Chamber Honored Outstanding Local High School Students at Education & Innovation Luncheon

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Provided by Prince William Chamber of Commerce

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On Tuesday, April 12 the Prince William Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Education & Innovation Luncheon at the Best Western Battlefield Inn in Manassas. Members of the local business and education communities gathered to recognize the efforts of three outstanding local high school students, presenting each with a $2,500 scholarship in support of their pursuit of higher education.

The event also showcased local organizations focused on education and workforce development including event sponsor Apple Federal Credit Union and the Chamber’s Education Vision Partner, Comcast. Representatives from the sponsoring organizations spoke of their efforts in local public schools and the responsibility that the business community must assume in enhancing the quality of each student’s educational experience if public schools are going to equip students to become members of the workforce of the future.

Keynote Speaker Aneesh Chopra, Vice President & Co-Founder of Hunch Analytics spoke of the need for an “open innovation” strategy wherein the private sector collaborates with and challenges government to meet the evolving needs of a global business community. As the first U.S. Chief Technology Officer under President Barack Obama, Chopra designed the National Wireless Initiative and helped launch Startup America. He is also the author of the book “Innovative State: How Technologies Can Transform Government.” During his talk, Chopra gave the example of local educator Chuck Drake and his vision for a program wherein students would refurbish old computers that could later be used by fellow students whose families can not afford new computers. Today the VA Star Program is a reality.

In order to be eligible to receive the scholarships, the students had to be dependents of employees of member businesses of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce; alternatively the students themselves could be employees or volunteers with member organizations. Eligibility to receive the scholarships is considered a benefit of membership in the Chamber.

This year’s scholarship recipients were:

Rachel Jenkins

Rachel Jenkins will graduate from C.D. Hylton High School and plans to attend Christopher Newport University in the fall for their Education Program.

Rachel’s list of accomplishments is long. They include being a member of the National & Spanish Honor Societies; recipient of the Youth Salute Award; a member of the the Yearbook editorial team; a Bible school teacher and student mentor; winner of the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Award; participant in the Today’s Students — Tomorrow’s Teachers program; and even being a varsity-level rower on the high school crew team.

Service to others is important to Rachel. Most recently her focus has been on making improvements to the therapy room at the National Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit. Her relationship with NRH began last year when she was a patient, and from that experience, Rachel decided that renovating the space was critical in order to maintain patient morale during hospitalization. Her vision became her project to earn the Girl Scouts Gold Award. After procuring numerous donations, the pediatric therapy room is now equipped with XBox Kinect for patients with limited mobility, a variety of games, new carpeting, kid-friendly artwork, and better functioning furniture. With these changes, Rachel hopes the facility will strengthen the young patients’ emotional health, enhance their social skills, and ultimately improve their recovery during their time in the hospital.

What Rachel values most is working with younger students. Being hired to work as an ESOL (English as a Second Language) summer teaching assistant was, in her words, “an opportunity of a lifetime.” Seeing the “light-bulb” click on her students faces when they finally grasped a concept, is what makes working with these students most fulfilling. Last year, Rachel was selected to participate in “It’s All About Me”, a leadership program for at-risk 5th grade female students transitioning to middle school. Because of her enthusiasm and success with her students, Rachel has been chosen to serve as Co-Leader for the program this year.

After graduating from Christopher Newport University, Rachel plans to be a Spanish and/or history teacher. She wants to teach at-risk students and to instill hope, high expectations, a strong work ethic, and a passion for learning. In Rachel’s own words: “Teaching is not only my dream job but my calling, and as a teacher, I look forward to proudly serving my community.”

Rachel’s mother, Angela Jenkins, works for Prince William County Public Schools. Northern Virginia Community College’s Manassas Campus sponsored her scholarship.

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Scholarship Recipient Rachel Jenkins (center) is shown with (from left) Ramunda Young of the Northern Virginia Community College Manassas Campus, her parents Angela and Rick Jenkins and Aneesh Chopra.

