When Jessica Shi, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, discovered that she had been named a finalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search, she was, like the forty other students across the nation to receive this honor, ecstatic beyond description.
To participate in the Intel STS competition, graduating seniors must conduct an independent research project, write a graduate-level report, complete multiple narrative essays, and obtain teacher or mentor evaluations. Jessica, who realized an ardent passion for theoretical mathematics early in her life, embarked on an investigation into intersection graphs, a branch of modern graph theory, while studying in the Research Science Institute last summer. There, under the mentorsings of graduate student Francisco Unda and MIT assistant professor Dr. Jacob Fox, Jessica examined the upper and lower limits of these graphs in the hope of unearthing insightful patterns.
“Ultimately, we established a connection between the limits of these graphs and the number of variables present.”
The conclusions of Jessica’s research have applications for mapping genetic sequences and designing sensor networks.
In addition to her project, Jessica also participated in many prestigious STEM-related, nationwide competitions. Her achievements in the American Regions Mathematical League (ARML) marathon, the American Mathematics Competition (AMC), the U.S. Physics Olympiad, and various math meets further sparked her enthusiasm in this field.
“I want to be a math professor eventually,” says Jessica, “so to pass on a passion for mathematics and science as well as being able to conduct my own research.”
In many senses, Jessica is already fulfilling her role as a teacher. At Blair High School, Jessica is the co-captain of both the math and the physics teams, for which she consistently devotes time instructing underclassmen about the art of technical problem-solving and mentoring them through experiments. During her spare time, Jessica also tutors newly-arrived immigrant middle school students in various academic subjects through the local Chinese American Parents and Students Association.
Jessica accredits the MCPS magnet programs at Takoma Park Middle School and Blair High School as essential to her growth as a scientist. She especially recalls her Calculus and Statistics teacher, Mr. Stein, as “an enthusiastic man from whom I borrowed my passions for math.” These STEM magnet programs also allowed students to enroll in specialized, college-level courses such as quantum physics.
Jessica encourages young girls to explore the world of mathematics. “Though math has always been something I enjoyed and felt comfortable with, I know that perseverance pays. Certain aspects of math can be especially challenging to many people. Just make sure you never give up!” She noted that there are many extracurricular programs and scholarships established to encourage female participation in STEM, such as the Math Prize for Girls and an array of summer classes.
Jessica also enjoys playing the violin and ice skating. In March, she will celebrate her accomplishments with all other Intel finalists, including two of her classmates, Neil Davey and Ishaun Datta, at the annual Intel STS gala where the top ten winners of scholarships up to $100,000 will be announced.