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Getting Involved

Hillcrest High Graduate Meets Her Maker Culture at MIT

Jayashabari Shankar is a student driven by curiosity and creativity, and she found at Hillcrest High the freedom to pursue both.

When she wanted to take four science classes, instead of three, her advisers said, “no problem.” When a section in her biology book stirred questions, her teachers encouraged her to find the answers. Nothing was outside of the realm of possibility, from extracurricular coding workshops and internships to on-campus leadership opportunities.

The rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Hillcrest and advanced science classes “just increased my love for science,” Shankar said. “I feel the faculty really cared and were supportive of all my endeavors at school and outside of school.”

Shankar, who is on track to receive an IB diploma and graduate with a 4.0 GPA, has earned $800,000 in scholarship offers and admission to five Ivy League schools: Yale, Columbia, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth. She was also accepted to Duke, Johns Hopkins and Rice University, but has settled on MIT as her school of choice.

“There’s just such a maker culture at MIT,” she said. “There is this one club where, even as a freshman, you can do any biology experiment that you want. They’ll get you the funding, they’ll get you the professors, access to labs, everything.”

Shankar traces her love of science back to her earliest days when, like so many toddlers, she was fascinated by dinosaurs. “I remember memorizing lists of dinosaurs and making a song about them. I just fell in love with paleontology,” she said.

Since then, her interest in science has broadened to biology, microbiology, and using data to drive discovery. Her computational research project, “Analyzing Virus Genomes with Intervene and Python Programs,” won a University of Utah ACCESS Scholarship award at the 2023 Regional Science Fair.

Her idea for the project was sparked by unanswered questions in a biology book and her desire to know more about the origins and evolution of viruses. “I couldn’t work with real viruses, because I don’t have a permit for that,” Shankar said. “But the National Institutes of Health has databases of genomes.”

Drawing on the database, she performed computational analyses of viral genomes and found patterns that may help explain why SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t spread as quickly in warmer climates.

Shankar moved from India to the United States at the age of one. She speaks five languages, not including the coding languages she learned in order to participate in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Beaver Works Summer Institute.

The Institute was a crash-course in hands-on learning — four weeks of eight-hour days collaborating with other students on projects like building an AI program that can help you name that tune. Google and Shazam can already do that, “but our goal was to see how Google does it and see if we could do it on a smaller scale,” Shankar said.

She and her MIT co-inventors then set about creating a pill identifier that can identify prescription drugs based on a photo, and a posture detector that monitors your posture and sends you an angry emoji when you start to slouch.

“MIT is just an insane hub of science and research,” Shankar says with enthusiasm in anticipation of enrolling next fall.

Though completing the school work and passing the tests needed for an IB diploma is pretty all-consuming, Shankar also made time for serving on the IB student council and managing the group’s website.

“It sounds cliché,” she said. “But I would tell other students to join as many clubs and try as many things as you can. You don’t have to stick with all of them. But you’ll never know what might interest you unless you give it a try.”

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Lucie Chamberlain

Alta View Elementary

If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added:  “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!

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