Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018

Gebremariam named presidential scholar

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | May 14, 2018
Hermela Gebremariam

Fairfield High School senior Hermela Gebremariam has received the prestigious honor of being named a U.S. Presidential Scholar.

Gebremariam is one of 161 seniors in the country honored for their oustanding academic achievement, leadership, ciitzenship and contribution to their school and community. In particular, Gebremariam was recognized for her accomplishments in the career and technical education fields.


Influential teachers

FHS business instructor Diane Goudy nominated Gebremariam, the first time in her 40 years of teaching that she has nominated a student for such an honor. Goudy wrote about Gebremariam’s breadth of classwork in careers and technical education such as family and consumer science classes, computer classes, web design, and others.

“She’s a 4.0 student, and I got to know her because she’s co-president of [Future Business Leaders of America],” said Goudy, who advises Fairfield’s FBLA chapter. “She joined FBLA as a sophomore, and she was very shy.”

Goudy encouraged Gebremariam to try new things, even if they were hard at first. At the end of the year, Gebremariam thanked her teacher for getting her out of her comfort zone.

“She told me that she went from not wanting to speak in front of people to seeing public speaking as one of her strenghts,” Goudy said. “For a high school student, she’s done amazing things. She’s concerned about other countries and their economic and health situation.”

Gebremariam named Goudy her most influential teacher. She said Goudy finds a way to teach material in a way that relates to everyday life.

FHS math instructor Michelle Higgins has taught Gebremariam pre-calculus and advanced placement calculus, and has nothing but glowing words about her scholastic dedication.

“Hermela goes above and beyond expectations,” Higgins said. “She knows the value of education and how it’s going to springboard her into her goals for the future.”

Higgins traveled with Gebremariam and her family when the senior received an Iowa Governor’s Scholar Award April 29 in Des Moines.

“Her family has instilled in her a love of education and a great work ethic,” Higgins said.

The senior said that, in addition to the invaluable advice and encouragement she’s received from Goudy and Higgins, she is also appreciative of the help she’s received from a pair of FHS science teachers, Annie Pollet and Kristen Septer. Pollet encouraged her to go to the World Food Prize and apply for the summer internship. Septer teaches anatomy, and Gebremariam has enjoyed her class so much that it made her want to study medicine.


Applying to be scholar

Gebremariam had to submit her grade point average, standardized test scores and a few essays for her application to be a U.S. Presidential Scholar. One of her essays required her to choose a photograph and explain how it’s significant. She chose a photo of her Interact Club, a Rotary Club for high school students.

“I’ve been in Interact four years, and we try to do at least one local and one international project every year,” Gebremariam said. “One of the big things we started was raising money so the middle school can purchase band instruments for students who can’t afford them. On the international level, we’ve donated to help plant trees in Tanzania, build a roof for an orphanage in Mexico, and this year we sent a girl in Kenya to an agricultural school.”


Transfer to FHS

Gebremariam attended Maharishi School until her sophomore year, when she transferred to FHS. She loved the close-knit community at the private school, and is still friends with her Maharishi School classmates. She knew she wanted to be in medicine, and decided that FHS had the science curriculum she needed.

Luckily, the transition went smoothly. She knew some of the FHS students from athletic camps in sports such as basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics. They made her feel right at home.

Gebremariam is active in tennis, student council, FBLA, National Honor Society, and she works part-time at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center in the ticket office. It can feel like she has no free time at all. That was especially true her junior year when she enrolled in demanding advanced placement classes.



The FHS senior won’t work this summer because she has a summer internship. The Borlaug-Ruan International internship will take her to Patancheru, India, where she will research nutrition through the World Food Prize.

“I went to a summer camp where they talked about the World Food Prize,” she said. “You have to submit a paper and attend the Iowa Youth Insitute, which I did junior year. I wrote about health care in Ethiopia.”

Gebremariam attended the Global Youth Insitute in October, and that made her eligible to apply for this international internship.



Gebremariam earned a full-ride to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Higgins encouraged her to apply for the Questbridge Program, a nonprofit that helps low-income students get into major universities. Gebremariam’s major is “medicine, health and society,” and she will be on the pre-med track.

“I knew I wanted to go to a big medical school that’s well known for research,” Gebremariam said. “Once I found out about Questbridge, I looked into their partner colleges, and selected six I wanted to match with.”

She was really hoping to go to a school in a state with a warmer climate, and she said Tennessee fits the bill.



Gebremariam’s father is Girma Tessema and her mother is Gorfua Areda. She has an older sister, Melat, a student at George Washington University, who always has her back.

“My parents have made a lot of sacrifices for me, and they’re really hard-working people. I definitely got that trait from them,” she said. “My sister encourages me more than anyone else. I always think, ‘Oh, I’m not going to get this,’ and she says, ‘Just do it!’”

Gebremariam said her community and school have been great influences as well, and particularly her best friend Natalie Brader, co-president with her on Student Council.




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