Good news piles up for Central valedictorian with passion for science

2014-05-08T02:03:00Z 2014-05-08T16:55:15Z Good news piles up for Central valedictorian with passion for scienceBy NICK BALATSOS The Billings Gazette

With an ACT test score 1 point shy of perfect and a 4.0 GPA, Central High valedictorian Kya Sorli has the type of resume that makes college admissions officers drool.

She’s designed solar cars that have gone on to win national awards. She’s been a varsity debater for three years and a varsity swimmer for four. She’s an accomplished harpist, and she even started a harp company that plays at weddings and nursing homes.

After she took every AP class that Central offers, Sorli took two college-level physics classes at Rocky Mountain College. Naturally, she aced them.

The last few months have been characterized by one exciting announcement after the next for the 18-year-old.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Sorli was one of 141 in the country to be named a 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholar.

Sorli’s mother said it was “the icing on the cake.”

Handpicked from a group of 3,900 qualified students, Sorli is one of two chosen from Montana, and the first student ever picked from Central.

Sorli will join the other Presidential Scholars in Washington, D.C., in June, where she said she hopes to meet the president, an opportunity afforded to other Presidential Scholars in the past.

On Wednesday, she was one of eight Montanans to be named a National Merit Scholar this year.

The 2,500 Merit Scholar recipients were chosen from more than 15,000 finalists in the 2014, according to a release from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

Sorli hopes to bring her AP history teacher, Shane Fairbanks, to Washington, D.C. Sorli nominated Fairbanks as her most influential teacher, something each scholar gets the chance to do.

Sorli also plans to bring her father, a doctor at Billings Clinic, and her mother, a chemical engineer.

They both said they are incredibly proud of her.

Another big shock came earlier this year, when she found out during a trip to Princeton that Duke University and the University of North Carolina had selected her to receive the Robertson Scholarship.

She said when she got the call, she couldn’t believe it. She had just spent days interviewing for the scholarship and had traveled to Princeton to visit the campus.

“I didn’t have much time to think about it,” she said. So when the call came, she was “shocked.”

The scholarship will allow Sorli to attend both schools, where she plans to double major in astrophysics and political science.

She said she hopes to bridge the gap between her two passions: science and politics.

“There’s such a stalemate between politics and science ... and honestly I’d like to be the person who tried to bridge that gap.”

The scholarship, which was created in 2000, promotes unique degree combinations like the one Sorli hopes to receive. The scholarship includes full tuition, room and board, a new laptop and $10,000 a year for summer travel and international study.

Both Sorli’s parents are scientists. Her mother is a chemical engineer and her father, before becoming a doctor, received a degree in chemical engineering.

Sorli’s mother, Chris, said that having two scientists for parents has led to unusual conversations.

She said things like water-soaked boots could lead to conversations about surface tension.

“We’ve always had dialogue that centered around science,” she said.

Her father, also named Chris, added that “we’ve always promoted the idea of finding your passion in life, to go to work and make an impact in the world.”

As Sorli traveled around the United States this spring, her mother and father both agreed that it was interesting to see how those trips changed her.

“It was neat to watch her grow,” her mom said. “We’re all very thankful to everybody who played a role in all her successes.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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