Understanding her place in the world means more to Evans High School senior Helen Xiang than having fun.
Currently, Xiang’s place is as her school’s STAR Student after scoring a 2290 on the SAT and placing in the top 10 percent of her class.
Though a future scientist, an accomplished musician and a gifted writer – she scored a perfect 800 on the essay portion of the SAT – Xiang chose as STAR Teacher Lynn Pagano, a government and sociology instructor.
Pagano, said Xiang, opened her eyes to the troubles faced by many throughout the world.
The 17-year-old said Pagano inspired her to ponder such weighty issues while many others her age are more concerned with what color prom dress to wear.
“I want to prepare myself to make a difference in the world,” Xiang said. “If that means giving up things like worrying about prom, then that’s what I’m willing to do.”
Despite the world view, it was a personal tragedy that inspired Xiang to one day pursue a career as a cancer researcher. Her grandfather died from the disease about six years ago.
A career in medicine also appeals to Xiang’s pioneering spirit.
“In medicine, there’s always new ground to break,” she said.
It’s an ambitious goal for someone Pagano calls a “gentle giant.”
“Helen is a quiet person, but the gears of her mind always are turning,” Pagano said. “And when something pulls her in, she roars.”
A native of New Jersey, Pagano started her teaching career on Navajo reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. She came to Evans High in 1996 and currently teaches AP government and sociology.
The non-stagnant nature of sociology appeals to her, Pagano said.
“I love history, and it’s important to study history, but it’s not going to change,” Pagano said. “Sociology, it keeps changing and I like that endless motion.
“It’s rewarding to me trying to stay on top of it.”