer with many different philanthropies.

I’m dedicated to… volunteering at the New Canaan Food Pantry with my mom. I like to interact with the people there, and it makes me happy to see that we are helping them.

The best book I’ve read is… Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I reread it a few times. I relate to the main character Kya, her curiosity and wanting to learn more about the world around her.

My favorite teacher is… My advisor and teacher Dr. Shulman, is a pillar of support. She used to be a researcher in genetics, a field I’m really interested in, and she runs the research department at King School.

My most special life experience was when… I worked my internship at Yale University School of Medicine, which I got through the ASPIRE program. I worked in a cell biology lab using CRISPR, a type of gene editing technology that’s been gaining popularity because of its potential to be used in humans. My goal was to use CRISPR to edit a certain gene in fission yeast, a eukaryote with a genome similar to humans. Once I got the CRISPR to work, I was trying to determine whether or not normal DNA repair is hindered by CRISPR, something that has major implications in deciding whether or not CRISPR-editing is safe for humans. It’s a lengthy process, and I was able to design the new system and get the gene editing to work, something that had not been done by others in my lab.

The biggest dilemma facing today’s teen is… the fact that there’s so much to fix in the world and not knowing where to start.

My dream job is to be… an ER doctor.

My creative outlet is to… cook a big meal or bake for my family.

I aspire to learn… sign language.

If I could change the world, I would… provide equal healthcare for all. A lot of deaths that occur would be preventable if people had quality healthcare.

WHY OLIVIA IS A TEEN TO WATCH

King Scholar four years in a row.

Competitive rower for Greenwich Crew.

Selected for King School’s prestigious ASPIRE course, a research-based course and in-person lab experience that culminates in student’s published research.

Interned at Yale School of Medicine

Organized a winter clothing drive with other students for a local women’s shelter

Took five AP courses senior year

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