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Alexander Smith

2370

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Finalist

Bio

Xander (he/him) - Senior at Maury HS in Norfolk, VA. My biggest passion is environmental sustainability, so I love connecting my love for hiking, backpacking, and the outdoors with helping to solve the climate change crisis. I am currently in the college application process, searching for colleges that I believe would allow me to further my knowledge in this area and prepare me for the workforce post-graduation. Aside from my environmental interests, I actively participate in many school and non-school-related extracurriculars. I am the first-chair cellist and section leader in my school's Chamber Orchestra and am also a member of the city's selective "Strolling Strings" group. I am a co-captain on the varsity tennis team and a member of the Model UN club. I also have a love of languages and further my passion for them through Spanish NHS. I volunteer through multiple organizations at different levels; such as NHS, "Keep Norfolk Beautiful," and The Sierra Club. In my free time, I love to go rock climbing, read books about traveling, and making different types of coffee.

Education

University of Washington-Seattle Campus

Bachelor's degree program
2022 - 2026
  • Majors:
    • Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy
  • Minors:
    • Marine Sciences

Maury High

High School
2018 - 2022

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Master's degree program

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

    • Natural Resources and Conservation, Other
    • Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Renewables & Environment

    • Dream career goals:

      Something hands-on where I can solve problems doing field work.

    • Built and packaged medical kits for a medical distribution company

      OshaKits - Northfield
      2019 – 2019
    • Tennis Camp Instructor

      Local Tennis Facility
      2021 – 2021
    • Crew - Grill Master

      Chipotle
      2020 – 2020

    Sports

    Bouldering

    Club
    2019 – Present5 years

    Tennis

    Varsity
    2018 – Present6 years

    Research

    • Ecology, Evolution, Systematics, and Population Biology

      Independent — Wrote 2000-word narrative-style essay on the Ecology of Iceland; published in TeenInk Digital Magazine.
      2021 – 2021
    • Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy

      EarthPlexMedia — Wrote a short paper analyzing how to best transition into sustainable tourism in the Covid-era
      2021 – 2021

    Arts

    • Norfolk Public Schools "Strolling Silver Strings"

      Music
      60+ private events each year
      2018 – Present
    • School's Chamber Orchestra

      Music
      concerts, regional competitions, royal caribbean cruise competition
      2018 – Present

    Public services

    • Volunteering

      Spanish National Honors Society — Student
      2021 – Present
    • Advocacy

      The Sierra Club — Letter-writer; Encouraged Americans to vote in a crucial election
      2020 – 2020
    • Volunteering

      National Honors Society — Student
      2020 – Present
    • Volunteering

      The Sierra Club — Written over 5 dozen both hand-written letters and e-mails to big corporations, national and local politicians to urge them to move towards a more sustainable future.
      2019 – Present

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    Bold Know Yourself Scholarship
    Throughout the years I've always been a quieter kid, an introvert. I'm never the loudest person in the room, and I'm extremely nonconfrontational. A lot of people confuse being an introvert with being shy or timid, including myself. For a long time, I thought that since I was quieter than most people I was the "shy" one that would be too afraid to speak. However, this isn't true. I enjoy socializing and meeting new people, but I find much more power in being a listener and an observer. It was one thing to discover that I can be an introvert while still being capable of and enjoying socializing. But it was another when I realized how I can use my introversion to be a good friend and helpful presence for others. Although I'm naturally quiet, I don't zone out all day long. I observe. I've learned that I have the ability to read a room and understand a lot about how a person's feeling by observing their attitude at a given time. Also, unlike extroverts, I have the ability to really listen to others. Listening may seem easy, but very few times in my life have I been able to tell someone something extremely important to me and be actually heard by them. Whether it's asking for advice, or just getting something off your chest, having a good listener is important in these moments. For a lot of my friends, I've become this person, and I truly enjoy it. As an introvert, I don't feel the urge to insert my opinion when it's not needed (or wanted). This allows me to listen closely so that my friends can actually feel heard. I'm glad I discovered this side of me so that I continue to be this person throughout my life.
    Bold Bucket List Scholarship
    Every bucket list is unique. No two people have the same one. They're also subject to change, and oftentimes, change a lot. My current bucket list widely varies in activities to try, places to see, and foods to eat. The biggest item on my bucket list is to travel and hike on every continent. My aunt has been a huge part in sparking my love for travel and hiking, so this is very much inspired by her. She's backpacked all over the world, and I want to do the same. From the Mardi Himal Trek in Nepal, to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, to the Cotopaxi volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes, I want to hike every corner of this globe, experiencing all the different and unique cultures along the way. This goal of mine feels in reach, as I've been able to work all throughout high school, saving enough money to hopefully be able to achieve this goal after college. Switching gears to the parts of my bucket list I've already crossed off, one item on my bucket list going into high school was to be the first-chair cellist in the Chamber Orchestra. I practiced for hours, built a relationship with my director, and ultimately became first-chair by the Spring of my sophomore year, and I’ve been there ever since. Achieving this goal has been extremely gratifying, but it's come with unexpected benefits as well. As the first-chair, I'm also the section leader of the cellos, and I've been able to create an atmosphere of friendship and comradery amongst my fellow cellists. I want the other musicians to enjoy playing the cello just as much as I do, so I've made sure to be as helpful as I can, while also being a non-competitive, fun, and pleasant presence for them.
    Bold Optimist Scholarship
    My phone buzzed. My heart somehow sunk and started racing at the same time. Flash flood warning. All I wanted was to finally take my friends hiking. This trip was a long time coming and I was not going to let it be ruined. But our safety comes first, and I had to tell them the news that we had to turn around. We had been looking forward to the trip for a while and were pretty bummed, and that's when the rain started. Not just a little shower, no, it was a torrential downpour. The ground became a muddy flow of water as we frantically descended the mountain. I expected all my friends to be pissed that I had made them go all the way out there just to get cold, wet, and dirty. I turned around to the sound of what I thought was crying, but was surprised to see one of my friends laughing. They had never had an adventure like this, and they viewed it as an exciting new experience. So I joined them in their joy. In the back of my head I knew that the situation we were in was actually dangerous, but I stayed optimistic knowing that it would all work out, and we would end up having an even bigger adventure than we had originally planned for. Despite not making it to the top of the mountain, we had an awesome time practically running for our lives in the storm. Staying optimistic about our trip ended up paying off, and we all now have a great story to tell because of it.
    Bold Music Scholarship
    "We are far, far from home. But we're so happy." "From Finner" by the Icelandic folk band Of Monsters and Men is a brilliant ballad of adventure, going out of one's comfort zone, and independence. For years I've dreamed of being able to travel on my own; going around the world experiencing countless different cultures. "From Finner" encompasses this dream of mine perfectly. A story of someone traveling with Finner- an Icelandic mystical whale-like creature- having new unreal life experiences. Although sometimes along the journey it can be scary, they learn to "keep their head held high." I understand that once I'm finally able to achieve my dream of traveling the world, it won't be easy. It will come with setbacks and obstacles. But that's all a part of the journey. The lyric that speaks to me most is "We are far, far from home. But we're so happy." I love my home and everything that comes with it: my family, friends, school, etc. But I believe the best way for me to grow into a strong independent adult is to get out of my comfort zone and embark on a journey just like in the song. It's ok to be far from home, especially if you're on an amazing journey that will give you an unforgettable experience.
    Bold Growth Mindset Scholarship
    “Just reach you idiot!” I say to myself as I lunge my body upwards to the final hold of the bouldering problem I’m on. I miss and fall to the mats below. As I look back up to reevaluate where I went wrong I can’t help but think that I failed simply because I’m not strong enough. Maybe I wasted too much energy by hesitating to reach for the final hold. I re-chalk my hands and try again. In hindsight, it’s not surprising how bad I was at rock-climbing when I first started. I thought it was all about strength and endurance; being able to suspend myself above the ground and maneuver a slanted wall by gripping artificial rocks. After one especially tough day, I angrily drove home and googled tips to become a better climber. Eventually, I came across a video of world-renowned Czech rock-climber Adam Ondra. Surprisingly, Ondra didn’t talk about technique or strength a single time. Instead, he focused entirely on the mental side of the extreme sport; remaining calm when your forearms are burning and fingers are screaming for a break, not getting upset when falling and instead viewing it as one step closer to completing the problem. The next time I went to the gym, I tried to implement these tactics focusing on the mental side of the sport. I was confident, yet calm, and was pleasantly surprised to send the problem that was giving me the most trouble just a few days before. From then on, I’ve focused much more on improving how I mentally think about climbing rather than improving my strength. This mindset has spread to other parts of my life, as I now realize the importance of being mentally strong in order to view setbacks as stepping stones to future success.
    Bold Mentor Scholarship
    Just as I had finally made my way to first-chair cellist and section leader in my school's Chamber Orchestra, covid hit. Virtual rehearsals were simply not the same as in-person ones, and the overall morale of the orchestra took a huge hit. To everyone's dismay, the pandemic raged on and my school continued virtual learning through my Junior year. But finally, after over a year, we're back in person, and I get one year to be a true leader and mentor to my fellow cellists. Section leaders in an orchestra are responsible for making sure everyone in their respective section understands their part, uses the correct bowings, and that we're all playing well together. But with only one year to truly be in this position, I've decided to go above and beyond these standards. The cello section in the Chamber Orchestra has 12 cellists, 7 seniors, 3 juniors, and 2 sophomores. The seniors I've known throughout all of high school, and some of them even in middle school, so we've all formed a very strong bond and we hold each other to high standards so that we continue to improve as a group. For the juniors, I've given myself the task of making sure the three of them will be able to step up next year as leaders in their own light. They have the talent, so I continue to give them ample opportunities to voice their opinions and provide suggestions for the cellists and the orchestra as a whole. And finally the two sophomores. Since this is the first year they've experienced an in-person orchestra in high school, I'm making sure that they enjoy every minute of it. I love playing the cello, and I hope I'll continue to spread that positive mindset to them as well.
    Bold Happiness Scholarship
    Just like that, my argument fell to pieces. My brother and I were arguing about something pointless, and I was just about to shatter him with a stellar conclusion when I accidentally said “henceforth” instead of therefore. I’m not even sure why my brain thought “henceforth” was the right word to use because it’s not even close to being a synonym of therefore. I don’t think I ever used “henceforth” casually in conversation before that argument, but after that day I started using henceforth in replace of all conjunctive adverbs for my own comedic relief. Watching the confused look on people’s faces when I would nonchalantly drop “henceforth” into normal conversations was surprisingly hilarious. “Hey, do you want to go get food after school today?” “Sorry, I have to pick up my little brother after school, henceforth, I can’t get food today.” That sentence makes zero sense, but no one would ever question my usage of the medieval-sounding word. I think it’s important for everyone to have some sort of inside joke with themself that they can use to cheer themselves up at any time. “Henceforth” is my inside joke with myself. Anytime I’m feeling down I can just incorporate “henceforth” into my next conversation, or I can look back on the time I accidentally said “henceforth” during a presentation in English class, the limits are endless. What started as a mistake ended up being a source of daily happiness, henceforth, the word henceforth makes me very happy.
    Bold Influence Scholarship
