When Severna Park High School valedictorian Akshay Shah and salutatorian Allison Chang earned their respective honors, it was the bow on top of two impressive high school careers.
Shah is a recipient of the 2019-2020 Anne Arundel County Council PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearts Award and the local Scholarship for Scholars Engineering Award. He is a Federal Water Quality Association Scholar and a National Merit Commended Student. Accepted to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Shah has deferred enrolling until the fall of 2021.
“I’ve decided to take a gap year because of the coronavirus,” he explained. Stanford plans to alter its in-person course schedule for the coming academic year. When he begins his studies in California, Shah will major in management science and engineering, and he will minor in environmental systems engineering.
While at SPHS, Shah maximized academic opportunities. He took advantage of a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) courses, from Physics to Music Theory, earning 17 AP credits total during his sophomore, junior and senior years.
“I really enjoyed AP Economics because it was a new field for me,” he said of the college-level classes he took. “It was a way I’d never thought of how the world works.”
A member of the high school math team, Shah was captain during his senior year. He was an officer in the Technology Student Association and also served as a leader at the state level. Shah was a defender on the Severna Park High School state champion lacrosse team. The start-up business plan that his group wrote for DECA, a high school entrepreneurial and leadership club, won first place in the state competition. In 2019, Shah earned Eagle rank with the Boy Scouts. Through scouts, he founded Volunteer-A-Pier, an oyster gardening effort that involves outreach, education, and raising and placing oysters in the Magothy and Severn rivers. The organization has deposited more than 200,000 oysters in the Magothy to date.
Shah describes himself as passionate about conservation. Over the summer before his senior year, he interned with the Engineering Department at the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C. He hopes that his college education will help him in pursuit of the field.
“I would love to work at an environmental consulting firm in a management position or to take an entrepreneurial route,” he said.
As he prepares for college, Shah is thankful for his brother’s leadership and inspiration. His brother, Veeraj, was SPHS valedictorian in 2017.
Shah’s parting advice for high school students: “Try everything you can and take any opportunity that’s presented to you.”
Chang is a National Merit Scholar and locally, a Scholar for Scholars recipient in the computer science category. She will study computer science at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh and plans to be on campus this fall. “I like how [computer science] is constantly evolving. There are a lot of interesting sub-fields that I’m excited to explore in college,” Chang said.
While she was a student at SPHS, Chang earned two associate degrees from Anne Arundel Community College, one in math and one in computer science.
“I took a lot of AP classes at the high school, so I didn’t have to take as many courses at AACC to earn the associate degree,” she explained. “It required time management. After I got used to it, the course load wasn’t too bad.”
Chang served as an officer with the high school’s math and science honor societies during her junior and senior years. She was an editor with the SPHS community-service-dedicated Key Club. Chang was a committee chair for the school’s Harvest for the Hungry program and its Prom Fashion Show.
Chang interned at NASA Goddard last summer, and during her senior year, she worked at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab (APL).
“I gained real-life experience programming that solidified my interest in going into the field,” she said. “I’ll probably go into software development, but I’m not sure of my end goal.”
Like everyone else, Chang was disappointed by the school closure and cancellations brought about by COVID-19. She made the most of it. “It’s been nice to prepare before college,” she said.
“Good time management is important,” Chang offered as advice to high school students. She also noted the value of time well-spent outside the classroom. “Develop extracurriculars or passions,” she advised. “It is very rewarding to find something to focus on that you enjoy doing.”