For many students, excelling in academics while having their peers elect them as both student council president and senior class president would be a successful high school career.
Now, add being a year-round, three-sport varsity athlete while spending time doing volunteer work, and Kaijie “Dominic” Zhang’s accomplishment become more exemplary.
Couple all of that with the fact that the Chinese-born student immigrated to the United States with his family only four years ago, and it becomes clear why Harrisburg Academy senior has earned this week's Teen of the Week.
“I certainly looked forward to it before I came,” Zhang said of moving to the United States. “I think it was easy for me to adopt a culture ... At my age, I think most American culture is what fits me.”
Zhang joked that the only experience with American culture prior to immigrating came from watching the movie “Pulp Fiction,” which gave his parents some apprehension before sending him to the United States.
Zhang, the 17-year-old son of Bin Zhang and Hong Liu, came to the Midstate four years ago and spent two years living with a host family before the rest of his family immigrated to the states two years ago.
“For two years, Dominci was able to live an independent life as an international student living with a host family,” Harrisburg Academy Counselor Keo Oura Kounlavong-Sabath said in a letter of recommendation for Zhang. “... He had to address the new adult responsibilities that all immigrant children have to face.”
Zhang has earned certificates of completion for summer program from both Brown University and Johns Hopkins Universy, participated in WorldQuest, received a certificate of excellence by taking part of the Central Pennsylvania Science Olympiad and completing multiple high-level science courses, and received a tri-athletes award for competing on the Harrisburg Academy soccer, basketball and tennis teams.
“I used to want to be a doctor, but after I took (biology) I realized it really just wasn’t my thing,” Zhang said.
He now wants to attend college to study astrophysics or astronomy.
“I think it’s the theoretical side of it that really intrigues me, because it’s literally the most fundamental laws that governs the physical world,” Zhang said. “I love physics and I want to lean about the universe and the physics behind it ... The unknown to me is what I want to explore.”
While many students have a passion for a subject they want to study in college, Zhang has taken his love for physics and put it in practice.
Zhang spent a week between his junior and senior year studying astrophysics and world philosophy at Brown University as part of the university’s pre-college program.
He is also a citizen scientist with Planet Hunters. In his free time Zhang joins with citizen scientists around the world exploring data sets that are too large for computers to properly sort through.
The goal is to find anomalies that may indicate a yet-undiscovered planet.
“There are a lot of people working a project to read the light coming from distant planets to see if there might be a planet around a start that we could live on,” Zhang said.
In his spare time, Zhang has participated in activities like musical productions, volunteered for the Special Olympics and WITF’s Ready Set Go Kindergarten and is part of the YMCA Youth and Government.
Through YMCA Youth and Government Zhang has helped shape legislation that successfully cleared the Pennsylvania state legislature.
“I guess the thing I would say is if you really want to do something, you will find time for it,” Zhang said. “There’s certainly a lot of stuff in school and out of school and sometimes it’s hard ... It’s certainly frustrating, but you have to pay in all the hard work.”