Interview by KELLY PRICE, Durant High, PHOTO BY EMMY BOYD, Wharton High
Kelsey McDonald, Alonso High
College: Likely Yale, though it could change any minute. • Accepted by: Dartmouth, Tulane, University of Oklahoma, UCF, Rice, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. • Object of inspiration: “Mrs. Bletsch, can I have an Erlenmeyer flask? I have a photo shoot to do.”
So what set Yale apart for you?
They have the residential college system just like they do at Rice. It’s not like you’re going to this huge university where you don’t know anybody; you’re tied with your residential college. It’s like the Hogwarts thing almost, like you have your house. They also have this program, Perspectives on Science, and I love science. But they have a lot of programs for scientists, and it’s in the same area as the pharmaceutical companies, (which is good) because I want to go into pharmaceutical research. So it’s like the perfect location.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ten years from now, I want to work in this beautiful, pristine, glass building making the new aspirin or something like that. I don’t know exactly what field of pharmaceuticals I want to go into, but lately I’ve been kind of thinking about neurological science, like drugs that affect the brain. So maybe I could do something with that. Lately, (Yale) has been doing a lot of funding for the science because they’re big on humanities. That’s actually why I didn’t apply to a tech school, like Cal Tech, because I want to go to lab and really do well in a class, but I want to come out of the lab, and you know, let me go to a play.
What are you most proud of?
Well, besides winning the Barnes Scholarship? (Laughs.) One of the biggest things has been my participation in the Young Scholars Program, YSP. It’s a six-week program at FSU for the top 40 math and science students in Florida. And it was so amazing. We took classes in math, science and computer science, and it was really like living at college. After you finish your classes, you hang out with your friends. Every weekend, we would go do an ocean thing like go to the beach, go kayaking or tubing. It was really fun because you got really close to all 40 of the people. And we did independent research, like me and my lab partner we worked on lysozyme crystallization, and that was really interesting.
What teacher has most impacted your life?
Mrs. Bletsch, AP Chemistry. (Hers) was one of the first true AP classes, like she was accelerated in chemistry but at the same time, she told stories so that we could understand the concepts better. She was a really good teacher. And in fact, she nominated me for something called UT AP Chem Day at the University of Tampa. It was only five people out of her entire AP Chem classes. We did two labs, one qualitative and one quantitative, and that’s where I first got a taste like, hey maybe I want to do something in science. So she really set me on track for what I want to do for the rest of my life.
It sounds like you have a pretty personal relationship with her.
Oh yeah. This year me and two of my really close friends hang out with her at lunch, and we do homework, and sometimes just end up talking and not so much homework. And I’m really close with all the science teachers; the science department in particular is really a unit, so I get to know them all pretty well.
What made you strive fervently to succeed?
Well, actually, my family’s finances (were) a big motivator. It kind of got solidified in sophomore year because that’s when the economic crash really set in, but freshman year is when we kind of got a little bit of, hmm, maybe we’re not doing so good. So when that happened, my parents sat me down and we actually had to have a talk of, “Okay, we may not be able to send you to college, so you have to be like twice as better to get scholarships and stuff like that. You can’t just get a ‘good’ SAT score; you’ve got to get a ‘great’ SAT score.” So by studying that much harder — because you can’t not go to college nowadays, it’s like impossible — the fact that I had that extra drive, that really helped.
How do you manage to live a normal life?
Well, what is normal, really? (Laughs.) It’s always out of necessity, like if I have homework to do, I can’t really go out. I don’t really know how to answer that. I feel like (the balance is) 60-70 (percent) academic and 30-something social, just because with that drive, and I’ve always wanted to go to a really big-name school like Yale or Harvard, with that goal in mind, everything else was secondary. And I mean, when I do have free time, I hang out with family, cooking with music on, play the piano.I love to play the piano. I love gourmet cooking. I’ll cook any cuisine, but I love Italian.
What’s your favorite time from high school?
YSP (Young Scholars Program). I think the best part is because at my high school, not a lot of people are very like passionate about science, so when I went to YSP, it’s like everyone’s a math and science nerd like me. So I think that’s kind of where I made my close connections.
Which superhero do you identify with?
Science woman? (Fist pumps. Laughs.)
What superpower would you choose to have?
I think the power to read minds. I love AP Psych, so the way the mind works is really interesting.
What do you think is heroic about you?
I have the power to study for hours on end! If I have something that’s due the next day, although I don’t normally push it off until then, I will literally get a pot of coffee and be like, let’s study for five hours and actually do this.
What is your kryptonite — your weakness?
Chocolate. (Laughs.) I looooove chocolate.
Who is a real-life superhero to you?
Mrs. Bletsch. When she was teaching last year, she had two kids and she was getting a master’s degree in chemistry — and she was teaching. She would be like, “Oh, I have to take my son to soccer practice, I have to do this. …” I was like, wow, I think I’m busy and you’re doing all that?
How would you save the world?
Make drugs! Oh. Like pharmaceuticals. Please don’t take that out of context. (Laughs.)