Wasilla Scholar Garners Presidential Recognition

Wasilla high school student Ariel Hasse has been named a 2015 Presidential Scholar. The seventeen year old has her sights set on a science career.

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Hasse doesn’t wonder what she’ll do when she grows up. She says she already knows.

“I want to be a physicist, well, I suppose I should say I want to study physics and physics is something I am very interested in, particularly quantum mechanics and theoretical physics and bridging the gap between general relativity and string theory.”

Hasse, who is in her senior year at Mat Su Career and Technical High School in Wasilla has been selected as one of the two Presidential Scholars from Alaska who will travel to Washington DC in June for an awards ceremony. The other Presidential Scholar is Grant Ackerman, who attends West Valley High School in Fairbanks.  Hasse and Ackerman are among 141 outstanding American high school seniors noted for academic achievement. Hasse says she’s been involved with math and science ever since she was in elementary school.

“I’ve always been really good at math, and I have a good aptitude for it.  And then, I’d say in elementary school, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for science, but if I think about it, there’s definitely some examples of me being interested in it, and then as I got into middle school, and I got involved in some of the extra curricular programs that my school offered, it was very clear to me that I had a passion for it. “

She was invited to apply for the presidential scholar award, one of over four thousand students nationwide.

Part of the application process is to write an essay about a photo that has personal significance. Hasse’s chose a picture of an early 1900s Physics Conference.

“Because it was the first conference that had a woman in attendance. And in the front row of the picture, you can see Marie Curie amongst all of her physics colleagues. And then I wrote about the importance of women in science, and how, while we have made progress, in the realm of science we have a lot more to go, because last year only three women attended the same conference, well over one hundred years later.”

Hasse says a lot of women don’t pursue degrees in physics, nor are there high percentages of women involved in chemistry or physical science programs. She says that could be fallout from cultural conditioning.

“We have these representations of women and what they are supposed to be, and how they are supposed to act. There are a lot of pressures on young girls in middle school, when you are developing a lot of your interests, that’s when I developed a lot of my interests. You have all of these physical and body image pressures and there’s a lot of social things that are happening and a lot of changes that are happening to your body. And we don’t support girls through this period, so they lose a lot of their interest in science.”

Hasse just got back from the National Science Bowl in Washington, DC and noted that few girls  make the science teams. She says only 16 percent of the high school participants at the event were girls.

“You know it is easy to say that gender doesn’t matter, but there is something, there’s something that is allowing my male colleagues, good frients of mine, to engage in conversation about the fabric of the cosmos, while I struggle to get a word in. I see them easily come in and out of conversation as new people walk into the room, people that are male. But I fail to get on the table with them. “

Hasse leaves Wasilla again for the National Science Olympiad next week.  She credits Mat Su Career and Tech High School teacher Barbara Petukh as an influence and a mentor.  Hasse has taken leadership positions by founding the student government in her high school. She has served as president of  the Mat Su Student Advisory Board and as president of the Alaska Association of Student Governments.  She’ll attend California Institute of Technology in the fall.