May 28, 2001
Do the math: This WHS senior is on the fast track
by Jeanette Knutson
The dot-com world holds no allure for this young scholar. But medicine does.
Yong-Hwa Lee, a Woodinville High School senior, will be off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in fall. Her goal, a double major in biomedical science and applied mathematics with an eye toward an M.D./Ph.D. so that she can continue her passion for biomedical research and at the same time devote herself to helping others as a medical doctor.
These are lofty goals for an 18-year-old, but Lee is most certainly up to the task.
One of the reasons she is ready for the challenge MIT presents is that she has the whole-hearted support of her family.
In fact, her parents left established professions in South Korea so that she might pursue the best quality education possible, here in the United States.
"Since I was very young," said Lee, "my family stressed the value of getting the highest education I can get. They always said, 'If you learn something, you will have it until you die.' And as I read more, I found it fascinating to learn; and the more I read, the more I loved it because it was challenging and [would] enrich me as a person."
There is no doubt that her family's belief in life-long learning has affected her attitude toward education. But she is a exceptional student in her own right and has brought about many of her successes through her own diligence and tenacity ... with the help of WHS Principal Vicki Puckett, Assistant Principal Katie Holland, and teachers like Mr. Cook and Mr. Gulberg and many others.
New to the United States and not exactly proficient in English, as a sophomore Lee undertook advanced placement (AP) calculus. "Advanced placement" refers to college-level courses. If the test at the end of the course is passed with a certain score, that course can count as college credit.
Well, she took the course, took the test, got a perfect score and calculus will count as college credit for her.
In her junior year she started an independent math program. No one at WHS before her had taken second year calculus or statistics. In this program she studied on her own and had discussions with an advisor, Mr. Cook.
"He likened the experience to graduate school where concepts were discussed rather than where the teacher lectured and the students took notes," said Lee.
At the end of the courses, Lee again scored perfectly on the "calc" and "stats" tests and will receive college credit for both.
She also took part in the Running Start Program, where students take actual college or community college classes while still in high school. Lee chose a molecular biology course and a bio-tech laboratory at Shoreline Community College.
Though the learning curve may have been steep, (she was the only high school student in the class and found the coursework extremely challenging) she maintained a 4.0 average.
She has also had an internship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center since last winter.
"I work with two 'post-docs' doing research on the regulation of the cell cycle, the key to tumor development. ... It's a great opportunity."
Lee will continue her work at Fred Hutch through the summer before heading to Cambridge and MIT this fall.
This year, she has also taken four other AP classes, English, government, politics and chemistry. She's taken the final tests for all four, but the scores will not be released until July.
Aside from this hefty academic schedule, Lee has other responsibilities. For starters, she is president of the National Honor Society.
"Many don't realize National Honor Society has a community service component."
She, along with fellow officers and members of the society, collected over 2,000 used children's books which were boxed and shipped to a clinic, a hospital literacy program and other outreach organizations.
As president of the Math Club, Lee worked with others on the club's Valentine fund-raiser, a computer match-making service.
She is also a state champion in the Math League, a competition that sends students math problems every month which they solve and sent back. A tabulation of points accumulated through correct answers led to her state champion designation. And the school's math team won second in regional competition this year.
"It's always making state," said Lee.
The Science Club, of which she is vice-president, takes part in the Science Olympiad each year.
This year the school's team placed fourth in state competition, one of its best placements in WHS history. Individually, Lee took a first place in cell biology and a second place in chemistry ‹ at the regional level. At state level, she took third in cell biology and third in chemistry.
In addition, playing the violin is a major passion for Lee. She's been playing for 13 years.
Though her tutelage continues, she willingly shares her music with the community, playing for local nursing homes and every week at Mass.
She was a member of the All State Orchestra as a sophomore, has played in the Seattle Youth Smyphony Orchestra.
"I plan to continue playing in college, when I have a profession ... forever," said Lee.
She has also been a volunteer for the City of Woodinville, for the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce and for the Seattle Aquarium.
And bring up the topic of art or literature and her eyes light up. She will happily discuss Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, T.S. Eliot ... Lee has said her love of math and science is equal. It just might be her enthusiasm for the humanities is just as great.
This young woman's accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. Besides a number of private scholarships, she was recently recognized at a ceremony in Olympia as a Washington Scholar. One hundred forty-seven scholars ‹ three for each of the state's 49 legislative districts ‹ were chosen from 641 nominations. Statewide high school principals did the nominating and a selection committee comprised of high school principals, representatives of state educational agencies, and administrators of public and private four-year colleges and universities chose the finalists on the basis of academic achievement, leadership and community service.
Washington Scholars receive a state grant for tuition for up to 12 quarters or eight semesters if they attend a Washington public or private college or university.
Lee will have to forego the grant because she will be attending a university out of state.
That Yong-Hwa Lee has shone scholastically these past three years at Woodinville High School is irrefutable. That she has striven to share her time, her talents with the community cannot be denied. That she is on the path to life-long learning and giving should be applauded. Step out of the way. This young scholar is on the fast track.