Kimberly Mestizo swears she has time for sleep — “at least four or five hours a night,” she says. But it’s hard to imagine when. Among a lengthy list of activities, the 18-year-old MacArthur High School senior takes a full load of classes that includes five sections of Advanced Placement, has published the results of a summer internship in a science journal,
and maintains a straight-A average.
On top of all this, over the past year Mestizo has accumulated more than 250 hours of service to her school and community, in the process earning a President’s Volunteer Service award signed by President Trump.
The award recognizes people of all ages who have given substantial service to their communities. It is given in three degrees and several age groups. Mestizo won the Gold Award.
The list of her accomplishments would be impressive for a woman twice her age. For example, after a six-week internship at Brookhaven National Laboratory last summer, Mestizo joined six former MacArthur students to publish the results of her investigation into the production of human insulin crystals. Her work, undertaken under the supervision of biomedical researchers Dr. Aleida Perez and Dr. Alexei Soares, explored a new technique of protein crystallization called Gel Exclusion of Nucleation-Inducing Elements, or GENIE, and her research appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Crystals. The technique enhances the accuracy and quality of protein growth, and helps researchers better understand crystal structure, according to an abstract of her article.
“Brookhaven was a great experience,” Mestizo said. “Dr. Perez and Dr. Soares were fantastic mentors, and I also got to attend events where people like [U.S. Energy] Secretary [Rick] Perry spoke.”
The experience not only deepened Mestizo’s fascination with biochemistry. Coupled with her Advanced Placement government class this year, it helped spur her interest in politics, she said. “The things I hear in the news are making much more sense now,” she said. “I’d like to learn more.”
In addition to government, Mestizo takes four other A.P. classes: biology, calculus, literature and composition, and Spanish. She took the first half of the A.P. Capstone program last year, but elected not to continue with the research component. “Something had to give,” she said, smiling. “I just didn’t have any more time.”
Mestizo is a member of her school’s National Honor Society, as well as the Math and World Languages honor societies. As a member of the Key Club, she joined more than 4,000 other walkers last October to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. And she is a peer mentor to incoming freshmen, helping them become oriented to life in high school.
“Kimberly is an exceptional student,” said MacArthur Principal John Sheehan, who nominated her for the presidential award. “She really challenges herself.”
Mestizo also plays the flute in the concert band and is a drum majorette in the marching band. She has played first chair flute in the all-district honor band, and is part of a New York Music Teachers’
Association-sponsored trio of flute, clarinet and oboe.
Outside school, she is especially active in her church, the Centro Evangelistico Assembly of God in Hicksville, a Spanish-speaking church where her grandfather, Sylvester Mestizo, is the pastor. She teaches a children’s Sunday school group, and leads a weekly youth service, in which she also preaches, plays guitar and sings in the band that accompanies the services.
Mestizo’s service record makes it clear that she is determined to explore as many opportunities to help others as possible. “There are so many different ways of being involved,” she said.
Mestizo’s family emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador before she was born, and family is very important to her. “We’re very close,” she said.
She credits her family with instilling in her a commitment to service. “Doing what we can for others is a strong value in our household,” she said.
Having God, family and friends has been important, she said, but she added that good mentors and the strong support of her teachers has also been critical, strengthening her ability to reach beyond herself. For example, MacArthur faculty members Dr. David Fried and Matthew Zausin helped her prepare for the Charles Duggan Long Island Science and Engineering Fair on March 19, where she again presented her project on protein crystallization.
She also thanked her physics teacher, Eric Tomkins, for igniting a passion for physics; and band director Joseph Romano for being available and willing to listen when she had difficulties, in addition to the encouragement he gave her as a musician. She stressed that this was far from a complete list of all the teachers and friends who have been important to her in her high school career.
Mestizo is leaning toward majoring in biochemistry, with an eye toward biomedical research. “It’d be great to work on a project developing a new antibiotic or a new cure for a disease,” she said. “With something like that, I could help thousands.”