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Article Published June 26, 2019
STEM Stand Out: Katie Hooker, GHS 2019 Valedictorian
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

For Guilford High School (GHS) valedictorian Anne Katherine “Katie” Hooker, there’s no time like the present to take her academic ability into the world of scientific research, and make her mark.

“I think we’re at the turning point in time when women are starting to stand out in science and get the recognition that they deserve—because they’ve been standing out for a long time, obviously,” says the 17-year-old top academic student of the GHS Class of 2019.

At GHS, where Katie was president of the Women in Science Club, “...not only did I get to meet other females interested in STEM careers, but I also got to talk to some really important people [in the field], from places like Yale [and] NASA,” says Katie. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

“And just being able to talk to women who are successful in STEM careers, and listen to what they had to say to people my age, was really inspiring. Because I always knew I was entering a male-dominated field, but that never really stopped me,” she says.

At college, Katie plans to major in molecular and cell biology. She says that will happen either at UConn, where she has been selected to receive the school’s prestigious four-year full academic Nutmeg Scholarship; or at Harvard, which has offered her deferred entrance to join the Harvard Class of 2024, following a gap year.

Katie plans to finalize her college choice very soon, noting that while she has a difficult decision ahead, “...I am certainly fortunate to be in this position.”

She’s also grateful to Guilford Public Schools and GHS for challenging her academically and setting her on the path to a future in the field of her choice.

“My interest in majoring in molecular and cell biology started from AP Bio [Biology], which I took as a sophomore,” says Katie.

Between her sophomore and senior years, Katie completed nine AP (Advanced Placement) courses at GHS. In addition, this year she was part of a nine-member GHS Physics student group which placed first among Connecticut public schools in the TEAMS (Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science) competition this spring.

As someone attuned to STEM learning, it goes without saying that Katie also loves math—she especially enjoyed taking AP Calculus classes and AP Statistics. But she also developed quite an affinity for studying French during her years at GHS, too. A member of both the GHS French Honor Society and GHS Honor Society, Katie excelled in the GHS French language program, including AP French. She’s considering minoring in French as part of her post-secondary studies.

If Katie elects to study at UConn, where she would join the UConn Honors College, she says she’d also like to become involved with the UConn Irish Step Dancing Team. Katie has been dancing since the age of seven and has been involved competitively for years, with wins at regional and national levels. During high school, she danced with an out-of-state school, which added a bit more effort to Katie’s exceptional academic and school commitments during her four years at GHS.

“My dance school’s home is in New Jersey, but we have branches in New York and as far down as Maryland, so that was a lot of traveling that took away from some of the school activities I was involved in—but it was worth it, at the time,” she says.

Even though her senior year at GHS was a very busy time for Katie, she continued to dance, most recently as part of a team of eight competing at the World Irish Dancing Championships in North Carolina in April.

Academically, Katie earned numerous awards at GHS and beyond, including the national AP Scholar with Distinction Award, being named a National Merit Commended Scholar, her selection as a semi-finalist for the Governor’s Scholarship, and being named a Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) Scholar Leader.

Katie also earned the GHS Harvard Book Award in her junior year, which is given by the Harvard Alumni Association to outstanding high school students displaying excellence in scholarship, character, and achievements in other fields. As an added bonus, it also came with a great book, Katie says.

“From the Harvard Book Award, I got a copy of The Goldfinch, which I read last summer and loved,” says Katie of American author Donna Tartt’s coming-of-age novel which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

As for her own recent outstanding achievement—being named GHS Class of 2019 valedictorian—Katie says she wasn’t focused on winning the title but on attaining her best personal improvement academically, and going after opportunities in every subject area that interested her until she’d seen it through to the highest academic offering available. She also loved getting a chance to “dabble” in the school’s International Baccalaureate [IB] program, even though as a STEM student she knew it wasn’t going to necessarily suit what she was looking for in applying to colleges.

The IB diploma program at GHS carries students through two years (junior and senior) with an interdisciplinary learning approach including critical thinking skills, global awareness, and personal development.

“I took the first year of the IB History Course—which I loved—because it showed me more of the questionable aspects of history,” says Katie. “But I wasn’t able to continue taking that course [the second year], because I wanted to take [AP] Calculus BC this year, and they were the same period.”

Katie also looked for learning opportunities and experiences outside of the classroom—and for her senior Capstone Project, she didn’t have to look far.

“I worked with my neighbor, Dr. Mellissa DeMille [Ph.D.]. We studied a gene which is implicated in the human acquisition of speech and language,” says Katie.

DeMille, an associate research scientist working in the Gruen lab at Yale School of Medicine, earned a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley.

“Just working with her, and hearing how passionate she was, was really inspiring for me,” says Katie. “And it was just really cool to hear her perspective on things. You could tell that she was doing what she was really interested in; and also just how far she had come in her work, and where I could be going.”

In her valedictorian speech on June 14, Katie encouraged her GHS classmates to try new experiences in order to find what they’re passionate about.

“I tried to offer them the idea of exploring anything and everything. Because we’re pretty sheltered here in Guilford, and we’ve all only seen so much of the world—and there’s so much to see and do and try and experience,” Katie says. “I wanted to tell everybody to seize all the opportunities that are available to you. And then, when you find what you like, don’t be indifferent about it. Start speaking up. Share what you have to say about it. Do that first, then figure out what you love, and what you’re going to focus on.”