A panel of teachers, guidance counselors and administrators at Hamilton High School West have selected seven seniors as this year’s Academic Achievers. Each student has written a testimonial. The Hamilton Post is proud to recognize the students this month.
Victoria Blankenbiller, fine arts
My interest in baking began when I was a toddler. My first encounter with a stove, at the age of five, was a near disaster. Several burnt fingers were not enough to keep me from channeling my inner Cake Boss, though.
My grandfather recognized my desire to become a pastry chef, so around the age of eight, he took me to meet his friend, Barbara. She was very nice and had heard about me wanting to become a pastry chef. She handed me the Holy Grail of cookbooks containing her favorite recipes. After that, whenever I would visit my grandfather, he would drive my sisters and me up to New York just to see Barbara.
One of the recipes she gave me was a cherry cheesecake brownie recipe. I baked it for her, and she was surprisingly impressed with my baking expertise at such a young age. These visits fueled my passions for baking. Over the years, this passion grew. Baking always felt like second nature to me.
I decided to test my skills by entering a competition for the first time. I felt like I was on “Cupcake Wars” having only two hours to complete my cake. The competition’s quick pace propelled my adrenaline. I felt like a marathon runner sprinting to the finish line. I really wanted that first place finish, though I knew I was a long shot. So many of the contestants had much more experience than I.
At the end of the competition, as my heart rate returned to its normal rhythm, I heard the announcer say that my cake had won second place.
Liam Courtney, math
Mathematics has always been an important part of my academic journey. I often find math to be a fun challenge. In elementary school, I was placed in the highest math group. In middle school, I was selected to take the honors enriched path which included pre-algebra in 6th grade, Algebra I in 7th grade and Geometry in 8th grade.
Once I got to high school, I was able to take Honors Algebra II as a freshman, Honors Pre-Calculus as a sophomore and Advanced Placement Calculus as a junior. Currently I am taking Advanced Placement Statistics, and I find the class to be extremely rewarding. The material in statistics is game-like to me, which makes the course extremely fun and never boring.
Throughout high school, the fact that I was taking higher level mathematics courses helped me with my science classes as well since most science classes are mathematics-based. I have used the concepts learned in mathematics to help me explore the worlds of biology, chemistry, environmental science and human physiology. Mathematics and science are a perfect pair, and thankfully, I enjoy and do well in both subject areas. In college, I plan to enroll in advanced level calculus and statistics courses, even though I intend to major in biochemistry with a pre-medicine track.
The advanced level mathematics courses will enable me to look for large-scale and hidden trends in my laboratory research, which will allow me to make connections and conclusions that not all scientists would be able to make. These connections and conclusions may end up leading to breakthrough discoveries in the treatments of certain diseases or injuries.
Even though I do not intend to pursue a field in mathematics, my intended major is one of the STEM fields, which will make math an essential part of my college education.
Nicole Hull, business
Starting high school as a freshman, I was set on advancing my education for another seven years after high school to become a lawyer. I did not think anyone would ever have been able to change my career focus until Mr. Fishman said, “Hey kid! Do you like numbers?” Fast forward to the end of my junior year, I could not imagine any other career than analyzing data and crunching numbers.
My interest in business extends beyond my career path. I am a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, National Technical Honor Society, and a volunteer for Junior Achievement of New Jersey. I have also received a badge from Nocti for my knowledge of accounting, and an award from the Rotary Club for a course in business planning.
My enthusiasm for business has broadened my horizons, allowing me to accomplish many things, such as networking with business professionals, and mentoring children in age-appropriate business lessons. I am very pleased and honored to be this year’s business Academic Achiever, and I would like to extend my gratitude to my incredibly supportive parents, and to Mr. Fishman for recruiting me to my destined career.
Ashley Maurer, social studies
Growing up, I had a lot of interests. I’ve always loved mythology, fairy tales, art and ancient history. I’ve been building a veritable collection of books on these subjects since I was little. There’s no Greek myth I can’t recite by heart, for history I can tell you all about the life of Cleopatra and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. All of these subjects fall under the social sciences, humanities, and history umbrella known as Social Studies.