    Sign, sealed, delivered. Another letter written to a congressman I’d never heard of. For over a year I’ve been writing letters and emails, mainly to politicians, for The Sierra Club nonprofit. Systemic racism affects the environmental world, and America’s history has caused People of Color to have less access to nature for hundreds of years. Segregated neighborhoods from the past have resulted today in many low-income homes having less access to clean water or a healthy surrounding environment. The majority of the letters I write focus on bridging this gap, creating a community of equality and inclusion in the outdoor world. If I had the power of someone with millions of followers, I would amplify the voices of these letters around the world. I understand that simply writing letters to politicians and oil company CEOs does little in helping this cause, but it is a start. These problems mean a lot to me as someone who comes from a city that's neighborhoods are almost completely divided by race and income. I will continue to fight for environmental justice throughout my life, whether I'm an influencer or not, as I hope to help my peers of color feel open and free to their right to the natural world, despite America’s systemic inequalities closing off this door for hundreds of years.
    Bold Books Scholarship
    A self-proclaimed grump on a journey to the world’s happiest countries in an attempt to learn how geography and culture affect each individual's daily source of happiness, Eric Weiner took me on a journey in his narrative “The Geography of Bliss.” For a long time, I’ve loved learning about other cultures and their differences from that of the United States. But Weiner’s expedition to 10 countries across the world really opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on the meaning of happiness and inspired me to look at where happiness comes from in my own life. The diversity in the countries he traveled to is amazing; the citizens of Bhutan are happy because their country is one of two carbon-negative countries in the world, the Icelandic people are happy because their society views failure as a stepping stone to greater success, and the Swiss are happy simply because they rarely have anything better to do than enjoy the scenery of their country. A lot of times it can be very easy for me to focus on the negatives in life. But this book illustrated that happiness can be found almost anywhere, as long as you can actively search for it. I began to realize how happy a morning cup of coffee makes me, or an afternoon thunderstorm, or the first time the leaves change color in the fall. The small parts of everyday life that normally go unnoticed are where I choose to find my happiness.
    Bold Climate Changemakers Scholarship
    The harsh reality is that on the small individual consumer level, there is not much anyone can do to prevent climate change. The problem stems from big corporations and governments. So, although I do try to reduce my carbon footprint by eating less meat, carpooling, and using less electricity, the main thing I do to have a positive impact on the environment is educating others through writing. Through The Sierra Club non-profit, I've written dozens of letters informing a large variety of Americans about the climate crisis so that they may also make sustainably better daily decisions. The letters I write are on three different scales: corporation CEOs, politicians, and American voters. To the CEOs of big corporations, I simply inform them of the statistics of the harm they are causing on our planet, and what the future will look like if we continue on this path. To the politicians, I write similar letters, informing them of the harmful laws or ineffective environmental agencies, and help to propose solutions on how to fix them. And to American voters, I educate them on each candidate's plans and proposals concerning climate change and how their plan will affect our world, allowing them to make the important decision of who to vote. Although many people think letter-writing is equally ineffective as signing petitions, some of the letters I've written have helped go towards ending the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline; an oil pipeline that would have gone from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S., threatening countless natural habitats and ecosystems. Simply by educating people on the gravity of the situation we are in, I feel as though I am helping move our planet towards a brighter future, even if it's hard to see the results first-hand.
    Bold Dream Big Scholarship
    The feeling of independence, responsibility, freedom. Experiencing new cultures and immersing myself in new languages. Exploring the natural beauty this world has to offer. Aside from getting a college degree, traveling the world is my biggest dream. I've loved traveling for years, and although I'm fortunate for the opportunities I've had, there are countless other places I plan to go in my life. Having the ability to make my own itinerary and going to the far corners of the Earth will give me more life experience than anything else. I was able to travel to Iceland over the summer, and aside from the most geologically unique landscapes I'd ever laid my eyes on, the parts of the trip that stood out to me the most were all the different languages and people I encountered along the way. At every restaurant, shop, hike, or hot spring there were dozens of languages being spoken all at once, and it fascinated me. The diversity I was exposed to was incredible, but it was just a small taste of what's out there in the World. Every summer of high school I've been working jobs to save up as much money as I can to hopefully embark on this journey after I graduate college. More than anything, this goal of mine keeps me going. World travel is not easy, nor is it cheap, but I embrace this challenge and hope to someday be able to experience both the natural and cultural beauty around the World.
    Bold Art Matters Scholarship
