Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Presidential Scholars semifinalist
May 8, 2019

When the 2019 U.S. Presidential Scholars 161 finalists were announced a few days ago, Hannah Luo’s name wasn’t on the list. She had already predicted it, after she was named one of the 621 semifinalists out of the nearly 5,300 candidates submitted for the scholarship program.

“I probably won’t make it,” she said then. “But that’s OK.”

A few days later, she explained that she has learned to “trust in your accomplishments.” Not every situation is going to work out for the best. It doesn’t diminish what you have already achieved. Case in point, she applied to 14 colleges and was accepted at only four.

Having an Ivy League school being one of those that said yes has helped ease the sting a little bit. Luo ’19 (Canton, Mich.) is planning to study computer science at Columbia University along with  taking classes in the humanities and languages. She wants to work in a STEM-related field, she said, but she also doesn’t want to pass on the chance to delve deeper into the other subjects at the Ivy League level.

It’s that attitude that has allowed Luo to try a wide assortment of activities during her Culver career, knowing that not everything is going to work out perfectly. Along with being a Batten Scholar, she has served as the president and/or chairman of the Model United Nations, Math Forum, Diversity Council, CGA Council, Atrium Dorm, and the CGA classes her freshman, sophomore, and junior years.

She is also president of the Perform, Care, Collaborate group that traveled to the Katherine Kasper Home in nearby Donaldson, Ind., on selected Sundays to sing for the elderly residents and then play board games or bingo.

She was a coxswain for the CGA varsity rowing team during the fall, and has played junior varsity tennis in the past. She was also a member of the Quizbowl earlier in her career. Her musical talents include playing the piano, flute, tuba, and she has taken lessons from John Gouwens on playing the carillon. She has even played the bells at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley.

How she juggles so many different things is a science – which explains why the Pigott Center’s 3-D printer laboratory is her favorite spot on campus. She has worked out a system that allows her to concentrate on different interests at different times of the school year. For example, the Math Forum’s busiest time of the year is early in the fall, she said. After the Rose-Hulman University competition, where Culver finished second overall, “it becomes pretty low maintenance,” allowing her to focus on other matters.

Luo is now taking the sailing classes that are being offered for two weeks in hopes of getting her skipper’s certificate. She has always wanted to learn how to sail and being able to do it for free was a great opportunity.

Taking advantage of such opportunities is something she learned while at Culver, she said. Being around driven students who set such lofty goals has rubbed off on her.

“I’m aiming higher, too,” Luo said. “It seems pretty crazy to me, that if I had gone to my old high school, my life would be going in a totally different trajectory.”

She also believes the adults on campus, especially the faculty, “really care about you.” The relationships she has created would never happen at a public school, she explained. And, with being at a boarding school, she has already learned a lot about conflict resolution when it comes personal issues. Her gauge is that she used to call her mother “four or five times a day” over different situations when she first arrived. Now she calls “every four to five days” to just check in.

She laughed, adding, “Teenage girls can just be the worst.”

So Luo is OK with being a Presidential Scholars semifinalist.  And she’s comfortable in her accomplishments. But she did admit she had to sneak a peek at the achievements of the two finalists in her home state of Michigan.

One of the winners finished fourth in a national science and math competition, receiving a $100,000 scholarship. The girl’s winning entry was a more effective way to manufacture vaccines for influenza, which might lead to a universal vaccine for all strains of the virus.

She smiled. “OK, I’ll give her that one.”

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