By paul maryniak, GSN Executive Editor

GPS senior approaches life philosophically

There are probably not many high school students who plan to major in philosophy in college.

But then, Amanda Schuerman of Gilbert is not just any high school student.

She’s the captain of the speech and debate team at Gilbert Classical Academy.

She holds leadership positions in both the national March for Our Lives organization and its Arizona chapter.

She’s an active member of Phoenix Rotary 100, which devotes itself to community service projects, as well as a member of Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership and a fellow of the Arizona Democratic Party Campaign.

Oh, and the National Hispanic Scholar carries a perfect 4.0 GPA.

For all these reasons, Amanda, the daughter of Scott and Maribel Schuerman, has been named one of 20 members of the Flinn Scholar Class of 2019.

That means she will receive a full scholarship covering tuition, fees, room and board at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University; two opportunities to study abroad in the next four years that includes a three-week visit to China during her freshman year; and other benefits that include opportunities to chat with some of the world’s leaders in a vast array of scientific and cultural worlds.

It also means she’s part of an elite group of only about 650 people who have received scholarships from the Flinn Foundation since it started honoring exceptional high school seniors 34 years ago.

While a record 894 high school seniors applied for the scholarship, only 2.2 percent received one, noted Flinn Schools and foundation President/CEO Tammy McLeod.

“Each Flinn Scholar we meet is unique, but these students have something in common besides the capacity to excel in the classroom,” McLoed said.

“When she is not debating social policy or contemplating the meaning of life, you can find Amanda serving others in her community,” the foundation said in announcing her award. “She has led numerous initiatives to promote youth empowerment and civic engagement.”

Amanda plans on studying philosophy because “I’ve always been interested in it. I think it is very important to have a strong philosophical and ethical base.”

Her favorite philosopher is  Henry David Thoreau, whose “On Golden Pond” can be found on many a required reading list in high schools.

Indeed, Amanda said one of her favorite pastimes is getting up early in the summer and heading to the Riparian to read and reflect.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself doing that,” she explained.

But Amanda is no shrinking violent.

She’s been at the forefront of one of the most active student movements in a generation that began after the Valentine’s Day 2018 slaughter of 17 people, including 14 students, and the wounding of 17 more at Parkland High School in Florida.

She is on the national March for Our Lives board as the Southwest regional director and is in charge of special projects for the organization’s Arizona chapter.

She has trained other students to lobby state legislators and helped draft legislation that sought more attention by school districts to mental health as a key to safer campuses. That legislation died this month, though Amanda is proud that it got so far as to get a committee hearing.

Amanda also helped organize appearances by high school students at school board meetings across Arizona – including the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board – to urge them to pressure legislators to make more money available for high school counselors and social workers.

Despite the bill’s death, Amanda is gratified by what March for Our Lives has accomplished.

“I’ve always been interested in student activism. But after Parkland there was such a big surge in student activism that I felt compelled to help out,” she said. “I was so moved by the Parkland survivors’ stories.”

She noted that March for Our Lives elevated awareness of some of the real issues that are leading to the increased number of school shootings in America as well as the unrelenting rise in teen suicides both in the East Valley and across the nation.

“It was incredibly encouraging and inspiring to see how many students rose up and got involved,” she said.

She also confesses to be highly competitive as a member of Gilbert Classical Academy’s debate team and has a passion for impromptu debate.

At this point in her life, Amanda wants to work in the nonprofit sector when she’s finished with her undergraduate work, though she is not sure in what capacity.

“I have thought about going to law school, but who knows?“ she said.

When asked by the Flinn Foundation to identify one person who had the greatest impact on her academic and personal development, Amanda’s choice wasn’t all that surprising.

She named Alex Dodt, who teaches AP U.S. history, logic, and philosophy at Gilbert Classical Academy.

Basha senior merges her loves for 4H, STEM

With so much involvement in STEM activities and multiple 4H Club organizations, it’s a wonder that Katie Pascavis of Gilbert finds time to sleep  – let alone carry a 4.8 grade point average.

But the Basha High School senior – who also won a lucrative Flinn Scholarship – has a simple answer: “I don’t sleep too much.”

In announcing her Flinn award, Flinn Scholars program director Anne Lassen said, “Katie strives to make the most of the opportunities she has been given by helping others, whether it be teaching younger students as a 4-H junior leader, leading community service efforts, or spreading her passion for STEM to the next generation through the Science is Fun and Girl STEMpowerment organizations.”

That description belies the scope and breadth of her involvement – both academically and outside the classroom – in pursuing both passions.

A native of Illinois who moved with her parents, Jennifer and Dan Pascavis, about four years ago, Katie did have to quit the band, where she played clarinet, an instrument she’s played since sixth grade.

But that wasn’t because she is one of Basha High’s three science officers, or a member of the National 4-H Congress Leadership Team, or was placing second in the impromptu speaking category of the Western National Roundup, or was succeeding as a National AP and Project Lead The Way Scholar, or winning honorable mention in the National Computing Women in Technology competition, or earning a National Merit Commended scholarship, or attending the Physics of Atomic Nuclei at the University of Notre Dame, or performing her duties as president of the Maricopa County 4-H Dog Committee.

“I was too busy applying to colleges and for scholarships,” explained Katie, who is on her way this fall to Arizona State University’s Barrett, The Honors College, where she will major in mechanical engineering.

She speaks with equal enthusiasm about both her 4H activities and her endeavors in the realm of science, technology, engineering and math.

Indeed, she started the county’s only STEM program for 4H members, hoping to infuse them with the same passion she has for those sciences.

She’s accustomed to being a STEM missionary – especially among young students and for members of her gender.

Through the Science is Fun program, Katie has gone to fourth grade classrooms and helped lead weekend workshops advancing the notion that science and math are subjects to embrace, not cringe before.

Visiting fourth grade classrooms she discovered that it’s not a matter of the subject but how it’s delivered that makes the difference.

“The kids get really excited,” she said. “A lot of them say ‘This is isn’t anything like it is in books.’”

For those visits, she brings a host of quick and easy chemistry experiments to show youngsters the small marvels they can create.

“The whole purpose is to get the kids interested in STEM and show them all the opportunities there are in science,” she explained.

The same holds true for her efforts to interest women her age in STEM fields, particularly engineering.

“There is a huge gender gap in engineering,” she said, pointing to studies that say women fill less than a quarter of all jobs and positions related to engineering.

With a younger friend, Katie started a local GirlSTEMpowerment chapter, holding a math tournament for younger girls and conducting other workshops to draw youngsters and teens into considering careers in engineering, technology, science and math.

And as one of Basha High’s science officers, she tries to bring her peers and community leaders together to explore new STEM opportunities and innovation.

She brings that same passion to fellow animal lovers.

Katie, who has a particular fondness for rabbits and dogs, was surprised to find no STEM group for 4H Club members.

No problem.

She started one, partly because “4H is my life” and she wanted to share her other love for STEM with those who already shared her love for animals.

Throughout many of her STEM activities, Katie also has been helped by Intel and she’s had some assistance from State Farm in her 4H Club leadership activities.

Asked to look down the road once she’s done with school, Katie has a clear idea of what she’d like to do and how she’d like to apply her STEM passion and knowledge – namely by helping others.

She said she’d like to help devise and implement technology to get clean water to the millions of people around the world who don’t have access to it right now, explaining, “I want to help with humanitarian projects, like getting water purification to people who need it.”