Each year during the Athena Pinnacle Awards, Athena awards scholarships and laptop computers to outstanding female high school students pursuing a career in science, engineering or mathematics. Past winners have attended competitive institutions of higher learning, including Harvard College, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institution of Technology, Columbia University and schools in the University of California system. The following profiles include this year's scholarship winners and a glimpse of how each of them is igniting their potential.
Sheta Chatterjee is a senior at San Dieguito High School Academy, where she has a GPA of 4.68.
She has already written and filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for her invention entitled "Energy Conservation System and Methods." Her patent was filed and expedited as one of the first 3,000 green technologies in the nation. Chatterjee was inspired to invent a method of energy conservation for use in the home after visiting her grandfather in India, where energy is scarce.
She dreams of being a technology entrepreneur and engineer after pursuing an education in engineering and computer science at MIT or UC Berkeley, as both have strong computer science and electrical engineering departments. She desires to bring her energy conservation invention to these universities because of their strong energy technology research programs.
"Sheta is a true entrepreneur who is able to take an idea and turn it into a marketable, socially responsible product or set of instructions that can help improve the lives of others,” said one of her teachers. “She is capable of truly affecting our future and will inevitably be a force of good in the world."
Chatterjee will be the first female engineer in her family. In addition to already having a patentable product, Chatterjee loves running, writing, mathematics and graphic design. She likes to engage in all engineering and entrepreneurial pursuits and works to fulfil her goal of one day making her energy technology of value to people in the world.
Alessandra McDowell is a senior at San Marcos High School. She states that Alzheimer's, autism and alcohol addiction, firsthand family challenges, have given her clear direction and purpose to find cures for afflictions of the brain.
The summer following her freshman year, she participated in the study of the "molecular biology revolution" at the collegiate level in UCSD's COSMOS program. While hunched over a microscope studying gel electrophoresis, polymerase chain reactions and genetic cloning, she realized a career in medical research was her calling.
During her sophomore year, she was a founding member and is now chair of the Girls' Empowerment Council. Through information programs and mentoring, the council helps girls lead positive, healthy and balanced lives.
At the month-long Education Program for Gifted Youth program at Stanford, she addressed many of the ethical issues surrounding genetic medicine and human gene manipulation.
McDowell has already been admitted to Emory University, UCSD, Southern Methodist University and UC Davis, and also has applied to Vanderbilt University. McDowell’s counsellor said, "Alessandra is intrinsically motivated to succeed and has a creative intelligence which allows her to think outside the box."
In addition to being a leader and mentor to others, in her spare time McDowell enjoys French language and culture, recreational reading, guitar lessons, clarinet, musical theater, Disneyland, country music and going to the beach.
Anna Kornfeld Simpson
Anna Simpson is graduating from Patrick Henry High School with the goal of becoming a computer scientist. To her, time stands still when she is working out the intricacies of a new computer program. She is excited and captivated by figuring out how to make a machine perform certain tasks, sometimes so much that she forgets to eat.
Simpson seeks out new opportunities in math, science and computer science and has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that has often exceeded the challenges provided by her high school. She has taken every AP science class offered at her school. After she exhausted her school's advanced math classes, she enrolled in community college calculus classes during her junior and senior years. She is known as a "math person" on her varsity academic league team, is president of the Math Team, and spends lunches tutoring freshmen in math and physics.
Since the summer after ninth grade, Simpson has worked as the only high school student in a lab at UCSD developing a chemical detecting robot. She presented her robot at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair where she won a Senior Sweepstakes Award, a trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and awards from several local professional societies. Her robot also received the 2009 Project of the Year Award at the California State Science Fair, the highest science fair award in the state.
Last summer, she attended the Research Science Institute, where she conducted research to improve large editing software in MIT’s Computer Science Laboratory. Simpson has received early admission to MIT and the California Institute of Technology. She has also applied to Harvey Mudd College and Princeton University. In addition to her studies, Simpson is interested in computer programming, playing flute and piano, solving math problems, reading and discussing history, art, literature and science with her mother.
Jordan Thayer is graduating from Francis Parker School. Her dad refers to her as "Home Depot girl" because ever since she can remember, she has enjoyed exploring Home Depot and the exciting tools and gadgets. She even hoped that those her father purchased would break so she could get the chance to fix them.
Her fascination with physics and math has led her to study engineering. She has applied physics to her home repair projects, in which she has fixed the pool's filtration system, created better surround sound for her stereo, and performed calculations to build a block wall and iron gate. She says this work taught her an invaluable lesson: physics often calculates theoretical data that must be altered in real-world situations.
After obtaining an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, Thayer intends on pursuing a graduate degree and hopes to minor in either economics or statistics, because she believes there is a logical intersection between engineering and economics. She has already been admitted to MIT and USC, and believes she will also be admitted to the University of Pennsylvania and California Institute of Technology.
When describing Jordan, her college counsellor states that "the 'what' questions are natural for a child and Jordan's parents were prepared for most what's. They just did not anticipate their daughter would graduate to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions so early in life."
One of Jordan's favourite pastimes was to observe passing objects during road trips and ask questions such as “How is a bridge built,” or “Why does that car move slower than ours?” When she's not finding ways to build something bigger and better, Thayer enjoys spending time with her family, playing competitive basketball and volleyball, Greek folk dancing, gourmet cooking, synchronized swimming, golf, poetry, hiking, weightlifting, bowling and watching classic movies of every genre.
Caroline Yu, a senior at Torrey Pines High School, spent her summer growing hermaphrodite worms as an intern at the UCSD Jin/Chisholm Lab, where she studied axon regeneration in these worms. She and the researchers were hoping to find novel signaling pathways that play a major role in axon regeneration through a large-scale genetic screen.
She is fascinated by the mind, and believes studying both psychology and neurobiology will provide possible answers to the complex questions of how the mind works. The Athena Pinnacle Scholarship will permit her to learn about bioengineering chemistry, genetics and neurology. Because her mother suffers from lupus, Yu will also focus on immunology to learn more about her condition so she can help the millions who suffer from autoimmune disorders. She hopes to participate in Doctors without Borders and Duke Engage.
Yu believes education and health care are two of the most powerful tools to fight poverty, and wants to use her spare time tutoring, volunteering at hospitals and clinics, and finding ways to donate basic vaccines and antibiotics to impoverished communities.
She has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Asian Heritage Youth Leadership Award, ACCEF Leadership Award, Rotary Youth Leadership Award and received third place in the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair. Yu has been involved with advanced research at the Salk Institute researching the function of the SMRT gene and has won numerous awards in math.
Her dream schools are Harvard University, Brown University and Princeton. In addition to her many school and community activities, Yu also enjoys tennis, running, listening to or playing music, photography and is fascinated by the elegance of life, especially the mechanics of the mind and consciousness.