Brett Goerl

Brett will graduate from Patriot High School and plans to attend the University of Virginia in the fall. He is interested in pursuing Pre-Med and Art History.

Brett first remembers wanting to pursue a career in medicine when his father gave him an Encyclopedia of the Human Body to read in second grade. In Brett’s words, “Flipping through the pages of the intricate illustrations, I couldn’t help but feel awestruck by the complexity of the human body.” His appreciation for art was revealed when he visited the National Gallery of Art in the ninth grade. With such a strong ability in the sciences, he questioned if he was supposed to like art, which lead him to an internal tug-of-war for his true calling. With time Brett saw the potential that as a pre-med student he could mirror the beauty and complexity of the human anatomy with the same artistry that painters expose in their works of art. As a result, he began to incorporate the pairing of art and science in both the studio and the lab.

Having never received a grade less than an “A”, Brett has earned many academic awards including a 1st place win at the Annual Martin Luther King Junior Oratorical Competition. He is also an accomplished competitive swimmer. When asked which achievement has meant the most to him, the answer came easily: starting a Unified Sports Special Olympics program at his high school. Through the program, general education and special education students can participate in aquatic activities like swimming and water polo TOGETHER. Making this happen was an uphill battle for Brett that lasted two years since it involved a “high-risk” portion of the student population. Brett’s tenacity has paid off. Patriot High School now offers a swim team that is truly open to all students!

When Brett looks ahead to the next 10 years he says, “I look forward to spending my life building relationships with patients on a daily basis and not selling a product to them, but rather giving them a gift which can’t be bought…..HEALTH!”

Brett’s mother, Kristi Goerl, works for Novant Health UVA Health System. His scholarship is sponsored by Bookworm Central.

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Scholarship Recipient Brett Goerl (center left) is shown with (from left) Radhika Bajaj of Bookworm Central, his mother Kristi Goerl and Aneesh Chopra.

Suhani Pant

Suhani will graduate third in her class from Osbourn Park High School. She plans to attend the University of Virginia in the fall, majoring in Biomedical Engineering.

Suhani has played a leadership role in the Biotechnology, Chemistry and Aviation Clubs at her school; and is a member of the Spanish Honor Society, Math Honor Society, National Honor Society, and the Governor’s School Advisory Council. Her accolades include winning 1st place in the Regional Science Fair for demonstrating issues relevant to public health, Most Creative App at the Pilot DC Hackathon and a first place finish as Osbourn Park’s Best Dancer!

One of Suhani‘s proudest accomplishments was being selected to participate in the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program at George Mason University. She worked in their Bioengineering department to find a new method for detecting osteoporosis by using computer programming and medical imaging. As part of the internship she collaborated with fellow interns to invent the CRUTCH-CLIMBER. A set of crutches with detachable parts that allow users to walk over diverse terrains and climb stairs. They have already filed for a provisional patent for their design!

Her future goals are in her words: “To devote my life to merging the worlds of technology and medicine to augment innovation in both fields.” Ideally her research will focus on using stem cells to alleviate the challenges of organ transplantation. Whether speaking to teens at the local juvenile detention center about the value of staying in school, or sharing her crutch-climber invention with those struggling with osteoporosis, Suhani believes that the true path to innovation is to keep learning about the mindset of others while discussing your own.

Suhani is a volunteer with Novant Health UVA Health System. Her scholarship is sponsored by Lockheed Martin.

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Scholarship Recipient Suhani Pant (center right) is shown with her parents and Anne Young of Lockheed Martin (far right).

Additional sponsors included Speaker Sponsor Virginia Lottery; Community Partner Prince William Times/Gainesville Times; Innovation Sponsor Micron Technology, Inc. and the Education & Innovation Committee Sponsor, Prince William Education Association. ABS Graphics & Advertising, Inc. provided the commemorative checks for the photos at the event.

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