Essay by Karen Pham

Karen Pham, of Orange, CA, won the 2016 $1,000 Orange County Mensa Scholarship.

I’ve got this crazy idea in my head that we can build a machine that emulates a hurricane’s churning mechanism to disrupt ocean stratification and better distribute dissolved oxygen in the water column in order to dissolve hypoxic zones and help the environment. (I get skeptical looks and side-eye glances when I give people the short version and tell them that we might be able to help marine ecosystems by creating small faux-hurricanes.)

This is what my sophomore year science fair project focused on – trying to find some kind of validation for the creation of such a machine; and sure, my research came out with wildly inconclusive results at best, but what I want to do in the future is, I want to make this idea less of an idea and more of an actual thing. I want to create computer simulations to actually model the effects of my proposed machine – or possibly even build a small-scale machine and test its effects on a smaller body of water in a more controlled setting – but above all, I want to create.

Even more than from my intense love for mathematics, my desire to pursue engineering stems from an aspiration to create – to craft a whole that is MORE than the meager sum of its parts. I spend hours shifting metal between my palms, picking up and staring at knickknacks on my English teacher’s desk, winding toys up and watching them move; I am fascinated with the way things work, because they make perfect sense, but they don’t to me. Filled with the burning desire to crack these things open, to study them on an intimate level, to improve – and in the process, to create something that did not exist merely seconds before – I fix my eyes on the endless expanse that engineering has to offer me.

As the team captain of my school’s Science Bowl team (in which I’m the expert in the field of Earth Science), the co-president of Math Club, and the environmental analyst at California Girls State, a summer camp I attended following my junior year of high school, and with a science fair project that placed 2nd in its category (Earth Science) at the state level, I’m prepared to make my dream of building machines for environmental restoration a reality.

There’s no greater gratification for me than avidly working to find a way to forge a sustainable future, even if it means spending the rest of my life with bleary eyes and packed Excel sheets and the overwhelming urge to throw my computer out the window.

Graduating with an unweighted 4.0 GPA and a 2400 SAT, I plan, for my post-high school education, to obtain a degree in engineering at either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the California Institute of Technology (the latter of which I have already been accepted to). With the resources available at either school, I plan to explore various internships and research projects in order to make a difference – to save the environment, because it’s so easy not to care and to take the environment for granted.

The world around me is dying, and I plan to do my part to save it.


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