July 28, 2017
School & Youth
76° Scattered Clouds
  •  HEADSHOT, Veeraj Shah
    Cathy Ford
    HEADSHOT, Veeraj Shah

SPHS Valedictorian Sets His Mind On Medicine

Gracie Fairfax
Gracie Fairfax's picture
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June 27, 2017

Severna Park High School valedictorian Veeraj Shah thrives on a busy schedule. During his senior year, when most students choose to take a lighter course load, Shah saw an opportunity to take courses that his schedule couldn’t accommodate earlier in high school.

“There are very few things academically that I do not like learning about, so while other students may have [been] just trudging through classes, he “was lucky to find fascination in everything [he] was learning,” as he put it.

For his first three years of high school, Shah fluctuated between ranks two and four among his class. It wasn’t until his senior year that he came out on top.

In the spring of senior year, he took a close-to-full class load in addition to completing an internship and serving as the captain of the varsity tennis team, which he was on for four years. His other high school commitments included membership in the Model United Nations Club, serving as statewide vice president of the Maryland Technology Students Association (TSA) through which he earned state and national level awards, a student-interest advocacy group called the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils (CRASC), a number of honor societies, tutoring and teaching guitar and tennis lessons. He also started working at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine beginning the summer after his sophomore year.

Shah’s experiences at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Applied Physics Lab have been a highlight of his high school career. When he first began, he was one week past 16 – the age requirement to work at Johns Hopkins. Throughout his time there, he has worked in radiation oncology and clinical data analytics, and he has accompanied doctors during rounds and observed surgeries. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics lab internship in biomechanical engineering gave him his first chance to perform incisions and suturing on cadavers. During the spring of his senior year, he worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory as a biomechanical engineering intern. This summer, in addition to his research work, he is managing a group of high school interns.

“Hopkins Hospital and Applied Physics Lab opened my eyes to the world of medicine and showed me the interdisciplinary nature of a career in medicine. It also made me fall in love even more with the medical profession,” Shah said of his time at Johns Hopkins.

Another highlight of his high school career was a Hispanic immigrant leader workshop he put on with CRASC. He and others gave workshops in Spanish and English to teach Hispanic immigrant students about the resources available to them both in their schools and in the county as a whole.

“Being the child of an immigrant prompted me to advocate for and fight hard for immigrant students in our community, plus helping others just makes me happy,” Shah said.

This event led him to apply for a second time to be the student member of the board of education. His sophomore year, he was one of five semifinalists. When he ran for a second time his junior year, he made it to the top two, but the other candidate was appointed by the governor. Shah sees this loss as an incredible learning experience.

Though Shah’s determined nature helped put him at the top of his class, he couldn’t have accomplished it all alone. He credits support from his immediate family, grandparents – whom he considers a second set of parents – and Severna Park High School staff members as contributors to success. Some of the most influential staff members in his high school career were his guidance counselor, Lindsay Brown; his calculus teacher, Michelle Staisloff; his AP European history teacher, Theresa Goldberg; and his freshman and senior year biology teacher, Lindsay Mossa.

“The first thing I noticed about Veeraj in his junior year was that he was unusually articulate and level-headed, keen to succeed, and highly intelligent,” Goldberg said. “He took my AP European class first semester in senior year and came into the class basically at the end of the first unit, at the time of the first test. I asked him if he needed more time to prepare for the test, and he said he thought he had it and could get the reading done in time. Veeraj got the highest grade on the test. … His dream is to be a doctor and I can easily see this dream come true.”

Shah plans to attend the University of Maryland Honors College in the fall – a decision that didn’t come easily after learning of his acceptance to 19 of the 21 schools he applied to, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech and University of California Berkeley.

Included in his acceptance to Johns Hopkins was his admission into the university’s biomedical engineering program, which has an acceptance rate around 2 percent.

“It was a validation of all the hard work I’d put in, and incredibly exciting,” Shah said.

Shah feels his choice to attend the University of Maryland will set him up the best for his long-term goal of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Before taking off for Maryland, Shah will work at Johns Hopkins, take a family vacation to the United Kingdom, go to Florida for a national TSA conference and try to play as much tennis as he can.

“I guess I’m just one of those people,” Shah explained. “I want to squeeze every drop out of life.”


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