For many students, pursuing their passions can mean opening them up to new opportunities.

For Hayden Qualls, a senior at Harrisburg Academy, pursuing his passion for the environment has given him the opportunity to travel to new lands.

In July, Qualls traveled to Peru on scholarship to, among other things, help build greenhouses for the local community.

“(I’m probably most proud of) the service part of my Peru trip,” he said. “I know it had such an impact on those people’s lives. They’ll be able to use those greenhouses, they’ll be able to earn money ... through their crop growths, and they’ll just be able to better their lives so much. It’s just something that I feel has had the biggest impact [on] people.”

Despite his love of nature, Qualls said he is not sure he would define himself as an environmentalist.

“I’m not sure how I would define myself,” he said. “I’d just say I’m someone who’s interested in the environment and protecting it. I don’t know what that would fall under.”

Qualls said he’s grown up around nature and has always been an “outdoorsy” person, even from a young age.

“I’ve always just really liked being outside, and I’ve gone hiking with my dad when I was little,” he said. “I guess at camp just spending time with friends outside, it’s always just been a big part of my life. I want to keep it healthy so other people can continue to enjoy it.”

He said his trip to Peru, which included hiking through the Andes Mountains, has helped instill in him his desire to study environmental engineering in college and pursue a career in the field.

Qualls carries a 4.01 GPA while taking advanced-level and college preparatory classes.

He is the son of Karl Qualls, a history professor at Dickinson College, and Gretchen Qualls, a teacher at Harrisburg Academy.

The fact that both of his parents work in education has instilled in Qualls a desire to push himself academically and has given him an appreciation for learning, he said.

“They are not demanding, but they have high expectations,” Qualls said of his parents. “It keeps me on track to maintain and meet those expectations.”

Beyond school work, Qualls is a youth swim instructor at HACC, a member of the National Honor Society and is a member of the Harrisburg Academy swim, Brain Busters and Quiz Bowl teams.

Outside of the environment, Qualls said participating in Brain Busters and Quiz Bowl, where he is the school’s co-captain, are his greatest passions.

“Before I started doing Quiz Bowl here, I would say I didn’t know most of what I know now,” he joked. “It’s just fun to challenge myself with sometimes just obscure facts, sometimes it’s just memorizing authors and works and history dates and people. It’s a challenge.”

Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.

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