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Ayer Shirley students already on road to science careers

Ayer Shirley students already on road to science careers

Ayer Shirley Regional High School students Shaizee Valentin-Feliciano and Jacob Miska come from disparate backgrounds but they have much in common.

Both young men are ambitious high-achievers eyeing science and technology careers who have already made significant strides toward achieving their goals.

Shaizee, a sophomore, said he’s one of eight siblings, but doesn’t reside with them. His biological family members are scattered all over, he said, including Puerto Rico. In foster care since age 9, he has attended several school districts and went to three different high schools before entering Ayer Shirley as a freshman. It was his choice, he said, and he seems to have found his niche.

An honors student in biology, Shaizee is participating in Harvard Medical School’s Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program this year. He wants to become a virologist.

Alerted to the opportunity by his biology teacher, Shaizee applied for the program even before the forms came out. Accepted as an “underprivileged” student, the $2,500 tuition was waived, he said.

Conducted over several Saturdays, the Harvard program curriculum consists of a series of lectures, mentoring and workshops. Topics include a range of medical areas such as vital signs, the brain, viruses, babies, DNA isolation, neuroscience, psychiatry and cancer.

Listing the challenging line-up, Shaizee sounds energized rather than intimidated. He’ll find out how well he did when he’s evaluated at the end, he said. It concludes in February.

Continuing to build his pre-college resume, he hopes to land a summer internship, Shaizee said. “I want to do cancer research at Dana Farber.”

Jacob, a senior, aims to pursue mechanical engineering. He is one of 18,000 semi-finalists vying for Coca-Cola scholarships. Not such a long shot given that they were plucked from a field of 187,000 applicants, ASRHS Principal Al Varga said.

It would be great to get that award, Jake said, but his college plans don’t hinge on it. He’s been trolling the Internet for other scholarship opportunities, too, he said. And he’s been accepted at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. A believer in keeping his options open, he has applied to other schools as well.

Asked what inspired him to choose this career path, Jake didn’t have to look far beyond his family’s science, engineering, technology and math-related interests, acumen and activities to explain his own affinity for STEM subjects. Both parents went to WPI, he said.

His mom, Christine, is an electrical systems engineer and helped found the high school’s robotics team. His dad, Walter, a former civil engineer,is also involved. Jake has been a member since freshman year. His sister Lana, a sophomore, is also on the team.

Robotics is Shaizee’s sole extracurricular at school, but he’s busy. He’s teaching himself to play the piano and takes violin lessons in Nashua, NH. He also tutors other students in biology, he said.

“I do a lot of stuff,” said Jake. Band, soccer, Student Council, National Honor Society.

And he and Jake are hooked on robotics, which occupies a lot of after school and weekend time.

“We spend a ridiculous amount of time in this building,” Jake said. “But it’s fun!”

Shaizee cheerfully agreed. He’s on the robotics software team and has mentored kids in the robotics intro Lego program at Lura White Elementary School. Tying his extracurricular to his career plans, he noted that doctors will have to work more and more with technology as well as medicine in the future.

Shaizee and Jake are among many standout students at Ayer Shirley but their example would serve those aspiring to do better. What advice would they offer younger students who want to succeed?

“I know what I want,” Shaizee said. “Nobody in my family even finished high school and they said I couldn’t do it.” Instead of getting discouraged, he ignored them.” I aim to prove them wrong,” he said.

“Don’t pass up on good opportunities,” said Jake. Like the Robotics Team. Working on projects, new experiences, a chance to make friends. He concedes it’s a commitment. “It’s worth it,” he said.