Melanie Volz, 18, is headed to Harvard University. A Wantagh native, she is Wantagh High School’s valedictorian after years of high academic achievement in the district’s schools. Her passion lies in social studies and math, which she has long excelled in.
“Since I was very young,” she said, “my mom really tried to make sure I had a strong mathematical foundation.”
Volz finished her high school career with a 107.286 grade point average and won a gold medal for her research project at the Al Kalfus Long Island Math Fair in May 2020. Her project, titled “An Analysis on the Ratio of Side Lengths and Areas Concerning the Angle Bisected of 30-60-90 and 45-45-90 Triangles,” beat out more than 200 others competing in her category at the fair.
Aside from her outstanding academic achievements, what makes Volz stand out is her constant eagerness to learn more and improve, her teachers said. “While most students simply want to earn the highest grades possible,” said David Garey, her Advanced Placement literature teacher, “Melanie’s main priority is seeking constructive criticism and learning how she can improve. She’s told me she’d rather receive a 90 percent with a good explanation of what she can do better than receive a 100 percent, because with the 90, there’s room for growth. She is most concerned with maximizing her potential.”
Another quality that distinguishes Volz is her passion for helping others. “Doing volunteer work was a big part of my high school career because I really like helping other people,” she said. “Since my junior year, I volunteered at the National Museum of Mathematics every Sunday, until they closed due to Covid-19. I would get on the train at 6 a.m. and usually wouldn’t get back until around 6 p.m. This took up a large part of my weekends, but I didn’t mind.”
Her school guidance counselor, Maria Malafis, spoke about Volz’s affinity for helping others. “Melanie is constantly offering up her time to help her peers with math, because she genuinely enjoys both mathematics and helping others,” Malafis said. “But beyond that, she is truly the type of person you can ask for help with anything. Just recently, I asked her to create digital artwork for the program of an award ceremony I’m organizing for our junior class. She has become a resource for everyone at our school. Our guidance director knows her, she’s part of our student government, our club moderators know her, and we all go to her for help with many things.”
Volz has also been a Girl Scout in Wantagh Troop 3432 since she was in kindergarten and is currently working on her Gold Award project. Volz’s project, “Think Math,” will offer an outlet for teenagers to explore non-traditional topics in mathematics. It will focus on six topics that are not normally taught in high school math classrooms and will provide instructional content, with both text and videos, teaching the topics.
“Math is often seen as just a way of memorizing equations and formulas,” Volz explained, “and oftentimes when a student wants to learn more, there are prerequisites required and socio-economic barriers that get in the way. This project will level the playing field by giving students the opportunity to further explore math on their own, outside of school and free of charge.”
Malafis also commented on Volz’s resourcefulness and self-sufficiency. “Many students ask me what they need to be doing to get into Ivy League schools, which is a wonderful thing to do, but Melanie isn’t like that. She’s resourceful,” Malafis said. “She finds tons of programs on her own.”
Volz spent a summer studying at Oxford University and another summer at the University of Hong Kong. During the pandemic, Malafis said, Volz signed up for the AP art history exam. “She studied independently for it,” Malafis said, “simply because she had extra time.”
Volz said that her Oxford experience helped her to become more independent because she had little to no supervision during the day while not in class. Her trip to the University of Hong Kong prompted her to further explore mathematics.
“My favorite part of Oxford was meeting people from all around the world and learning about their cultures,” she said. “While at Hong Kong University, I realized their mathematics program was much more interesting to me than math topics I learned at my high school.”
The experience led her to study AP calculus and multivariable calculus on her own during her junior and senior years.
Malafis went on to say that the combination of Volz’s character, ability and work ethic is what makes her an ideal candidate for valedictorian.
Volz is currently preparing to attend Harvard University, where she plans to major in mathematics and economics.
When asked what advice she would give to other students who would like to follow her example and perhaps become valedictorian, she was quick to reply.
“I would say to take your time and figure out what your passions are. If you truly are passionate about what you do, no matter what happens to you, you will come out on top,” she said. “It’s also important to surround yourself with supportive people. That way, when things get tough, you will always have that safety net to help you bounce back and do what you need to do.”