Whether it’s in a lab or in the classroom, participating in one of her various clubs or volunteering, senior Vera Okolo goes above and beyond in and out of the classroom.
She wasn’t always this outgoing, however.
As a freshman, Okolo had a hard time adjusting at MTHS due to the fact that she had previously gone to private school and none of her friends transferred with her.
“I was really shy as a freshman and I didn’t really talk that much to people. It took me a while because none of my friends came with me and I didn’t know anyone,” Okolo said.
What encouraged Okolo to get involved was a friend during her sophomore year who helped her meet new people and come out of her shell.
Okolo’s first impression of MTHS was better than she expected, and she thought the people were was really nice.
“I didn’t really anticipate [MTHS] being so full of really nice people,” she said. “I had these bad perceptions of high school already from what I’ve heard from other people, but until I experienced it for myself, and maybe it’s just our school, but there are just a lot of nice people here and nice teachers that are willing to help and that was one thing about MTHS I was kind of ‘wow’ about.”
At the beginning of her sophomore year, Okolo decided to become a member of BSU, Key Club and was inducted into the National Honors Society. She stuck with these clubs for the remainder of her time at MTHS.
The clubs Okolo joined were instrumental in her development at Terrace, and she regrets not getting involved her freshman year.
“[If I could give myself one piece of advice] it would be don’t be shy, get in there and do something,” Okolo said.
When Okolo isn’t participating in a BSU or KEY club meeting, she most often finds herself in the MTHS library.
“[The library] is sort of my hangout spot, I know that’s a little lame, but this is where I actually meet a lot of people and talk to people. I can concentrate here, obviously.” Okolo said.
To Okolo, the serenity and the people are what draw her in.
“My best ideas come [to me] here,” she said. “If I’m trying to concentrate, or trying to think, or just need some time to myself, I [go] to the library.”
As a remarkably motivated individual, Okolo said part of her drive comes from a piece of advice she received when she was younger.
“Someone told me that there is always something to do. If you think you have nothing to do, go look for something to do,” she said. “If I think I’m done, I go and find something to do.”
In Okolo’s case, she has overcome some of her timidity and made use of her time by volunteering and tutoring children.
“I grew a little and I started looking for more opportunities to do things and [began] trying to help other people,” Okolo said.
Okolo volunteers her time at the Lynnwood Library, has tutored at Terrace Park Elementary and through Honor Society and does other volunteering through the clubs she’s involved in.
Okolo said her parents have always played a huge role in her encouragement.
“They always encouraged me in anything. They value education overall and they always kind of pushed me since I was young,” Okolo said.
This is also why they enrolled Okolo in private school for the beginning of her educational career. Her private school is where she developed her passion for biology and the sciences.
Out of all the classes she has taken at MTHS, her favorites were chemistry and AP chemistry. Okolo said that this is because science teacher John Traxler is somehow able to make something like AP Chemistry fun to learn.
Okolo’s interest in chemistry and science-related topics are among the primary reasons she stumbled upon an internship opening at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, commonly referred to as Fred Hutch. Okolo said she had been looking for internship opportunities for a while and never found anything until late in the year.
“I was in the computer room of my house, and I was just kind of… looking, and I just found it,” she said.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, more commonly referred to as Fred Hutch, is home to world-class scientists, including three Nobel Laureates. They have worked towards the prevention, detection and treatment for several cancers and other diseases.
With such a high profile reputation, it’s no wonder Okolo shared her concerns about applying for the internship program at Fred Hutch.
“I was really nervous. I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she said.
At that time, she said she didn’t think she should even sign up for it. One of the main reasons she ended up applying for the internship at Fred Hutch was vigorous encouragement from her parents.
Okolo said her parents made comments such as ‘What are you talking about? You can do it! I don’t know why you doubt yourself.’ Okolo said after this talk she decided to apply and was later accepted.
Once she was accepted, she said she essentially worked at Fred Hutch all summer. For her, it was “a lot of lab work and wet lab work,” where you use devices, follow lab procedures and do daily tests.
Although she did lab work often, Okolo spent much of her time on other tasks. She primarily worked in an office with a mentor who was studying HIV.
Most of her work consisted of categorizing survey information. That being said, most of what she learned is extremely confidential as it involved real people.
Even though Okolo worked the whole summer, towards the end the whole group of student interns and mentors came together and did lab work together. Occasionally, they would take breaks to play games.
Okolo said meeting everyone was at the top of her list of experiences at Fred Hutch, and the entire experience was a great opportunity.
“Those kinds of opportunities are really rare, because they are also really nice people,” she said.
These experiences will help Okolo later in life as well because she and the people that worked alongside her have created meaningful connections.
Because of her experiences at Fred Hutch, she said she really opened up and came out of her shell.
“I wasn’t as timid anymore,” she said.
It also helped her decide what she wants to do as a career.
“I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but then I found other facets of biology besides medicine and going to [Fred Hutch] helped me shape [my post-high school plan], too,” Okolo said.
As she graduates from MTHS and moves on to bigger and better things, Okolo plans to major in Molecular Biology at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle.
Okolo said one of her proudest achievements would have to be winning the Costco Diversity Scholarship, which is awarded to students that are going to be attending the UW.
At $10,000 a year, she said it will cover about half of her tuition.
Okolo said that if she were to pick a favorite memory from her time her at MTHS, it would be all the people she met.
“I met a lot of people here and some old faces, too, from when I was younger,” she said.
Okolo said that meeting and having a good time with everyone is something she will cherish for the years to come.