Sofia '19

Science Fair Winner, French Honor Society
Additional Activities: Robotics Club, Science Fair Club, French National Honor Society

What is your favorite thing about Visi?

Every day at Visitation, I'm in awe of how brilliant, hard-working, and dedicated the members of the Visitation community are. Classmates go to great lengths to succeed, putting in their best effort all the time. Likewise, teachers put in copious time and energy to help their students achieve. Each Visitation community member has something so different and unique that they bring to the table, and such a coalescence of talents and abilities in one place makes for a wonderfully diverse and amazing community.

Why did you choose the school?

I chose Visitation mainly because of its reputation for challenging academics and providing its students with a stellar high-school education to give them all the tools necessary to succeed in college and beyond. Visitation has certainly provided the academic challenge I sought as an 8th grader, and has also challenged me to grow as a person as a whole.

Which class has been your favorite so far?

I've loved all of my math and science classes thus far, but Accelerated Geometry was a math class like no other that I'd taken before, both in terms of style and rigor. There was a heavy emphasis placed on figuring out why something was, instead of just accepting that it was. Where I had been content to learn without ever really understanding why in my 8th-grade Algebra class, Accelerated Geometry forced me to think and question ideas that I came in contact with, proving them before I could utilize them. This constant questioning is something that has stuck with me since then; though it is not required in my current math class, my first instinct when I read something in my textbook is to ask myself, "Why is this?" instead of just accepting it. Now, I can't imagine any other way to approach math.

What is your favorite tradition?

Though I've never personally acted in it, Marshmallow Roast is a ton of fun to watch and provides a great opportunity for class bonding. Students dress up as their teachers and each class puts on a skit that pokes gentle fun at various faculty members that's sure to melt tensions, provide lots of laughs, and help the Visitation community bond through humor.

How would you describe Visitation’s classroom environment?

The classroom environment is an exceedingly collaborative one. Students are typically very engaged, and certain classes tend to flow more like a group discussion among teachers and students. Visitation students take an active, responsible part in their learning, and thus, it's often rare to walk into a classroom here and hear a teacher talk for the entire class period.

How do our teachers make learning exciting?

Many teachers strive to maintain a collaborative teaching style to keep every student in their classroom engaged and interested. They also try to connect ideas in their respective subjects to topics that students are familiar with, or with the modern world. In a history class, for example, a teacher might trace how a seemingly small event in history has had great influence on the world today. In a math class, a teacher might teach applications of functions so that students can see that functions aren't unreachable things with no relation to the world, but rather, quite prevalent in their own lives. This blend of collaboration and connections keeps students focused and happy to keep on learning.

Teachers are also very willing to provide support to students who need extra help or, in my case, who were completing a project outside of the normal curriculum. I worked closely with Mr. Haralson this year to be able to complete my science fair project, and he was always willing to meet before school, during lunch, or during a free period to help me. His dedication really helped get me motivated and excited to complete a project of such magnitude despite my very little initial experience with coding.

Which is your favorite Salesian Little Virtue?

Perseverance. In my time at Visitation, I've learned how copious hard work and determination pave the road straight to success. I've learned that to achieve something, one has to have an abundance of resilience and self-discipline. In my opinion, there's nothing—not even natural talent—that can substitute for hard work. The Little Virtue of perseverance reminds me to keep my head up and keep on working hard, no matter what the circumstances may be, to achieve whatever I want to.

What did being in the science fair teach you?

Participating in the DC STEM Fair has once again showed me how far working hard can take a person. It's taught me to be as ambitious as I possibly can in pursuing my dreams, because as long as I'm willing to put in the effort, there's nothing that can deter me from realizing those ambitions. I never thought that I'd be able to complete a project of such magnitude and be able to successfully showcase it at the DC STEM Fair, and even become a regional winner.

Tell us about your science fair project?

My project was called "RSA, you say? Creating an app capable of generating values of public and private keys as well as encrypting and decrypting ciphertext messages based on two prime number inputs using the foundational principles of asymmetric key RSA encryption." I explored the RSA algorithm and created an app based on it. The app was really designed to teach people about the RSA encryption algorithm, and thus features descriptions of the ongoing process on every screen. In the future, I'd like to replace those descriptions with intuitive and easy-to-understand videos so that more people can learn about the algorithm easily. I'd also like to develop another app based on the same algorithm that measures the time taken to calculate the decryption key given only public key values using the standard method and my own personal method to see which method is faster at calculating the decryption key.

How did you become interested in encryption?

I became interested in RSA encryption in my freshman-year Geometry class. My math teacher at the time, Dr. Kolpak, was really the person who encouraged me to pursue the topic in depth. He assigned my class a final project where we could pick a mathematical topic of our choice to explore. I looked through the list and saw encryption listed as one of the topics, specifically RSA encryption. I decided to explore it and developed a basic understanding of the algorithm, to the point where I could work through a basic example. I became increasingly interested in the algorithm, and the rest is history.

What activities do you do outside of Visitation?

I enjoy running, biking, and spending time with my best friend. I like to think up ideas in my free time as to how I can develop a way to find the two unique prime factors of huge semi-primes that are utilized in RSA encryption (impossible as of right now without a quantum computer!).

Sofia answered these questions at the end of her sophomore year.