Montville High School's Linda Chen combines love of community with scientific drive

Montville — High school senior Linda Chen kept her college application essay short and sweet, noting she wanted to work in health care and dedicate herself to community service for immigrant families and refugees.

"I know what it feels like to be lost," said Chen, whose family came to Connecticut from China when she was very young. "Those groups of people really need aid right now."

That message — paired with Chen's stellar academic and extracurricular performance — hit home for the admissions staff at Yale University, where Chen "didn't have high expectations, and was just looking around the area and didn't want to go too far from home."

Chen, who lives in Uncasville, plans to study chemistry and hop onto the pre-med track, not yet knowing what type of medicine she may practice but knowing she wants to remain laser-focused on combining her passion for helping others with her fascination and skills in science.

"Chemistry uses math and concepts to explain everything that happens in the world," she said. "It's not easy, but once you get it, it's really rewarding. And community service represents kindness and a love of life, and doing what makes me feel more confident about myself and love myself."

Chen, 17, has volunteered at Yale New Haven Hospital, going to elementary schools and discussing health issues with people from New Haven neighborhoods, and The William W. Backus Hospital, helping to bring patients food and pushing patients in wheelchairs to where they need to go. She's also tutored children at the town's Youth Service Bureau and helped out with the Otis Library summer reading program.

History teacher Derek Wainwright, who called Chen "an intelligent, caring young woman," said he was most impressed by her interaction with a special-needs student in a local history elective this year.

"It can sometimes be a challenge integrating certain special-needs students into a regular-education classroom and making them feel comfortable and part of the class. Linda made this a non-issue," he said. "During every group activity or project we worked on, Linda and another student made sure that he was part of her group. She was patient, understanding and caring, making sure that he enjoyed his experience. It was one of the nicest things I have seen in 20 years of teaching."

Chen has played tennis since her freshman year, though this year an ankle injury forced her to serve as the team manager. She's also competed on the school's math team and served as secretary of the Future Business Leaders of America.

"As the football coach ... many might not think that Linda Chen would be on my all-time list of favorite students, but she is unequivocally one of my all-time greats," said Tanner Grove, who's taught Chen social studies. "As a young woman with unlimited skills, she never gloats, never looks to succeed at the cost of others and, regardless of any type of person, shows genuine care and compassion for everyone she encounters."

As a member of the school's International Club, she's helped lead fundraisers for the Thirst Project to build wells in Africa, according to science teacher Heather Mathieu, who taught Chen as a freshman and again as a senior.

"She is always the first person to volunteer her lunch time or stay after school to work on our various fundraising projects," said Mathieu, who called Chen an "unassuming leader, friendly and dedicated."

Chen, who in the summer works part-time at her father's sushi bar and restaurant, Mahzu in Norwich, said she was grateful for her time in Montville, where "many times it was very hard and I wanted to give up" but, through perseverance and with the support of friends, faculty and family, she learned that hard work pays off and gained greater self-confidence.

Chen said her family "always had very high expectations of me," but at Montville High, she's come to terms with herself by "trying to find what I really like. I'm still going through this journey to have the motivation to do what I want, and making expectations only for myself."

b.kail@theday.com

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