OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Next week a few dozen teenagers will gather at the White House to be honored as U.S. Presidential Scholars, among America's top high school graduates of 2012. This week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever won't be able to make it, though. That's because Megan Smith has a conflict. She'll be in Boston for the National BioGENEius Competition, America's premier contest for high school students who do outstanding biotechnology research.
For much of her last two years at Shawnee Mission West High School, Megan Smith poured herself into exhaustive, advanced biomedical research into the effects of caffeine and coffee on microscopic genetically modified roundworms. Her goal -- discovery -- to see if either or both substances have the potential to improve movement impairments of people with Parkinson's Disease.
"I really enjoy just how science lets you take your curiosity and then do things that have big implications to the world and improve medicine, in this case, or any other range of things" says Megan.
"Megan is great at science research," says Shawnee Mission West High School biology teacher Brenda Bott who has had Megan in her biotechnology courses the past two years. "She has the innate ability to look at a problem and creatively design experimental research to find an answer to the problem. Megan is one of a kind. She is so curious, loyal and dedicated. And dedicated to others but also dedicated to herself. She really has a quest for knowledge."
In devoting hundreds of hours to working with some of the earth's tiniest creatures, Megan has collected some of the biggest awards that a high school science student can win. Greater Kansas City Science Fair Grand Award and Intel International Science Fair participant. Kansas BioGENEius finalist and National BioGENEius presenter. Seimen's Award for Advanced Placement. And many more. As a National Merit Scholar Finalist and National Advanced Placement Scholar, she is certainly an academic powerhouse but Megan's resume' also sparkles with big accomplishments in the arts as a fine pianist, school leadership and community service.
"I've always been interested in a wide range of subjects but I think if a person is just solely focused on one thing they're not as good as they can be in whatever it is they have chosen to focus on," says Megan.
And Megan's done it all while working an average 20 hours a week for years as a certified baby-sitter for neighborhood children and for her own four younger sisters and brothers while her single-parent mom has worked. A few weeks ago, Megan was named a Horatio Alger National Scholar, honored for achieving greatly over adversity or difficult challenges and she gets a $20,000 college scholarship for that. Then she got word from the White House that she's also a U.S. Presidential Scholar, recognized as one of the best of the best of America's high school graduates for 2012.
"I've always had kind of a desire to be the best that I can be and I still don't know exactly what I want to be but just kind of be doing my best no matter what it is I'm trying to do," says Megan.
Megan realized early on she had the intellect and special abilities to enable her to accomplish big things so it was important to her also to develop the work ethic to make the most of them. And with that combination, Megan has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and financial aid to study science and business management this fall at the University of Pennsylvania of the Ivy League.
"I think I have been, for the most part, pretty driven in my life," says Megan, "just because I want to make a difference in the world and want to have a positive effect. So I know in order to do that you have to work hard and just be persistent."
To keep being the best that she can be in all the things she does.
Megan is one of three Kansas City metro area U.S. Presidential Scholars for 2012. The others are Joseph Richey of Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo. and Jiemin Wei of Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, Kan.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.
Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.
Phil Witt, FOX 4 News