My name is Jessica Mavadia-Shukla, I am an alumni and the valedictorian of the 3rd graduating class of the Academy in 2006. My experience at the Academy has been unrivaled and set the course for my future. When I was about to enter high school, I was petrified at the thought of being one person in a crowd of people at the large local high school. I learned about the Academy from a friend of mine and decided to apply. Being accepted and deciding to attend was quite possibly the best decision that I could have ever made. Now, when I think of how the Academy has shaped my life, I think of two things, 1) my academic successes and 2) my growth as an individual person.
I have been pursing biomedical engineering from my undergraduate degree (focus in bioinstrumentation) to my graduate studies (endoscopic biophotonic technologies). My interest in bioinstrumentation (electronics and signal processing for biomedical applications) and biophotonics (light based technology for biomedical applications) was a direct result of the amazing things I learned in Mr. Paterno’s class. I recall doing presentations on some type of electrical or communications technology, where my presentation was on fiber optics and somehow, my life in research revolves around fiber optics! I still think back to all the little projects we did and realize the wisdom that Mr. Paterno had in teaching us things that people may not even have the opportunity to learn today. Seriously, assembly code is important! Being an engineering student in undergrad was so much easier because we were taught the fundamentals so well.
Though it might seem like smooth sailing, I have to say, things did not always go the way I wanted. I was interested in becoming a physician and was encouraged to pursue and undergraduate degree that could lead to a career if I changed my mind (thanks mom!), and thanks to the Academy engineering was a real possibility, not an unknown concept or thought. The skills I acquired in programming at the Academy helped me become a competitive candidate for 2 internships at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (from multiple labs) and 1 at Boston Scientific / Maquet during undergraduate summer vacation. Having chosen to go the NIH on both occasions, my research experience through this selective research program at the NIH helped me get into graduate school. This is quite possibly the best kind of snowball effect.
Even though engineering is a big part of the Academy, every class was worth every second. From literature, and database searching (which is by far one of the most useful skills ever), to mathematics, science and Spanish (which I still remember!). The ability to take college courses at Middlesex County College, also allowed me to transfer some credits to my undergraduate degree, making room to take masters level courses during my senior year of undergrad.
Academic success is only one part of high school, being able to grow up in my most formative years in a safe and encouraging environment might have helped me grow into the person I am today. I am still friends with the girls from ECE class, we were called the 3 musketeers, by possibly everyone, and it wasn’t wrong. We went to different universities, and have different careers (that is right, not all engineers!), and are still in touch after getting married and living in different states and cities. Friendships like those are treasures to behold.
I don’t think I could sum up all the amazing experiences I had through my 4 years at the Academy in a few short paragraphs. All I can say is that it was a decision that I would never change. I am successful and have an enriched life because of the Academy.