Bulloch Academy’s Zoe Yan Li and Statesboro High School’s Alex DiCesare first tied as Bulloch County’s STAR students. Now they have won again and advance together, with their chosen teachers, as the Region 8 STARs.
District winners from 16 school districts, from Savannah and Sylvania westward to Soperton and Alamo, were recognized Wednesday at the Region 8 Student Teacher Achievement Recognition luncheon. The Exchange Club of Statesboro, working with other organizations, hosts the event annually at Georgia Southern University’s College of Engineering and Information Technology, but this was the first time in many years that Bulloch County’s honorees carried the region.
“Zoe inspires me and makes me want to be a better teacher,” Bulloch Academy STAR teacher Karen Whitten told the luncheon crowd.
Selected by Li, 17, as her STAR teacher, Whitten also remains tied, in a sense, with Statesboro High School STAR teacher Bruce Law, who was chosen by DiCesare, 18. Now the region STAR teachers, Whitten and Law advance with these students in consideration for the state STAR awards, to be presented April 27 in Atlanta.
STAR students, high school seniors chosen mainly for having the highest SAT college admissions test scores in their high schools, can ask any teacher from their school years to share the honor.
Whitten has been a school-level STAR teacher twice before, but this is her first time as a county-level and regional winner. She has been teaching about 10 years and is in her fifth year at Bulloch Academy, where she has taught biology, chemistry and environmental science and leads the robotics program.
“I’m totally excited,” Whitten said in an interview. “It’s more for Zoe’s moment, but I joke that, being around her, she takes me places.”
Law was Statesboro High’s and Bulloch County’s STAR teacher once before, in 2009, but this is his first regional win. He has spent a third of his 27-year teaching career at Statesboro High, where he now teaches Advanced Placement Language/Composition.
“Alex deserves the credit,” Law said after the announcement. “He’s a great kid.”
Tech or Ivy League
Law and DiCesare both acknowledged that composition was not the science-oriented student’s favorite subject. But he made a 5, the maximum score, on the AP exam.
“It’s his desire and drive to want to do the best that he possibly can” that sets DiCesare apart, Law said.
This year, DiCesare has been dual-enrolled full-time at Georgia Southern, earning his high school credits by taking university courses, except for a band class he took at SHS last semester.
At Statesboro High, he has competed as part of the swim team, tennis team and math team, played in the drum line with the band for four years and participated in Model United Nations. Last semester, he volunteered as a tutor on the GSU campus.
His parents are Dr. John DiCesare, chair of the GSU chemistry department, and Teresa DiCesare, a paraprofessional at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School.
Alex DiCesare has been accepted at Georgia Tech, but is “waiting to hear back from a few schools,” he said.
Many universities issue acceptance letters in late March, so he expects some answers next week. Other schools where he has applied are Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Emory, Rice, Stanford, and Washington.
For a field of study, he is considering chemistry or chemical engineering.
Robots and research
At Bulloch Academy, Li has helped lead the robotics team, which Whitten coaches. The BA team was one of 64 that competed in a regional event of the international FIRST robotics competition, March 11-14 in Orlando.
They built a 120-pound robot and programmed it to stack recycling bins. As with other team tasks, Li was instrumental with this, programming the robot to do a job autonomously, Whitten said.
Last summer, Li interned with the National Cancer Institute, working in a genetics research lab. She performs with the Statesboro School of Dance and volunteers each Saturday morning in the outreach center at the Worn Threads clothing store.
Her father is Dr. Li Li, a professor and graduate advisor in Georgia Southern’s health and kinesiology department. Her mother, Yanli Li, is lab coordinator in the university’s biology department.
Zoe Yan Li has been accepted at Georgia Tech but also has an offer of a Foundation Fellowship from the University of Georgia.
Other schools she is awaiting notice from include Emory, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Pennsylvania and Brown.
She is considering a career in medical engineering but remains undecided.
The SAT score DiCesare and Li tied with was 2280 out of a possible 2400.
“We are very proud of Zoe, Alex, Mrs. Whitten and Mr. Law and the academic excellence they exemplify at their respective high schools,” said the Exchange Club of Statesboro’s Leanne Thompson, region chair of the STAR program.
The club works with the Statesboro Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, particularly its Education and Workplace Preparedness Committee, and the GSU College of Engineering and Information Technology to host the luncheon.
Among the other school-district STAR students recognized were Candler County’s Aaron Buxton, a Metter High School senior, with STAR teacher Amy Hendrix; Evans County’s Sarah Hethcox, a Pinewood Christian Academy senior, with STAR teacher Susan Todd; and Screven County’s Hannah Thompson, a Screven County High School senior, with STAR teacher Jennifer Calhoun.
Statewide, the PAGE Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Now in its 57th year, the STAR program has honored more than 25,000 students and the teachers they have selected as having had the most influence on their success.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.