Chased by Scholarships

Few teenagers hang in coffee shops reading books such as “Living with Our Genes,” but then Amaris Lewis is no ordinary teenager.

A graduate of Lusher Charter School with a 4.40 grade point average and an award-winning history of researching stem cells, she received $2.7 million in scholarship offers, including The Gates Scholarship, which provides the full-cost of attending any university for “exceptional” minority high school seniors.

All twelve of the universities she applied to wanted her, including the most prestigious such as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University. Not surprisingly, in a media release, Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger described Lewis as “brilliant.”  She is also described as “kind,” a fitting trait for someone whose first name means “promised by God” in Hebrew.

With such a field of heavy-weight institutions vying for her attention, someone might expect Lewis to lean to the geeky side, something like a female version of Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory” TV series. That stereotype gets dismissed fast. Casual conversation with Lewis reveals a well-rounded student. The math and science side rests easy with competitive swimming, ballet dancing and playing the violin with the school orchestra.

Before heading to Israel to participate in a summer program at Weizmann Institute for Science, one of her planned weekends with friends included binge watching Harry Potter movies. “My entire childhood was Harry Potter,” she said.

With so many offers, choosing the right school took self-reflection. MIT had been her “dream school,” but when it came to making a choice, she chose sunny Stanford, located on the West Coast, instead of the cooler climes of the East. Only 17, she found the environment at MIT more stressful that she wanted to experience at this stage.

Although MIT promotes itself as “fun” and “artistic” as well as “obsessed with numbers,” Amaris noted the students she met there seemed “more stressed than I’d like to be.”

Stanford’s students seemed more “optimistic,” she said. She’s also attracted to Stanford’s liberal arts programs because she thinks that liberal arts education “lends to innovative thought.”

Most of her proposed fall classes have titles such as “The Cancer Problem: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention,” but she’s also interested in “What Makes Music Classical?”

By the time she’s ready for graduate school, she hopes to do a full-throttle specialization of either bioengineering or biomedical computation at Harvard or MIT, or both.  Her ultimate goal is to obtain a medical degree and a Ph.D.

Lewis has explored topics such as electricity and chemistry “for as long as I can remember,” she said.  She learned about MRI scans from her father who is an MRI technician. Viewing those scans led to curiosity about the causes of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “What can I do to stop that from happening?” she remembered thinking.

One practical skill she plans to develop first is learning to drive. “I am so busy with research and all this extra-curricular activity,” she said, “it’s hard to find the time.”

Favorite book: “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte.

Favorite food: Ramen noodles.

Favorite sno-ball: Bubble gum.

Favorite word: brouhaha.

Favorite keepsake: First pair of pointe shoes.

Favorite quote: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


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