Waterford's Sophie Wang to bring science, math skills to Dartmouth

Sophie Wang, 18, a member of the Waterford High School Class of 2018, at Waterford High School, on Friday, June 1, 2018. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Sophie Wang, 18, a member of the Waterford High School Class of 2018, at Waterford High School, on Friday, June 1, 2018. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Waterford — When Waterford High School senior Sophie Wang started a science project a couple years ago, she had no idea it would land her in front of 100 professionals at the Northeastern Mosquito Control Association's annual meeting in Plymouth, Mass.

"It was nerve-wracking. I spoke really fast, but it was such a cool experience," Wang said of the December meeting, when she gave a poster presentation called, "Development of an Effective Novel Copepod-Based Mosquito Ovitrap."

Wang's environmentally-friendly mosquito control project — which relies on small freshwater crustaceans with an appetite for mosquito larvae — had already earned top environmental science honors at the state science fair and a gold medal at ISWEEEP, an international science competition.

Wang said her scientific endeavors have boosted her confidence and communication skills, helping her move past small fears like "how to send emails to professors" to standing in front of countless judges and "talking for eight hours."

"You can do your research yourself, but getting the message across is key," said Wang, who's headed to Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Wang says she was hooked on math at an early age, spurred by a mix of Sudoku puzzles and her parents — both scientists at Pfizer — providing "challenge problems of the week."

"I love problem solving and using analytical skills," she said. "I like English but math makes sense to me because there's a definite solution. Five plus five is 10. There's no ambiguity."

Even as Wang's national and local accolades pile up — she earned a scholarship through the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search and she's readying her valedictorian speech for graduation — the 18-year-old remains humble, her teachers said.

"If I go beyond, 'Nice job, Sophie,' she gets a little uncomfortable," said science teacher Tessa Castleberry, who as an advisory teacher saw Wang every day for four years. "What you see is what you get with Sophie. She's very smart, but she puts the work in. She's just a nice, good person. She's very well-rounded, not just one of these people who look in books."

Science teacher Michael O'Connor said in addition to the recognition Wang's received for her research, she should also receive credit for her "poise, professionalism and perseverance."

"She truly loves to learn and has an internally-driven thirst for knowledge and, equally important, the work ethic to obtain it," O'Connor said.

Wang started playing tennis in high school and the viola in the third grade, "when everybody starts," she said. She's a peer tutor, president of the Spanish Honors Society and teaches pre-algebra to students at Southeastern Connecticut Chinese School in East Lyme.

"I took those math classes there, and now it's so cool teaching it," she said. But instead of education she's leaning toward careers in statistics and economics. "I feel like everybody changes their mind so much, so I don't even have a plan to change. I do really want to stay in numbers."

Orchestra Director Joan Winters said having Wang as a student at the middle school and high school the last seven years was "a teacher's dream come true."

"The ultimate and supreme in her work ethic, polished and compassionate in all she does, and a caring and sincere person," Winters said. "She has created an incredible journey."

High school Principal Andre Hauser described Wang as a "great role model for girls in STEM fields."

Wang said she was proud and "it's really cool" to receive the compliment, but she also shrugged her shoulders and noted girls consistently win the science fairs she's attended.

"Obviously, I think women are just as capable as men," she said. "In our school, I feel like all the girls are really strong. Nothing against the boys."

In addition to her parents and teachers, Wang thanked fellow students and her twin 9-year-old brothers, Justin and Ethan, for their support.

"Lancer Nation in general, I just love it," she said. "I want to thank Waterford for a great four years of my life. I'm sad to leave but I know it prepared me well for the future."

b.kail@theday.com

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