Oh, the places they’ll go…
Our second annual round-up of inspiring local teens who are taking the world by storm.
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Breast cancer is not just a ‘mom’s disease,’” says Karin Carnegie, who cochairs the Greenwich chapter of the Junior Breast Cancer Alliance and founded the Greenwich Academy Breast Cancer Awareness Club. “Just because we’re teens doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know about early detection.” Karin’s mother is a ten-year breast cancer survivor and her paternal grandfather died of early-onset Alzheimer’s; the worrisome genetics have influenced her strongly.
A truly inspired, and inspiring, teacher can also direct your path. For Karin it was her chemistry teacher, Dr. Carolyn Hyman. “She didn’t just teach the material — which she certainly did, as we were completely prepared for the AP exam — she also brought in aspects of the real world that you could understand, like taking basic chemical principles and applying them to fuel cells,” says Karin. The feeling is mutual. Citing her intellectual curiosity, competence and self-effacing demeanor, Dr. Hyman rates Karin as “one of the most effective teens I have ever met.”
Karin, who will study pre-med at Harvard, was a National Merit Scholarship winner (one of only thirty-seven in Connecticut and 2,500 nationwide), won a fistful of awards at Greenwich Academy, and somehow found time to coach lacrosse and volunteer at the Waterside School in Stamford. She spent the summer of 2008 as an intern at the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, organizing and analyzing data, and observing patients for clinical trials of several promising drugs. “I was unsure if I wanted to be a researcher in a lab, wearing a white coat and mixing chemicals,” she reflects, “or do medicine and interact with people.” She was able to sit in on patient evaluations, which she found fascinating but devastating. “Some patients could recall their entire life story,” Karin says, “but they didn’t know how to fold a letter. It’s such a complicated disease, and it was especially awful because some of our patients were as young as 45. I definitely see myself doing more research someday, or going into oncology. Something that means something.”
The Cunning Fencer
The term genius has been overused to the fraying point, but Michael Tom is one. Not that he goes around talking about his I.Q. or defines himself by a single word. (He may read books on theoretical physics to unwind, but he also zips around the neighborhood on in-line skates.) Michael is much more interested in showing off the pockmarked hilt of his fencing saber — “Each ding was a hit,” he says, grinning — or discussing the project that received first place in the Physical Science category (individual) at the 2009 Connecticut Science Fair. He won four additional awards there, and an all-expense paid trip to Reno, Nevada, to participate in the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair, where he placed third.
He describes his project, for which he has a patent pending, with clarity: “I engineered conductive rubber based on carbon nanotubes that can effectively measure when the material is being stretched and is also safe to use in the body. I used this new material to create an indwelling biofeedback device that can be attached to a muscle to directly measure muscle activity.” Possible applications include helping patients with neurological injuries regain control of their muscles, or as a diagnostic tool to measure the contractions of the human bladder. And that’s just for starters.
Michael will be entering Harvard this fall (he skipped fifth grade) to study physics and to fence on the university team, for which he was recruited. He took up fencing five years ago and today is ranked fourth in the U.S. in his age group; he won a bronze medal at the 2008 Junior Olympics, where he was the youngest competitor, and at the 2009 games took the gold in Cadets Men’s Saber for seventeen and under. “There are always new situations, new opponents with different styles,” Michael says of this centuries-old sport. “I like that there’s a lot of thinking in fencing. It’s not just who goes to the gym more.”
Fabulous and Fluent
To say that Olivia Grubert shines academically is an understatement. A National Merit semifinalist with a straight-A average, she broke a record at the Convent of the Sacred Heart when she took four AP courses her junior year. A mainstay of the swim team, she also ran cross-country, and as a freshman took the helm of the Instrumental Club (she plays clarinet and what she calls “kind of piano”) when no seniors stepped up. Not surprisingly, she was named valedictorian of the 2009 graduating class. “Olivia processes life on a very deep level,” says Dr. William Mottolese, who teaches English and theology at Sacred Heart. “She takes issues very seriously, but is also funny and unpretentious.”
Olivia will attend Stanford, the alma mater of both her parents and older sister. “In my family that’s your job,” she says of her high marks. “You’re supposed to do well, as you would at any job.” Clearly, she loves learning for its possibilities and has an admitted devotion to research, but she’s no humorless “grind” and has been known to correct grammatical errors in Wikipedia for fun. Her ear for language is like that of a musician with perfect pitch, but, as with music, mastery has come only with discipline and practice. She is fluent in German, Spanish and French; currently she’s intrigued with Arabic, which she can read but not yet speak as confidently as she would like. Envisioning herself teaching language some day, she has taken courses at Concordia College, and for seven summers attended language camp, speaking exclusively either French (she kept in character as a French explorer on a weeklong canoe trip) or German. “You do all the normal camp stuff, but you have to speak German,” Olivia explains. “If you order your food in English,” she adds with a laugh, “you go hungry. You learn pretty quickly.”