The Noon Optimist Club met online on Dec. 9 under the leadership of President Ned Calvert. Optimist Le Ila Dixon impressed the club with the story of Gitanjali Rao, a Colorado teenager who invented a mobile device to test for lead in drinking water and who has been selected as Time’s Kid of the Year for 2020. The magazine cited Rao’s ability to apply scientific ideas to real-world problems — and her desire to motivate other kids to take up their own causes.
Rao won praise in 2017 responding to the Flint, Mich., water crisis by creating a device named Tehys, using carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead in water. The Lone Tree, Colo., native was named America’s Top Young Scientist when she was only in the seventh grade. She went on to collaborate with scientists in the water industry to try to get the device on the market.
More recently, Rao has developed a phone and Web tool named Kindly, which uses artificial intelligence technology to detect possible early signs of cyberbullying.
“You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is,” Rao tells Time. “The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around.”
“I don’t look like your typical scientist. Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white man as a scientist,” she told Time. “My goal has really shifted not only from creating my own devices to solve the world’s problems, but inspiring others to do the same as well. Because, from personal experience, it’s not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you. So I really want to put out that message: If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.”
Optimist Julie Brock reported on her visit to MHS this week to present Young Texan certificates to Abigail Vences and Jason Lee Medina. The club expresses its thanks to Senior Counselor Suzan Harrison and Associate Principal Nakena Bayliss for making this recognition possible. In all there will be eighteen Young Texans selected this year. At the year end Senior awards assembly, three young women and three young men will be randomly selected from the group to receive $500 grants.
Julie presents Abigail Vences as December’s Young Texanne. Abigail’s favorite subject is mathematics, specifically algebra. Her favorite teacher is Heather Hill. Abigail confesses, “she is not actually my teacher, but I love her so much.” Heather is the Go Center director, Fine Arts coordinator, and director of the Marshall Mavettes. As director of the Go Center, Heather is especially helpful during a student’s senior year. The center offers help with researching colleges, filing college applications, locating scholarships, filing scholarship applications, researching careers, and preparation for the ACT/SAC test.
With a grade point average of 5.2, Abigail is a hard-working student who enjoys a range of extra-curricular activities: playing softball, participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, working on the school yearbook, and being involved in the Interact Club, although she adds that she is not involved in the Interact Club this year due to Covid-19.
She is active in Saint Joseph Catholic Church and helps out with babysitting during services and with planning activities. Her interests include watching documentaries, rearranging her room, baking and shopping. She is a member of the National Honor Society and Leadership Tomorrow. Her part-time employment is with RVP Construction in administration. (RVP is a full-service concrete contractor.)
Abigail says, “I hope to get accepted into the natural sciences path at the University of Texas at Austin and ultimately to become an orthodontist. Her personal message to her parents, Rene and Maria Vences, is: “Thank you for making me who I am today. You guys came here to the U.S. for an opportunity and fulfilled that. My success is because of your courageous actions. So I thank you for showing me that you can surpass the limits set for you.”
Julie then introduces Jason Lee Medina as the Young Texan for December. His grade point average is 5.1 and his favorite subjects are math and science. He has several favorite teachers: Amanda Skinner who teachers statistics and calculus; Jerry Eagan who teaches advanced placement U.S. history and world geography; and Michael Wheeler who teaches pre-AP chemistry.
Jason’s extra-curricular activities include tennis, band and soccer and he is a member of Saint Joseph Catholic Church. Of his personal interests, he says, “I love to work on cars and play tennis. One of my greatest accomplishments is being ranked number 6 in the 2021 class of Marshall High School.”
Jason’s part-time employment is as a mechanic and his future plans are to go to the University of Texas at Austin and major in mechanical engineering and ultimately work for Nissan or Chevrolet.
His personal message to his parents, Rudolph and Reyna Medina, is: “Mom and Dad thank you for being at my side whenever I needed you and thank you for all the support and dedication that you give to my education. Most important of all mom and dad, I love you.”
MHS Senior Counselor Suzan Harrison reports that “Jason is a quiet, very bright, well respected young man — he will leave our little town and go and do great things.” Of December’s Young Texanne, she says, “Abigail is kind, well liked and very academic — she will be very successful as well.” “Both,” she adds, “have taken advantage of our dual credit offerings as well as our Advanced Placement program. They are both applying to top colleges and universities. In particular, they both have their eyes on Austin and UT.”