June 14, 2008

Indiana Area High School Student of the Year Nominees

By Gina Delfavero

Charishma Soni, an Indiana Area Senior High School nominee, took private voice lessons with Kristi Dearing and put her vocal talents to use as a member of her school's acappella choir and Madrigal Singers. She was chosen to sing in the Indiana County Chorus Festival, the PMEA District III Chorus Festival, where she was a concert and incidental soloist, and the PMEA Region II Chorus Festival.

The daughter of Dr. Ramesh and Bina Soni, of Indiana, strived athletically on the girl's tennis team and the winter and spring track and field teams, earning one varsity letter. She was a member of National Honor Society and of several competitive academic teams and clubs, including the English Festival (co-president), Forensic Speaking (president), PA Math League and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania 2008 math competition. She acted and sang in senior high drama productions.

She is also a member of the Indiana Balvihar Group, a Hindu youth group.

Indiana Area's Athena Club gave Soni many occasions to involve herself in the community, through service projects such as blood drives and Santa's Workshop. In the summer of 2005, she was given the opportunity to volunteer at the Community Guidance Center in Indiana.

She was assigned to help with several minor projects, but the one that made the biggest impression on her was working with the Adolescent Partial Hospitalization and School (ALPHA) service, which provides emotionally troubled students an alternating schedule of counseling and schooling--meant to help prepare them to return to their home schools.

"I gained so much respect for these students for making the effort to transform their lives and try to become emotionally stable again, especially because I'm not sure if I could handle living through some of their abusive experiences," she said.

Dedication to her education garnered Soni much recognition, including an academic scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh, Seton Hill University Woman of Science Scholarship Award for Biology, The Challenge Program Highest GPA Award, Duquesne English Festival Outstanding Video Award, Distinguished Status and a student judging role in the National Forensics League, third place in the PA Statistics Poster Competition funded by IUP, Duquesne English Festival First Place Team and Overall Outstanding Team awards, Outstanding Math Student of the Year Award, and Outstanding Student Award for Computer Applications.

Now that she has graduated from high school, Soni will move on to the next step of her education, attending the University of Pittsburgh Honors College to major in molecular biology. She plans to continue on to medical school and to eventually become a psychiatrist.

Soni and her family are aware of environmental issues such as the possibility of global warming, and the effects it might have on future generations. They have taken steps in their own lives to help reduce strain on the Earth's resources, including purchasing a hybrid automotive.

On a more personal note, "I have been making a much more conscientious effort to reduce my own consumption of resources," she said--by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms, conserving water with shorter showers, car-pooling with friends, reusing paper that has minimal print and recycling.

Volunteerism plays a substantial role in global healing efforts, she added. Individuals can do a lot to encourage action and awareness by planting trees, cleaning up roads and parks, and promoting conservation.

"If everyone took small steps to conserve resources, the progress of global warming could be hindered and the world in general could become a more beautiful place," she said.

Soni learned the value of hard work from her parents. She said the greatest lesson was one she learned from her mother, who told her, "'Charishma, work smart, not hard,'" Soni recalled.

When it comes to academics, Soni said she has few regrets, but social relationships are a different matter.

"Unfortunately, because I didn't know many students upon entering the public school system (she attended IUP's University School through sixth grade), I was very shy. This made it difficult to make friends with the people most similar to me. By the time I stopped being shy and stopped trying to 'be cool,' it was too late for me to become an indispensable part of a group of girls."

But her bashfulness did not impede her from forming bonds with some of her classmates: "Luckily, I do have a few very close friends who I can turn to for anything. I appreciate them so much."

Male nominee James Han

According to James Han, Indiana Senior High School nominee, his most influential service project affected him as well as others, helping to solidify his interest in the medical field.

At Indiana Regional Medical Center, he assisted patients with various tasks in order to allow nurses more time for other duties. It "lifted the patients' spirits as well as my own," he said. "I believe I made a significant difference by volunteering in the hospital--not only did I assist my community, but I also met new people and established new relationships.

"Additionally, I have learned much about health care and gained a superb impression of the health care community, boosting my confidence and determination to enter the medical field."

The son of Xianwen Qiao and Shenggao Han, he will head off to Duke University to study biology, with the intent of going on to medical school and becoming a physician in a specialized field."My ultimate goal is to simply help people, even if it has to be one person at a time," he noted.

Han worked toward that goal by being diligent with his school work and bolstering his resum with activities. He was co-president of the English Festival, a member of Science Olympiad and Quiz Bowl Varsity teams, the Literary Magazine Club, National Mathematics League, Future Business Leaders of America and National Forensics League.

He participated in the ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 physics and computer science workshops at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, marching band and the school musical and lettered with the tennis team.

Han earned top marks and recognition, with two first-place finishes and a second place at the English Festival over his high school career, two perfect attendance awards, two Academic Excellence Awards, a Student Recognition Award for Extra Effort in mathematics, science and social studies, and the Piano Teacher's Association Outstanding Award for three years.

A member of the National Honor Society, he landed a first-place prize in 2006 and second place in the 2007 JV Indiana County Quiz Bowl. He also: placed second at the regional level of Future Business Leaders of America Entrepreneurship event; was an AP Scholar with Distinction and a Harvard Prize Book Recipient as a junior; earned two fourth-place and second- and first- place medals at this year's Science Olympiad Regional event and was the salutatorian of his senior class.

A member of the Christian Alliance Youth Group, he also plays piano, and he helped his community as a Relay for Life participant and through the Humanitarian Issue Relief Organization.

His long list of activities and honors is proof that Han heeded the advice of his parents growing up--namely, that "Working hard and efficiently will yield the most benefits," he stated.

"It may seem like a hackneyed lesson, but it is undoubtedly the most significant one I've learned. As a child, I've been pushed to work very hard, and this lesson has been proven to be true countless times."

It's often said that the little things can make the difference, and that's the approach that Han takes when it comes to bettering the world.

"My role in making the world a better place to live is minute, yet effective and influential," he said, noting that he turns off lights and water when not in use, tries to recycle and buys energy- efficient appliances that are environmentally safe.

"Volunteerism plays a major role because it shows that you are willing to help others and make things better out of goodwill, not due to pressure or necessity," he said.

An earlier penchant for acting without considering the consequences is what Han views as his one regret. He used the example of when he was a freshman and unwittingly took a copy of the final test for a class, under the impression it was a practice worksheet.

"My action got me a failure for the final test and months of shame and regret," he said. "From then on, I've always questioned whether an action was right or logical before performing it."

The Dispatch annually asks seven area high schools to each submit the names of two top seniors, one male and one female, based on academic excellence, extracurricular activities and community service. Of those nominees, one outstanding candidate is selected as The Dispatch Student of the Year and is awarded a $500 scholarship.

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