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2013 Pinnacle Scholarships Recipients

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2013 Athena Pinnacle Scholarship Winners

Each year during the Athena Pinnacle Awards, Athena awards scholarships and Sony Electronics donates 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.

Melodyanne Cheng
Torrey Pines High School

Cheng wants to eliminate communication barriers in health care. Connecting with people and adding something positive to their lives has brought her contentment, and her intellectual interest in science has made medicine her calling. She plans on earning an M.D./Ph.D. and going into pediatric neurology or trauma surgery, because of the complexity and challenge in these fields.

She has volunteered at free clinics in the poorest communities of Tijuana, where she utilized her fluency in Spanish to bridge the communication gap between patients and doctors. Her fluency in Mandarin, as well as Spanish, has made her an invaluable volunteer at Scripps Memorial Hospital.

Cheng’s love of science earned her a first place award at the San Diego Science and Engineering Fair qualifying her for the State Fair. She has received professional society awards, including a first place from the American Chemical Society and the Regional Yale Science and Engineering Association Award for Outstanding Excellence in Science.

Cheng has written several articles for the school science and literary magazines and is currently vice president for the school science magazine, JOURNYS. She is also president of a club that uses presentations to explore recent breakthroughs in the sciences, is president of the Discoveries in Literature debate team, and is president of science for the Creative Curriculum for Children Club. She has received the Leadership Award and the Ambassador Award from the Global Leadership Council and the Yale Book Award for Outstanding Student and Leader. When she’s not engrossed in science, Cheng enjoys playing the piano, running and reading to gain more knowledge about the world.

Cheng has applied to UCLA, UC Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, MIT, UPenn, and Princeton. She has been admitted to the Classes of 2017 at Columbia and UC Berkeley, and is a possible Regents’ Scholar at both UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Teodora Dinescu
Santana High School

Dinescu enjoys discussing The Big Bang Theory with her friends, playing the piano, swimming, speaking Romanian and eating Romanian food. Her parents left Communist Romania with all of their belongings in only four suitcases. Upon arrival, the family lived with her grandmother for years. Having very little, her mother managed to save enough money to buy her children books. This is where Dinescu’s love of learning was born. Her parents taught her to be grateful for what she had and instilled in her a desire to help those less fortunate. She has taken that to heart with her volunteerism through KEY Club, where she has helped raise money for worldwide campaigns.

Dinescu shared that studying physics used to bring her to tears every day, but with the help and mentorship of a female teacher, she soon found her place in the world of physics. It is now fun for her. She can calculate how far away an object landed when it was thrown at a certain velocity, or how much energy was necessary for water to go through a phase change. She states that the Athena Pinnacle Scholarship will give her the opportunity to attend a university and help her fulfill her dream of pursuing a career in engineering.

Dinescu’s team won the Rookie All-Star Award in the FIRST Robotics and placed 23rd among 100 in the St. Louis World competition. She is a National Merit Commended Student, an AP Scholar with Distinction and is Academic League District Champion.

Her goal is to attend Harvey Mudd College, where her passion for learning and the opportunity to develop as a person are possible.

Ellen Douglass
Ramona High School

The stimulating world of science captures Douglass' interest daily. She served an internship for Scripps Health School Exploration Program, where she was able to experience science and medicine on a hands-on level. She also worked at Scripps Green Hospital where her perspective on science was changed. She realized she could take her commitment for healing others, apply it through research and make a profound impact on a life.

During the last four years, Douglass has done everything she can to ensure that the field of science and medicine are for her. She plans on majoring in biology and moving on to medical school to become either a neurologist or a pediatric cardiologist. She cannot imagine her life today, or in the future, without science. Her dream is for the advancement of science to save lives.

Her AP biology teacher ranks her in the top 1 percent, indicating she is an exceedingly intelligent and capable student who consistently has the highest scores in the class. She has prepared herself academically for her plan to major in biology as a pre-med student, and has excelled in every science class offered earning straight A’s. She has received Student of the Month and Top Achiever awards in all of the science classes she has completed.

Douglass hopes to attend Duke University, Notre Dame, Creighton University, UCSD or Cal State Fresno. With her parents owning a small business, the Pinnacle Scholarship will move her one step closer to realizing her dream.

Vaishnavi Rao
Canyon Crest Academy

Rao's scientific world sprouted in second grade, when she immersed her teddy bear in water to understand buoyancy. In subsequent years, she tested for yeast in yogurt, examined thermodynamics of foods, grew plants from irradiated seeds and investigated the physiology of fear. She analyzed the science behind common things and interpreted key theories. Her drive for inquiry and urge to unravel the unknown evolved into intrinsic aspects of the world.

Rao learned she was a premature infant whose life was saved by scientific advancements, and her curiosity blossomed into a career choice. In 2010, she reached out to world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Spitzer at UCSD, who took her on as his first high school student in 40 years. Since then, his lab has been her second home where she has been carrying out discovery based research on the plasticity of an important gaseous biomolecule in the brain -- nitric oxide. Her novel results significantly advance the scientific community’s understanding of the extent of the brain’s flexibility and add, for the first time, a new dimension to treating neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke through non-invasive methods hitherto inconceivable.

Rao is an aspiring physician-scientist who wants to make a difference. Top on her list of undergraduate schools are MIT, California Institute of Technology and UC Berkeley. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Yale Science and Engineering Award, and Howard-Weisbrod Memorial Award -- both for outstanding research; the American Chemical Society Award, Biophysical Society Special Award, and first and third place San Diego Brain Bee – Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.

Rao enjoys singing Indian classical music and creating new tunes for ancient compositions, playing competitive chess, and expressing her voice on critical national and international issues.

Claudia See
Canyon Crest Academy

With an exciting background in scientific publications, robotics and a neurobiology internship, See is eager to pursue a career in biomedical engineering. Her interest in science took root in her sophomore year, when motivated by her experiences in the Science Olympiad, she started a science magazine club called Catalyst. Through collaborative efforts, she published biannual issues, gained corporate sponsorship and received national acclaim. Through the magazine, she has developed an eagerness to pursue science, a fondness for teamwork and the vision of a leader.

She says that robotics has sparked her desire to explore the world as an engineer. Researching the genetics behind C. elegans worms in a UCSD lab also sparked a passion for biology. She hopes to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical engineering and lead her own research team as a lab professor, building ideas that will enhance human health.

She has been accepted into Yale (Early Action) and is one of ten finalists for the Langsdorf Fellowship for Engineering at WASHU. She is also interested in Harvard and Princeton, and is intrigued by Stanford’s “West Coast vibe” and proximity to Silicon Valley.

See shares that the Pinnacle Scholarship will help open the world of internship opportunities and even help to continue her music education, as well.

See also enjoys springboard diving (especially the back 1.5 tuck somersault), performing clarinet in the community and long-distance runs with her mother.

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