Shameless bragging aside, I feel like I can never learn enough, and I love to learn. Fortunately, I had a teacher who encouraged my passion for Social Studies. Social Studies became especially exciting to me when I reached high school and started taking World History taught by Mr. Funari. I found the lessons fun and genuinely felt like I was learning. When I finished freshman year, I resolved to take the other class that he taught, AP US History. During Mr. Funari’s classes, we didn’t just sit there and get lectured, we were engaged, and we debated.
I’ve decided to channel that passion for Social Studies into a career. In college, I want to major in anthropology and possibly minor in linguistics. I want to someday become a museum curator. I love museums. They’re filled with history and beauty. Working in one would be a dream. It’ll be a long journey, but I’ll be doing what I love the whole way.
Steven Pae, technology
Ever since I was a kid, I loved technology, whether it was playing with batteries or taking things apart and then failing at putting them back together. One could say that it was predestined that technology was my calling. This passion was mainly on the “back burner” in most of my life; however, there was passion.
When I actually realized my love of all things technical was during my freshman year of high school when I joined my high school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team out of wanting to participate in a club. There, I realized how much fun it is to make things and to see them come alive at my touch. There, I also learned about programming, wiring, building and designing, which are all crucial parts of creating anything no matter the level of technology involved.
Over the course of the year, I came to love the team; By sophomore year, I became one of its captains, and I became team leader by my junior year, something unprecedented in the team’s history. There, I continued to bring the love of science, technology, engineering and math to anyone who shows interest in the team, even if he/she is not a student at Hamilton High School West.
Robotics is not the only place that I practice my technological talents as I am constantly working on projects either in my woodshop class in school or on my leisure time at home. Technology has positively influenced my life in more ways than I can count. It is a place for me to express myself creatively and a place to blow off some steam by working with some machinery, making something beautiful in the end. Overall, my interest in technology has helped me immensely as it has also helped me find what I wish to do after high school; become a technology teacher so that I can spread my enthusiasm and support those on a similar path to the one I have chosen.
Amanda Sensi, science
My love for science dates all the way back to my fifth grade year. In Mrs. Lattin’s class, I was introduced to the smaller world of cells and nuclei with her cell project. It was amazing to realize everyone and everything living are made up of these tiny powerhouses. While looking through a microscope for the first time, I was inspired to view the world around me as being more complex than what I ever imagined.
As I entered high school, I was excited to take the more advanced science classes to learn more about the world around me. During these past four years, I have taken biology, chemistry, AP Physics 1 & 2, AP Chemistry, AP Biology and AP Environmental Science. When I tell people how many science classes I have taken and how much I love science, I get strange looks and have been asked why I did not take easier route. The idea of discovery of different theorems drives my love for science, and the challenge of complex ideas compels me to learn more.
Taking Mrs. Giampiccolo’s AP Chemistry class my junior year solidified my college major and career choice of chemistry. I loved walking into her classroom every day knowing I would learn something new and interesting. I was always the first one to want to break out the test tubes and beakers to mix up any crazy concoction in the lab. I still visit her AP chemistry class to help her with labs and to even join in on the fun of the class. Her lessons have prepared me for the college level chemistry courses by learning several different lab techniques and chemistry based ideas that every scientist must know.
I am truly honored to be nominated as the Hamilton High School West Science Academic All-Star. Science is the center of our world. I hope to do great things with the knowledge I gained throughout my education.
Brianna Szenczi, English
From a young age, I have considered myself to be very imaginative. In the early days of elementary school, I would spend portions of my free time locked in my room with dolls and stuffed animals, creating scenarios and acting them out. I would plan out every detail from names to birthdays, from favorite foods to personality traits. Some storylines would span several days while others were very short-lived, but nonetheless I was proud of them all. As I grew, playing with dolls began to feel childish. I found myself looking for a new creative outlet, so I started to write.
I wrote my first story the summer before 5th grade. Nearly eight years later, I’m still growing as a writer. Writing is fun for me, whether it’s formal or informal. I love learning new words and using those words to convey my thoughts and ideas. I have gone through countless journals and Word documents full of ideas, passages, and legitimate stories. Writing allows me to deal with issues or think from another point of view, which is something that isn’t always easy to do otherwise. When I write, my mind becomes clear and is in a good place. Everyone should do things in life that make them happy, and writing makes me happy, so I’ll continue to do it as long as I possibly can.