    The smooth strokes of the brush. The gentle fading between blues, greens, and greys. The layers of rolling hills. But most importantly, the thought my mom put into it when she painted it. My mom is a locally-based artist, focusing mostly on oil paintings. She worked extremely hard to open an art gallery featuring both her and other local artists' works. Although she was able to run this successful small business for a few years, Covid caused her to take a huge hit in sales. She was forced to move her business online, which was a big undertaking transitioning to a digital business. Despite being under lots of stress in the early months of the pandemic, she continued to paint, and surprised me one day with "Misty Mountains." Even while being the owner of a struggling small business, she took the time to make something beautiful for me, gorgeously encapsulating the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains; one of my favorite places. After over a year, my mom has successfully moved her art online and continues to paint almost every day. Her art is inspirational and has had a lasting impact on me, as I now try to be just as thoughtful to others even when life isn't going my way, just like she did for me.
    Bold Great Books Scholarship
    A self-proclaimed grump on a journey to the world’s happiest countries in an attempt to learn how geography and culture affect each individual's daily source of happiness, Eric Weiner took me on a journey in his narrative “The Geography of Bliss.” For a long time, I’ve loved learning about other cultures and their differences from that of the United States. But Weiner’s expedition to 10 countries across the world opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on the meaning of happiness and inspired me to look at where happiness comes from in my own life. The diversity in the countries he traveled to is amazing; the citizens of Bhutan are happy because their country is one of two carbon-negative countries in the world, the Icelandic people are happy because their society views failure as a stepping stone to greater success, and the Swiss are happy simply because they rarely have anything better to do than enjoy the scenery of their country. A lot of times it can be very easy for me to focus on the negatives in life. But this book illustrated that happiness can be found almost anywhere, as long as you can actively search for it. I began to realize how happy a morning cup of coffee makes me, or an afternoon thunderstorm, or the first time the leaves change color in the fall. Choosing to focus on these parts of life instead of the many small bad parts of life makes every day more enjoyable. Small parts of everyday life that normally go unnoticed are where I choose to find my happiness.
    Bold Memories Scholarship
    70mph winds. Rain, sleet, snow. Almost no visibility. I thought I was going to die. On this 16 mile hike in Iceland, I had my first near-death experience. Although I was prepared for some elements, such as the wind or cold, the weather forecast did not predict a storm this intense. After making it down the mountain and drinking three cups of hot coffee, I finally realized the extent of the situation I just survived. That day could've been my last, but it wasn't. Ever since that day, I've stopped taking the small things in life for granted. Homemade meals, playing the cello, hanging out with friends; all of these parts of my life could've vanished on that day. I'm now a much more grateful person for all of these parts of my life that I hadn't cared about before. Every time I play the cello I take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the instrument. The craftsmanship that went into building it, and the mellow sound that can be produced with it. Noticing these small, happy moments in life now has made every day more enjoyable. I've started to enjoy things that used to just be daily tasks, but now provide small boosts of serotonin to my brain. Despite that hike being the single most terrifying day of my life, it molded me into someone who appreciates life so much more.
    Bold Independence Scholarship
    The ability to solve problems on my own. Being challenged to come up with a meal when I'm too tired to finish homework. Figuring out public transportation in a new city, understanding basic personal finance, finding a job, renting my first apartment, doing daily chores. This is the life I seek. In the simplest terms, being independent would mean freedom. But freedom from what? As a current high school senior, I feel confined within the boundaries of my school and my city. Sure, I'm independent in that I have a driver's license, so I can go out and pick up Chick-fil-a if I'm hungry. But I feel constrained in my ability to make decisions that affect my education and daily life. I understand the importance of the standard high school graduation requirements, but I believe more options should be made for students to explore their interests within their school because not everyone has the capabilities or resources of pursuing a passion outside of the classroom. By confining us to the standard math, history, science, and English classes, we aren't given the opportunity to be creative or to be inspired by an unusual niche subject. Going to college will be just one step in becoming more independent. Having the freedom to explore my interests with college courses, being more responsible financially, and having to figure out what I'm going to eat every day without my parents there will certainly all be stressful, but I'm looking forward to it. I seek this ability to feel free from the restraints that high school life has on me. Going into the unknown can be scary, but that's what the future is. We don't know what'll happen on a daily basis, but we can be ready for it by being successfully independent.