North Allegheny senior captures Siemens Award

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 11:39 a.m.

Lily Zhang jetted back to Pittsburgh after debating at Harvard University with her high school team. A gold medalist in a World Piano Competition, she delights in soothing patients, visitors and staff members at UPMC Passavant by playing classical and pop music.

Zhang, a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School, received her latest accolade on Tuesday as one of two Pennsylvania recipients of the 2012-13 Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement — college-level courses and tests taken in high school. The other Pennsylvania winner is Jedidiah O. Thompson of Berwyn in Chester County. Skanda Koppula, 17, of Sewickley won a Siemens Award for Massachusetts, where he attends high school.

“The award is a culmination of all the years of learning and really exploring the math and sciences,” said Zhang, 18, of Wexford.

The Siemens Foundation in Iselin, N.J., awards $2,000 college scholarships to one male and one female student in each state for receiving the most fives — the highest score possible — on advanced placement courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The two national winners each receive a $5,000 scholarship.

“It recognizes their hard work. It places an importance on science and math, which we desperately need in this country. It encourages them to challenge themselves in AP classes,” said Diane Tsukamaki, director of National Recognition and Scholarship Programs at the College Board, in Reston, Va.

Zhang credited her teachers and family for her success. Her father, Li, is an anesthesiologist, and her mother, Hong, quit working as a cardiologist to devote herself to Zhang and her sister Catherine, 15.

“She gave up her career to help us shape ours,” Zhang said.

Zhang will go to Harvard this fall and major in chemistry. She wants to be a doctor.

Koppula, a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., does not know which college he'll attend.

“I think I'd really enjoy going into academia, doing research or becoming a university professor,” Koppula said. “There's a lot of subjects that interest me. If I had to choose now, I'd say computer science, mathematics or biology, some combination.”

He enjoys playing the violin, chess, Ultimate Frisbee and running cross-country track.

“Even taking classes is fun,” he said. “It's an important distinction between taking classes for the sake of taking classes and taking classes because you're genuinely interested in the subject. One reason I'm successful in these courses is because I was interested in them.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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