Was it all those straight “A”s in high school? The “5”s on her AP exams? The multiple Science Olympiad medals? Her passion for theoretical mathematics and particle physics? Or her impressive work ethic?
It was all of the above for Yeorgia Kafkoulis, the winner of the first Archimedes Award.
Ms. Kafkoulis, a graduating high school senior from Miami, Florida and daughter of immigrants, who is on her way to Caltech in September, where she will be majoring in mathematics and physics, will be taking with her the 2015 Archimedes Award, a new scholarship for outstanding Hellenic American students pursuing studies and careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) related fields.
The Award, established through Washington DC’s Next Generation Initiative by Dr. Andrew Economos of New York, is accompanied by a scholarship which provides $5,000 annually towards the award-winner’s tuition.
Additional scholarships were awarded to four young scholars who were recognized as Archimedes Award National Finalists: Sophia Kioulaphides, Bronx High School of Science, New York, NY; Andrew Moshova, Manhasset High School, Manhasset, NY: Georgios Samaras, North Oconee High School, Bogart, GA; and Athina Valioulis, Anatolia College, Thessaloniki, Greece.
“I am extremely pleased with the Archimedes Award candidates,” said Dr. Economos, a retired scientist and entrepreneur. “They were able, accomplished, and intelligent — an astonishing group. I know the judges found the task of choosing among these wonderful students to be daunting. Good luck and congratulations to our winner, the brilliant and accomplished Yeorgia Kafkoulis.”
“Now we can sit back and wait for the Nobel Prizes to roll in!,” says Dr. Economos.
“This is the very first scholarship to be offered through the Next Generation Initiative ,” says Executive Director Leon Stavrou. “And it represents a significant new addition to the Initiative’s programs that already reach thousands of students and professors on 200 campuses across the United States. We are proud that the founder of the Archimedes Award, Dr. Andrew Economos, has chosen to make the Next Generation Initiative the home for the Archimedes Award — and thrilled to be able to offer this new means of advancing the careers of young people, and to be able to do so in areas of such vital interest to our nation.”
When the Archimedes Award was first announced in December of 2014, no one knew the applicants would be so accomplished — or their records to be so competitive.
“We were amazed by the sheer quality of the applicants,” says Mr. Stavrou. “It is just incredible, the bright and talented young men and women we have in our community, all over this country.”
With applicants from 19 states, as well as Canada and Greece — all planning to pursue STEM studies in the U.S. — reviewing their applications was no easy task.
The Archimedes Award selection committee was led by an independent panel of distinguished university professors and experts with records of experience in STEM education, including Dr. Kyriacos Athanasiou, the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of California at Davis; Dr. George Korfiatis, the Provost of the Stevens Institute of Technology; Dr. Evangelos Hadjimichael, the founding Dean of the School of Engineering, Fairfield University; and Dr. Petros J. Katsioloudis and Dr. Aikaterini Bagiati, STEM curriculum specialists respectively from Old Dominion University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Why assemble such a distinguished panel to recognize the efforts of young scientists, before they’ve even gone to college? “We all grew up knowing that education was the key — and how each and every one of us had great role models to inspire us, and mentors who helped shaped our careers along the way,” says Mr. Stavrou. “In the next generation coming up, we see students who will make us proud of their own achievements. It’s our responsibility to make sure that these young men and women — whether they’re aiming to be scientists, engineers and inventors, teachers, writers or leaders — have the tools they need to succeed.”
This year’s Archimedes Award National Semi-finalists were: Ioannis Demenaga of Brooklyn NY; Elise Dovletoglou of Hamilton, MA; Peter Drake, of Englewood, NJ; Vicky Tasouli-Drakou of Highland, CA; Peter Drossopoulos of Charlotte NC; Christopher Koetsch of East Long Meadow, MA; Haralambos Mourelatos of Philadelphia, PA; Mary Papandreas of Strongsville, OH; Kaliroe Pappas of Evanston IL; Nina Patronis of Atlanta, GA; Elias Piraino of Conesus, NY; Anastasia Soulas of Avon, OH; Stamatis Spyriounis of Athens, Greece; Aphrodite Strifas of Alexandria, VA and Sophia Yiantsos of Mullica Hill, NJ.
