Two students leave lasting mark on Red Mountain High School
March 7, 2019
By Jason Stone
When a great athlete passes through a neighborhood high school, future students will always have a chance to relive the glory. Nearly every school has athletic trophies in a case, retired numbers on a wall and records in the history books.
But when the greatest academic minds leave their marks on a school, it’s almost never easy to tell who they are. That means you just have to take the principal’s word that some of the best students to ever attend a school are currently enrolled.
Red Mountain principal Jared Ryan thinks he has a pair of those students right now.
Seniors Adrian Kwiatkowski and Geethika Ameneni are wrapping up their final semester as perhaps the two most decorated students to attend the Northeast Mesa school. Both students are finalists for one of 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars awards, among the highest honors given to a high school student.
“I was telling Geethika’s family, ‘Our campus is just a better place because they were here,’” Ryan said. “I don’t know any other way to put it. They caused other students to conduct themselves differently. They’ve changed the paths for other students.”
At a recent assembly specifically called to honor Kwiatkowski and Ameneni’s successes, Ryan joked to the crowd that it had felt like the two of them had “been here for eight years.” It probably seems like that because they’ve already reached a lifetime of accomplishments.
Since their freshmen year when they met at the Northeast Mesa campus, the two have been all over the school’s Twitter feed and daily announcements to blast their achievements.
“Typically, students kind of ease their way in, and by junior and senior year they have more success or accolades,” Ryan said. “These two since freshman year have been standouts among all the students on the campus. We always come across strong academic students with 3,600 kids. But these two have been really leaders in other ways.”
The U.S. Presidential Scholars award is among the most prestigious in the country. The program has honored almost 7,500 students since President Lyndon Johnson established it in 1964 to recognize outstanding high school seniors.
It honors fewer than two dozen students across the nation each year, and those winners are invited to a ceremony in the White House. The race for one of the prizes started in October when about 1,000 students applied. The first round of cuts pared the pack down to 80.
Adrian and Geethika were each named a finalist for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education Program. They were two of five students in Arizona who made the cut of the final group of 20.
But even more impressive, Adrian and Geethika are in rare company among all students who have ever attended a Mesa school.
Until last year, when Red Mountain alum Megan Phillips was named a finalist for the award, no Mesa Public School District student had ever been picked as a finalist.
Now, not only have the only three come in the last two years, they’re all from Red Mountain.
“That’s just crazy,” Adrian said.
Getting to this point has been a long time in the making for both students.
Adrian’s intelligence has been evident from an early age. His father is from Canada and his mother is from Mexico, making him a first-generation American. He fluently speaks Spanish and can conversationally speak French.
“I actually think I see that in a lot of top students here,” said Adrian, who will graduate in May before he turns 18 in June. “Some of them are very, very bright, but they tend to be not as ambitious as Geethika and I.”
Adrian’s ambition is evident with just a glance at his resume. It’s covered with honors, including taking first place in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category at last year’s Arizona Science and Engineering Fair.
He was a 2018 National Merit Commended Scholar and a 2018 National Hispanic Scholar. He is also the president of the Arizona chapter of HOSA – Future Health Professionals and placed second in Biomedical Laboratory Science Competition at the Arizona HOSA Spring Leadership Conference.
Since he found out in early December that he earned a full-ride Questbridge match scholarship to the University of Chicago – valued at $300,000 over four years – he’s already feeling like a college student by using his UChicago.edu e-mail address.
The school prohibits freshman from declaring majors, but he said he’s leaning toward molecular and cellular biology once the decision is made sophomore year.
“For me it’s about how much I’ve contributed to the scientific world,” Adrian said about what motivates him.
Geethika is following in the footstep of her physician parents, who are from India. Her first name means “sing” in Hindu. She learned to speak using Telugu, the native of language of her grandparents and one of the six designated classical languages of India.
The family, which included a younger sister, emigrated to Arizona when Geethika was 2, but after a few years they moved to Ohio so her mother could work on her fellowship on infectious diseases.
“She’s been probably one of my greatest role models because I feel like whenever you’re younger you admire your parents and you want to do what they are and do what they do,” Geethika said. “That’s what started me wanting to be a doctor because I would go to work with her sometimes.
“But then as I got more involved in science and service in high school that’s what really made me want to pursue that as a profession.”
Her high school achievements include participating in the KEYS Research Internship program at the University of Arizona. She also took first place in the Mesa district science fair, has been named an AP Scholar with Distinction, claimed first place in Clinical Specialty at the HOSA State Conference, earned a top 10 showing in Clinical Specialty at the HOSA International Conference and finished runner-up at the HOSA Bowl at HOSA State Conference.
The recently turned 18-year-old is a finalist for the Flinn Scholarship, who had her final interview March 2. She wants to attend the UA’s medical school and major in biomedical engineering with a future on being a doctor.
It would be along the kind of work she and Kwiatkowski are doing at their CTE internships at Arizona State University Biodesign Institute.
Geethika’s study includes mapping individual barcode cells to find mutations. Adrian is working on a genetics model involving small roundworms and a technique called “DNA origami.”
“The goal with a program such as biomedical research engineering is you gain experience outside the walls of the classroom,” Geethika said.
They’re both on track for an Advanced STEM diploma that Red Mountain started five years ago. It’s the only school in the district to offer it. Ryan said the program attracts 700 students from all across the Valley through open enrollment. He estimates about 35 percent of the students come from outside of Mesa.