Gene Yang Profile

KHS Valedictorian Gene Yang earns prestigious Gates Scholarship
KHS Valedictorian Gene Yang earns prestigious Gates Scholarship

   Kokomo High School Class of 2020 Valedictorian Gene Yang recently learned that he earned the highly selective Gates Scholarship for exceptional high school seniors.

            This last-dollar scholarship is awarded to just 300 student leaders across the United States each year. Combined with his national QuestBridge scholarship, Gene’s undergraduate expenses at Duke University, along with a study abroad experience, are fully funded. These scholarships also provide a stipend to cover other living expenses… allowing Gene to focus on his academic pursuits.

            The National Merit Commended Scholar intends to double major in computer science and biology as a pre-med student. Gene also plans to become a licensed EMT during his undergraduate studies. Gene’s ultimate goals include pursuing medical school, becoming a neurosurgeon, and helping in the development of medical innovation startups.

            Gene marvels at the position he finds himself in today – even discussing it in his commencement address titled “The Fabric of Fate”.  Gene’s remarks to the KHS Class of 2020 began with a quote from one of his favorite authors, David Mitchell.

            “Our lives are not our own,” the author said. “From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

            During the address, Gene reminded his classmates that every decision they make and action they take has implications for others, and for the world.

            “Thus, in a sense, our lives really aren’t our own,” Gene said during his commencement address. “Standing here today, being able to share these words with you during these unprecedented times, I cannot help but think about what it took for me to be who I am today. It is a string of unlikely, improbable factors and events: the immigration of my parents from China, their determination to climb up from near poverty, befriending a girl in daycare who taught the lonely boy in the corner English, having teachers who kept me dreaming big, and having met the best friend I could ever have.”

            “What I am today is an embodiment and summation of all the words, dreams, and hopes people have given me,” Gene continued. “Thus, I am who I am because of others.”

            Gene’s interest in neuroscience began during his 5th-grade KEY High Ability science class at Sycamore Elementary School. As Gene and his classmates completed a worksheet, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” played in the background. Gene remembers the exact episode… Season 2, Episode 14: The Brain.

            “I remember Bill Nye disturbingly pulled from his head what was supposed to be a brain just as the iconic theme song rolled,” Gene wrote in a college application essay. “That is honestly the only scene I remember, but it marked the beginning of my interest in the organ that is the core of who we are.”

            Gene noted that the underlying reasons for his interest likely stemmed from his parents’ cultural beliefs.

            “I had thought the heart and the eyes were the seats of the soul,” Gene explained. “To have these preconceptions overturned, I was drawn to investigate this completely new idea of the organ known as the brain.”

            Flash forward to Gene’s 8th-grade biology class at Central Middle International School. In this class, teacher Beverly Noel laid the foundation for Gene’s future.

            “I greatly enjoyed the fun days in Mrs. Noel’s biology class, where she made everyone laugh with her witty jokes and odd, yet interesting, projects,” Gene noted. “Not only did Mrs. Noel motivate me to learn in her class, but she also made the effort to push me outside my comfort zone to achieve things beyond my imagination. Due to Mrs. Noel’s influence, a Purdue University professor noticed my work and recruited me to help with lab research.”

            For four years, Gene spent weekends, school breaks, and summer breaks conducting this independent research, which focused on locating a cure for Alzheimer’s. Gene also served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Clark Gedney at Purdue. In this role, Gene helped lead a high school STEM program focused on biology.

            This work at Purdue would not have been possible without Mrs. Noel’s help.

            “Even during my high school career Mrs. Noel supported my education,” Gene added. “She frequently drove me to Purdue and back so I could take advantage of the opportunities afforded me. Mrs. Noel was no doubt the catalyst for my future endeavors and successes.”

            Once at Kokomo High School, Gene learned to balance his research at Purdue with his academics and other extra-curricular pursuits. Gene was a student in Kokomo High School’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, and also took advantage of the 25 Advanced Placement classes offered at KHS.

            The AP Scholar with Distinction noted: “I attribute my early successes, in part, to the intellectual freedom that Kokomo School Corporation provided throughout my educational career. I enjoyed having academic choices, which allowed me to take advantage of the KEY High Ability program, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program. At many other schools throughout the state and country, students may be confined to a certain curriculum or a particular academic path. The academic freedom provided by Kokomo Schools allowed me to grow as an individual and take flight to pursue my career.”

            Gene, who participated in the Kokomo Schools China Ambassadorship program in 8th grade, appreciated the philosophy and curriculum in the IB Diploma Program, noting: “I chose the IB program because not only would I receive an education with rigor that parallels many college courses and rivals AP classes, but I also would have the freedom to explore and express my academic interests through a curriculum that values discussion-based learning.”

