Harrisburg Academy senior Amelia Nazar was too young to understand the images of flooding and wind-demolished homes that filled newscasts after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Nearly five years later, in 2010, things were different.
“The earthquake in Haiti was the one where I was really old enough to understand what was going on,” she said.
Images of collapsed buildings figure prominently in her desire to become a “humanitarian engineer.” Nazar explained that as such she would use her skills in engineering to build structurally sound buildings and possibly roadways in developing countries.
When the idea first came to her, Nazar said she wasn’t sure if there was an organization similar to Doctors Without Borders for engineers. It didn’t take her long to find Engineers Without Borders, and set her sights on serving in South or Central America or possibly in Africa.
Engineering is a long way from her first career goal as a child.
“Originally, I wanted to be a hot dog vendor really badly,” Nazar said.
That decision resulted from a trip to New York City in which Nazar decided the hot dogs were too expensive, and that she would offer affordable hot dogs at her vending cart.
Then, she thought about becoming a violin teacher or an ice skating coach. Then she came upon the idea of combining her interests in art and math to become an architect. Her practical sense kicked in when she discovered that unemployment among students who majored in architecture is high so she decided to study civil engineering as well.
No matter what career goal Nazar, the daughter of Scott and Lisa Nazar, has considered, they all reflect a desire to help others. It’s a desire that’s also prominent in her high school career.
She started the Can Club at Harrisburg Academy to help those facing hunger in the community. Nazar said she first started studying hunger issues with a global perspective, but soon discovered that hunger issues hit close to home as well.
“There’s some people that don’t know where their next meal will come from. I take lunch for granted. I take snacks for granted,” she said.
Even before she started the club, Nazar contributed to area soup kitchens by making baked goods and taking them to the soup kitchen on Sundays. This year, the club has held two canned food drives. One of those food drives was held in conjunction with another student effort to collect items for Syrian refugees. Together, the two drives created “A Month of Giving” at the academy.
Nazar has also given back to her school by serving as a co-founder of the Student Alumni Network, which worked with the school’s alumni board to enhance student-alumni connections, especially through lunch and learn activities that would bring professionals into the school to share about their career with students.
“The point of this is basically so students could connect with them and follow them in their fields of study,” Nazar said.
Even with all of her academic accolades, Nazar turns to her time on the basketball court as a highlight of her high school career. She recalls that she barely played in her freshman year, until the starter who held the career rebound record was injured. The starter challenged Nazar to beat the record, and Nazar became the first girl at the school to get 200 rebounds two seasons in a row. She holds the boys’ and girls’ record for rebounds. In the end, though, it’s the team that matters for her.
“I’m so proud of everybody,” she said.