Two Franklin Park students are being honored by the Siemens Foundation for their scores on Advanced Placement tests.
Siemens annually honors one boy and one girl from each state, who have earned the greatest number of scores of 5 -- the top score -- on AP tests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM courses.
North Allegheny senior Lily Zhang is the female winner from Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of Li-Ming and Hong Zhang of Franklin Park.
Senior Skanda Koppula is the male winner from Massachusetts. Skanda, who attended North Allegheny schools through 10th grade, now attends Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He is the son of Murali and Hema Koppula of Franklin Park.
"We commend this year's Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement winners on their hard work and dedication to STEM subjects," said Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation.
Lily, 18, has taken 18 advanced placement courses, beginning in ninth grade with calculus.
"It was definitely a challenging course, and I loved it. I loved getting that challenge and looking at math at a higher level," she said. "It prompted me to take more courses."
Lily gives much of the credit for her success to her teachers.
"The teachers that I've had have been absolutely phenomenal. All of the courses have been very engaging, and I think it is the way that these teachers presented the concept to me," she said. "Because my teachers have been so wonderful during class, I'm able to do a lot of my mastery during class time."
Skanda, 17, has taken 10 AP classes and also started with calculus in ninth grade.
"I think the most important part is to maintain your curiosity," he said. "Make sure you are always doing things you are interested in."
He said his success in AP courses is due to "a combination of motivation and interest. Having a bigger picture and understanding of scientific and math concepts really helped me in these courses."
Both students said their biggest challenge is balancing the course work with extracurricular activities and community service.
"Oftentimes you get so knee-deep in your work that you forget to think. I'm trying to get better at making sure I have time to sit down and what makes me me, and what I enjoy, and the course and subjects that interest me," Skanda said.
He plays the violin and chess, and enjoys writing and reading. He is also learning to speak German, and is on the track, cross-country and ultimate Frisbee teams at Phillips. He was also on the track and cross-country teams at North Allegheny.
Lily has been playing the piano since she was 5, and is now a competitive player who won the gold medal at the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati last year.
She is on the North Allegheny Senior High School speech and debate team and, with a partner, won the final round of the National Forensics League National Speech and Debate Tournament last year.
She plays on the varsity tennis team, and enjoys drawing and painting. She also teaches traditional Chinese dance to younger children at the Pittsburgh Chinese School, plays the piano at UPMC Passavant and partnered with the Rotary, World Affairs Council and the Brother's Brother Foundation for the Africa Alive Education Foundation.
"What I've learned in my short life: Honestly, I've been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities, and I just want to give back to the community ... the way I've been blessed -- not only the local community, but the global community," she said.
Lily said her greatest reward is the journey that it takes to achieve her successes.
"In the end, the recognition is just words on a piece of paper," she said. "It's the journey that means the most for me because that is what I am going to remember."
Skanda said his greatest reward is the foundation he is establishing for the rest of his life, that the classes he excelled in might one day lead him to discover something that helps people.
"Math and science always have some application that may not be fully clear now but, maybe later, I will be able to use what I learned now and what I learn in college to really benefit the world," he said.
Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship from the Siemens Foundation. Lily plans to attend Harvard University to major in chemistry and philosophy. Skanda has not chosen a college, but plans to major in physics, computer science or math.
Both scholars offered advice to younger students who may want to emulate their successes.
"It's really important to make sure that you are not taking courses for the sake of taking courses to get a higher [GPA]," Skanda said. "That is an easy way to lose interest.
"You take the courses that you are most interested in. ... When you find something that you are interested in, just do it fully."
Lily advises younger students to "really cherish these moments that you have, growing up with your parents and your friends. Take this time to truly explore what you love."
She added that, while awards are nice, they "won't mean that much in the great scheme of things.
"Have fun doing what you do. The activities I've chosen to pursue are ones that I love."
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: email@example.com