Jack Andraka isn’t just any kid, he’s a super kid. That’s the conclusion one could get when looking at his resume. This high-school student has a resume that most adults would envy. In his young life, Andraka has entered and won numerous International Science and Math competitions, which has catapulted him to fame. Just this past year, Andraka was featured as one of First Lady Michelle Obama’s guests at the 2013 State of the Union Address. He represented the many kids who are doing big things in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community.
He has also been a guest of Chelsea Clinton’s at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative conference, a panelist at the 2013 State of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics event at the White House, and has participated in multiple speaking engagements around the world. He has been featured in a variety of top magazines, newspapers, TV and radio programs and award winning documentaries.
Andraka, who took first place in last year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), recently spoke to WashingtonExec about his Intel ISEF win, how he became interested in STEM, who his biggest STEM influences are, his plans for college and how he likes to spend his very limited free time.
WashingtonExec: What got you interested in STEM? How old were you?
Jack Andraka: I have been interested in math and science since I can remember! My parents would help me discover answers to my questions by doing hands on experiments with me when I was three years old. When I started reading, they gave me a set of encyclopedias for kids with lots of pictures and answers to kids’ common questions. My big breakthrough came when I learned to use the internet. I would start down one road and hours later find myself reading really interesting articles on topics I had no idea existed!
WashingtonExec: How has your STEM experience been like at school?
Jack Andraka: I attended a charter school in middle school where a science fair was mandatory and where the math team was very respected. I worked hard on my project and after my first win in 6th grade I was hooked! I went to Intel ISEF as an observer when my brother Luke went and the quality of projects inspired me! I’ve tried to step up my project for the science fair every year. I also learned to use the one project I did every year and tweak it for different competitions. I would write about it for an essay competition, make a video about it for another and enter it in as many competitions as I could find. That gave me a lot of practice presenting and organizing my ideas and also taught me to choose a topic I really enjoyed, since I was going to be spending a lot of time with it!
I also went to the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth science summer camps. One of the high points of my year was attending MathPath, a competitive month long summer camp. I learned so much math and was able to win awards at the Princeton and Johns Hopkins Math exams as well as the American Math Competitions and the American Invitational Math exams. I made life-long friends and was encouraged to find elegant solutions to seemingly complex problems.
“What I like about STEM is that you can affect the lives of millions of people in a very positive way. Improving communication, medical care and delivery, and understanding how the world works and then helping to make it work better is endlessly fascinating to me”
WashingtonExec: What are your plans for college?
Jack Andraka: I’m in the middle of thinking about college. I’m figuring out if I should graduate high school next year and take a gap year to do research, or if I should apply early to college or even if I want to apply for the Thiel Fellowship. It’s confusing and I have a lot of discussions with my parents and with the people I meet from around the world at conferences.
WashingtonExec: What do you want to be/do when you grow up?
Jack Andraka: I’ve been exposed to so many different career paths this past year! Last year at this time, I wanted to get a PhD in science. Now I’ve met physicians who are also inventors and engineers, businessmen who are inventing the next big disruptive innovations, PhD’s who are studying the most fascinating subjects in depth and patent lawyers who are PhD’s. I know math and science and inventing will be part of whatever career path I choose though.
WashingtonExec: In your opinion, what is the importance of STEM?
Jack Andraka: What I like about STEM is that you can affect the lives of millions of people in a very positive way. Improving communication, medical care and delivery, and understanding how the world works and then helping to make it work better is endlessly fascinating to me. I love to sink my teeth into the big challenges and brainstorm ways of solving them.
WashingtonExec: What person has had the most influence on you since getting into STEM, and why?
Jack Andraka: The biggest influence on my interest in STEM has been my parents. They reinforced my natural desire to learn STEM topics and modeled how they use STEM every day in their lives to solve problems. Sending me to science and math camps every year, driving me to Kumon, Fairfax Math Circle and Blair High School math team practices certainly let me know that STEM was important to our whole family! We also spend time talking at the dinner table about article and ideas we have read about that day. We have plenty of arguments!
WashingtonExec: What do you do in your free time?
Jack Andraka: Since my win at Intel ISEF last year I haven’t had much free time. I enjoy traveling around the world raising awareness for ovarian and pancreatic cancers and talking to students about my journey and hopefully inspiring them to try solving problems in their communities. I was on the USA Wildwater team last year but I didn’t have time to train this year, although I still kayak quite a bit. I also fold origami and watch Glee. I love going to movies with my friends.
WashingtonExec: Now that you’ve been involved in STEM for as long as you have, could you imagine yourself being in a whole new field?
Jack Andraka: I have really enjoyed my AP U.S. Government class with Mr. Sullivan. I have found a real love for policy and debate. So I can definitely imagine myself influencing STEM policy one day!