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Jang Choe

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Ed W Clark HS, NV
Attending Harvard University
Founder Las Vegas Student Info Hub

Las Vegas boasts more than the sixth-largest school district; it’s one of the most diverse populations in the US. I grew up attending magnet schools that consisted of students from affluent country club homes to inner-city, single-parent households, exposing me to the profound, systemic gaps in educational equity. The Las Vegas  Review Journal once described my school as “Two schools under one roof.” I developed a passion for biology in middle school, aspiring to conduct research in research projects that would have real-world ramifications. My freshman year, I sent out 30 emails to labs at the 

local university. The result: 5 “no thank yous” and 25 no-responses, but I was undeterred. My classmates, whose parents were doctors and professors, talked frequently about the internships they received at their parents’ work while my restaurant-owning parents worked long hours to keep the lights on. And while I was happy my friends had these opportunities, I saw an opportunity to be resourceful. I spent hours researching online to find opportunities, starting out in my school’s storage room, using a twenty-year-old incubator to develop an algae-based bandage for chronic wounds. 

 

After using this project to become a finalist in the Conrad Challenge, the world’s premier high school STEM-business competition, I used what I learned to win an international Grand Award the following year, graduating from the cramped storage room to labs in summer research programs where I designed a novel fungicide, studied drug resistant cancers, and developed a successful therapeutic that prevents COVID-19 induced blood clotting that received recognition from the Materials Research Society and the FDA. With each new opportunity, I became a more inventive problem-solver and when speaking to so many of my peers, I realized that for low-income students like myself, it was often a lack of knowledge of opportunities that prevented us from reaching our maximum potential. 

 

Last year, I founded the Las Vegas Student Information Hub, an organization dedicated to helping lower-income students and under-represented minorities find educational opportunities and resources. Starting the organization in the middle of a pandemic, I faced many challenges while recruiting members, gauging what the needs of students were, ensuring accountability of members in the early stages, and being a leader remotely over Zoom. But I overcame them using social media, contacting my peers, and learning the importance of effective communication. 

 

Over the past year, LVSIH has grown to be one of the largest student-led organizations in Las Vegas. I rallied 15+ volunteers across 6 schools, learning the importance of respecting everyone’s distinct perspectives and developing an appreciation for the unique stories and contributions different individuals could offer to an organization. I created a website for students to access articles and databases of educational opportunities available to them and worked with my teammates to speak in person with students for whom technological barriers were present. I led outreach efforts, working with community organizations that now provide research opportunities for any high school student, something that wasn’t previously widely available for all students who were interested. Building this organization alongside a diverse coalition of students with varying experiences, I built camaraderie and learned the importance of nurturing open discussion. To date, LVSIH has helped over 100 low-income students, published over 50 student-written articles, and was featured on Channel 8 News.

 

A lack of knowledge or access to educational opportunities should never be a roadblock to success or a device to exacerbate existing inequalities. Moving forward with the resilience I’ve learned, I’ll continue to fight inequity and pursue research in heart disease, one of the least understood but most deadly conditions in the world.