In a coincidence only non-Greeks would be surprised by, the name of the school attended by Ms. Kafkoulis, the winner of the 2015 Archimedes Award, is Miami’s Archimedean Upper Conservatory — a charter school which is the #1 ranked public high school in Miami-Dade County, and has also been recognized by the Washington Post as the 19th most challenging school in the country, and by U.S. News as one of the top 100 high schools in the U.S.
While particle physics and theoretical mathematics may clearly be Ms. Kafkoulis’ obsessions, but her decision to pursue physics came early, long before high school. As a child, Ms. Kafkoulis was intrigued by “the mysterious cosmos of mathematics and the puzzling world of physics.”
“I remember watching a NOVA series (on PBS) about relativity and space-time,” says Ms. Kafkoulis, “enthralled by a universe I barely understood, intrigued by subjects I desperately wanted to explore: Why is our universe so harmonious mathematically? What is time? How is a star formed? Then, during the 9th grade I was introduced to an exquisitely challenging Euclidean geometry course, taught in Greek.”
More than just theory intrigues her, though. Figuring out how things work — and making them work better — is a passion.
Since middle school, Ms. Kafkoulis has periodically commandeered her father’s garage and turned it into a laboratory for the science competitions she is always entering. She confesses she “loves competition days… [when] a tabletop saw, drill presses, and wrenches become extensions of my hands, making trebuchets and catapults… There is nothing more wonderfully painstaking than taking data in the wee hours of the evening, thinking and re-testing…”
That kind of passion is what’s behind her seven-year career as a winner and team leader at multiple Science Olympiads, beginning with winning the Sixth Place medal at the National Science Olympiad Middle School Competition at University of Champaign-Illinois in 2010, and more recently with taking 2nd place at the Science Olympiad High School regional competition in February, and 20th place at the Science Olympiad High School Invitational Competition at MIT in January of this year.
But science is not the only pursuit for Ms. Kafkoulis.
The same year she attended the International Summer School for Young Physicists hosted by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, she also won a competition for gifted writers to attend the Juniper Institute for Young Writers held by the University of Massachusetts MFA program for Poets and Writers.
That was after attending Camp Euclid, University of Georgia’s math research camp, Astronomy Camp at the University of Arizona, and the Physics of Atomic Nuclei program at Michigan State University.
But she also managed to find time — and muster the talent — to lead national teams competing in the History Bowl and the Quiz Bowl, become a varsity tennis player, and play classical piano in national festival competitions.
In between the out-of-town writing and physics summer programs, Ms. Kafkoulis volunteered at the Women’s Fund of Miami, an area non-profit that builds leadership skill in girls, and advocates for legislation to protect women from violence and increase their economic security.
In her senior year alone, Ms. Kafkoulis recorded “A”s in Multivariable Calculus, AP Physics, AP Statistics, AP English Literature, AP Government, and AP Macroeconomics, and rounded out her schedule with “A”s in Greek Language V Honors, Women’s Studies and Creative Photography. She started this trend with “5”s in her AP World History and AP Human Geography exams in 9th grade, bolstered by later “5”s on her AP Calculus BC and AB, and AP European History exams, to name just some of the achievements that have led her to be named as a National Merit Scholar Finalist, and a National AP Scholar.
How has she managed all that?
Ms. Kafkoulis attributes it to her upbringing. The daughter of two immigrant parents who traveled to the U.S. for their graduate educations, she says, “From their journey, I have learned that perseverance, passion and honesty must light my own journey.”
Commenting on Ms. Kafkoulis’ perseverance, one of her counselors says, “This is a very smart young woman who is determined to improve steadily every day, even beyond already amazing performances. Yeorgia is committed to giving her best. She is a student who likes to delve deeper into the material to really learn and put in the extra effort every time, attending any extra sessions a teacher provided, no matter the time of day, no matter the subject, no matter if she has already secured an “A” in the course for the year and may not need the extra help.”
In the words of a counselor, Yeorgia Kafkoulis is “incredibly smart, emotionally intelligent, inclusive, empathetic, involved, and in possession of an impeccable work ethic.”
That neatly sums up the winner of the 2015 Archimedes Award.