What do an 18-year-old aspiring scientist and the 51-year-old Former U.S. Secretary of Education have in common?
They’re both part of an elite group of changemakers who, along with Kyle Zimmer, President and CEO of First Book, and Sean Parker, philanthropist and Napster founder, just won some of the nation’s top awards for public service.
Last week, the Jefferson Awards Foundation recognized dozens of amazing individuals across various age groups, genders, economic backgrounds and walks of life for their outstanding efforts to change their respective communities for the better.
One standout scholar was Sophia Sanchez-Maes, an 18-year-old Yale University student currently working with NASA on the Mars Rover and 2020 mission and the Exoplanet Exploration division.
It all started with a slew of field trips to collect data in the Rio Grande River early in her educational career; already an aspiring scientist, Sanchez-Maes witnessed the effects of climate change firsthand and felt compelled to research the creation of a strand of algae biofuel that can treat wastewater while effectively recycle its energy back onto the global grid.
“Realizing that all this was happening while policy wasn’t doing anything to change it, really spurred my own desire to cut the line and make things happen for myself,” said Sanchez-Maes. “And that’s when I started doing research on creating biofuels to help change this climate crisis that we’re in.”
Sanchez-Maes plans to continue her research, but won’t be limiting herself to just one area of study.
“I’m doing math, computer science, and with those and my scientific skills, I’m solving all the problems I can, anyone that interests me. Right now I’m doing space, but who knows what I’ll tackle tomorrow.”
Sanchez-Maes undoubtedly won the respect of fellow honoree Arne Duncan, the nation’s former U.S. Secretary of Education, who also received an award for his service with the U.S. Department of Education.
“People couldn’t have worked harder, or been more serious about making a difference in young people’s lives and creating hope and opportunity,” he said.
Those accomplishments include driving forth an initiative to invest more than $1 billion into early childhood education, and helping boost America’s high school graduation rate to an all-time high of 82% in the 2013-2014 school year. He says he looks to the students he meets for continued inspiration in his public service work.
“The part of my job I loved the most was traveling the country. I visited hundreds and hundreds of schools,” he said. “There are amazing kids all over the country and that’s what inspires me and gives me hope for the future and anything I can do to help them, I love to do it.”
To learn more about how you can engage with the Jefferson Awards, click here.
Images courtesy of Getty Images for The Jefferson Awards FoundationShare this article: