SPARTA, NJ – Sparta High School’s valedictorian Alexandra Poret will be returning to the White House.  She has been selected as a U.S. Presidential Scholar. The announcement came from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos earlier this week.

Poret is in an exclusive club with only 161 high school students in the country.  She is one of five from New Jersey.  One of two from a public high school.

Poret is a self advocate who found out about the opportunity by chance.  She was looking up a friend she had met while participating in the Liberty Science Center Partners in Science program.  Poret found the friend had been nominated for the U. S. Presidential Scholars through the arts program.

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She asked Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi to nominate her. Poret learned she was a Semi-Finalist last month.  She has received the designation of U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education.

"This distinction is indicative of the hard work and dedication that Alex has shown throughout her career,” Rossi said.  “It is very well deserved.”

Poret has decided to attend MIT where she plans to study biological engineering, so she can “eventually help to discover the human microbiome and eventual engineer it for the gain of human health.”

According to Poret, MIT “contains the Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics, a premier research center in the field,” though she is excited to explore other fields that she has not yet had access to, “nuclear engineering, advanced physics topics, to name a few.”

"I am sure Alex is going to go on to do great things in the sciences and we all look forward to her contributions and her future,” Sparta High School Principal Janet Ferraro said.

As a part of the application Poret was required to submit a teacher to be considered for honors as “Distinguished Teacher.” Poret nominated Mark Meola, her robotics teacher and coach.

“He’s guided me throughout all four years of high school and has been a force of reason and practicality in my life,” Poret said. “Whether it is a question about robotics or how to diplomatically approach teammates, he always provided sound advice and calm.”

Poret provided an excerpt from her nomination letter:

Robotics meeting number #31: the room smells of metal and pizza, the tenements of any pre-competition build rush. A saw shrieks in the background and the occasional expletive emanates as a screw repeatedly falls off a robot. Suddenly, a group member calls for another teammate. They have an idea. A good one. A genius one. Ideas begin to form, a hasty design is constructed - we need c-channels, couplers, standoffs…
 
“Mr. Meola, can we go grab a -”
 
“Get me a supply list”
 
The entire team groans, yet none are surprised. This is a common requirement of Mr. Meola’s, my school’s robotics advisor. Even though our supply closet is a mere two doors away, he insists on a materials list. It’s a reminder that even the most brilliant of ideas need to be practical, and, on a greater scale, a metaphor for how he’s shaped my personal development. For, above all, Meola has made me a more sensible, responsible person.
He’s tempered my overzealousness, channeled my enthusiasm into practicality. When my ninth-grade self was driven to exhaustion over malfunctioning Lego NXT’s, he reduced my stress via design suggestions and reassurances, moderating my zeal without ever limiting my exposure to engineering. He’s tolerated my dedication to practically live in the robotics room, guided me through the defeats and highs of competition. A constant source of calm and reason, he’s taught me to approach both science and personal matters with realism and practicality. And, whenever my spur-of-the-moment enthusiasm reemerges, all I have to do is remind myself, I better have a supply list.

Poret said Meola will likely attend the Medal Ceremony in Washington, DC.

"The entire staff and administrative team is extremely excited for Alex,” Ferraro said. “She has been awarded with one of the most distinguished awards that can be given to a high school senior. Alex is one of only six students being honored in the state of New Jersey.  We are all very proud of her."

“Overall, I'm ecstatic to receive this recognition, but also extremely surprised,” Poret said. “When I originally submitted my papers for the New Jersey CTE portion of the program, I had no faith that I'd progress, let only be selected for this honor. The shock is, admittedly, still setting in. That being said, I also can't help but be terribly excited, both to meet all my fellow Scholars and revisit the White House.”