            Gene’s IB Diploma Program Language & Literature teacher and Theory of Knowledge teacher, Aaron Blessing, explained that Gene’s contributions to class discussions always provided unique observations and perceptions.

            “Gene’s insights in my classes extended to his varied interests outside the classroom, and his extraordinary co-curricular activities,” Mr. Blessing noted. “In my Theory of Knowledge class, Gene routinely produced examples from his exceptional life experiences to comment on ethical dilemmas, the role of faith and reason in scientific exploration and discovery, and the effects of the use of technology on people living in the 21st Century.”

            Gene also completed advanced math courses online through John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to identifying and developing the talents of academically advanced pre-college students around the world.

            Gene partnered with his best friend, Mitchell Wyrick, to establish a Business & Engineering Club at KHS. The goal was to create an organization where students could focus on engineering solutions to complex, global issues.

             Gene, Mitchell, and four other students in the club developed a Dialytic Transcriber for dialysis patients. The product combined all vitals monitoring into one system. The device used pulse oximetry sensors, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, and minimal user input to record the vitals of a dialysis patient. The device was designed to fit around a patient’s arm, so the size of the product would not limit a patient’s movement while in use.

            This device then was designed to communicate with an app on a patient’s phone to store a patient’s vitals information and the dialysis machine codes in a database under a patient’s profile. This information could be shared easily with a patient’s doctor.

            Gene was in charge of software and application design for the product.

            This innovative design earned the team finalist spots in three international competitions… the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, the HOSA Future Health Professionals International Conference, and the i.Invest Youth Business Competition.

            Members of the KHS Business & Engineering Club presented their business idea during these competitions. Gene remembers the first presentation during the Conrad Spirit of Innovation global finals at the Kennedy Space Center.

            “I remember, clearly, sweating like crazy in my suit as I stood in front of an audience of 500 individuals and a panel of judges made up of entrepreneurs, innovators, and scientists to give our presentation,” Gene explained. “Afterward I remember the sense of failure, as I had given the absolute worst presentation possible.”

            Gene used this experience as an opportunity for growth; he took the lessons learned in his English courses at KHS to improve the presentation and his performance.

            “Since then, I have presented to countless investors and entrepreneurs with confidence,” Gene added. “I not only delivered information to my audience, but I also interacted with them. These communication skills will be fundamental to my future pursuits in the field of medicine. When I interact with patients, I hope to both instruct and listen.”

            During high school, Gene regularly volunteered in the emergency room at Community Howard Regional Health. The Indiana Academic All Star amassed more than 150 volunteer hours helping with patient transportation, lab runs, and assisting ER technicians, nurses, and physicians with any other patient needs. Gene specifically chose to volunteer in the emergency room because it is the area where volunteers are most needed.

            Gene added: “In seeing people at their weakest, I gained a true understanding of what it means to be a medical professional.”

            Mr. Blessing has no doubt that Gene will be a force for positive change in the world.

            “Gene’s acumen in the sciences, as well as his leadership capabilities, will have a great impact on our community… largely because of Gene’s heart for reaching people, and meeting them at their point of struggle,” Mr. Blessing noted. “In my experiences as a teacher and coach during the past 25 years, I have encountered few high school students with the drive, vision, dedication, and determination to use personal strengths and gifts to benefit others.”

            This natural inclination may be because, as stated in his commencement address, Gene believes all humans are connected to one another.

            “In East Asia – China, Korea, Japan – exists the idea of the Red Thread of Fate, an invisible red cord that connects an individual from the moment they are born to the partner they are destined to find,” Gene stated in his address. “I believe there is a string, be it red or not, that connects every one of us to every other person in the world.”

            Gene explained to his fellow graduates that this single invisible thread is continuous, and turns, twists, and stretches across time and space to link together every individual in the world.

            “Through its infinite number of connections from one individual to the next and back, it weaves into a fabric that is our society,” Gene noted. “Every action you take, every move, will pull, twist, and tighten the thread within this cloth… perhaps unraveling some knots, while at the same time, making more. You have an infinite amount of potential and the freedom to do what you want with your life. But remember that this thread always will remain connected to you, and that you have the power to shape not only yourself, but others too.”

            A person’s actions, no matter how small, will make a mark on the world.

            Gene ended his commencement address with the following advice for the KHS Class of 2020: “Thus, I encourage you to think about what kind of marks you want to leave – hopefully good ones. And in life, do your best to leave those marks because the legacy you leave for the future truly matters.”

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