UPPER DUBLIN — Hannah Xiao has racked up a slew of academic honors, plays varsity tennis, serves leadership roles for several clubs, is a cultural student ambassador and has won top awards at science fairs and the Allied Arts Show.
Perhaps the only one surprised she was chosen as the winner of the Upper Dublin Medal for Outstanding Student was Hannah, herself.
“I didn’t know it was a thing,” said Xiao of the medal, during a May 2 interview. “My mom and older sister knew. I was told it’s the highest honor you could bestow on a student.
“It’s an honor. I realized that this is really cool.”
A National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, Xiao has a 4.783 GPA and will attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she plans to study physics and visual arts.
Asked the connection between the two subjects, Xiao said, “I like how physics keeps me thinking. I’m interested in how the world works.
“I also do sculpture,” she said, noting she won first place in mixed-media at the high school’s annual Allied Arts Show May 1. Last year her 3-D artwork won Best in Show and in 2016 she received First in Ceramics in 2016.
“I’ve always been a perfectionist and people-pleaser. I hold myself to high standards,” Xiao said. “I always wanted to be proud of my work. That’s what makes my art a little different, it’s so detail-oriented.”
Accepted into the Vagelos Scholars program at Penn, Xiao said, “I’m not sure if I will be able to double-major, but I will be able to get a master’s in physics in four years.”
She won first place at the PA Junior Academy of Sciences and Montgomery County Science Fair and second place at the Delaware Valley Science fair this year for creating a compostable gluten-based material to replace disposable plastics.
“It’s something I would like to see to fruition; I don’t know where it will go yet,” Xiao said. “Penn has a good materials science program,” which she attended last summer.
Among her other research projects have been using additives to decrease the freezing point of biodiesel and developing a new Ames Test for assessing mutagenic potential of chemical compounds.
Xiao played second doubles on the high school's Girl's Tennis Team, serving as co-captain this year. She is president of the Chemistry Club, Health Club vice-president, and a board member of the Future Business Leaders of America. Last year, she competed at the FBLA National Leadership Conference in the Graphic Design category.
She was a dancer on the high school's Step Team, a member of the Science Olympiad and did photography for the school’s literary magazine, Rhapsody.
A student ambassador on the Asian-American Students and Family Committee, Xiao said, “I push for things I think are good issues that need to be brought to light.”
The Lunar New Year is an important celebration and a few years back the district made it a student holiday — a teacher in-service day, she said. “I thought it would be better to have it written in the school calendar, for all to be more culturally aware,” and convinced the administration to do that this year.
“My Asian heritage,” which she says she rejected somewhat as a child, “is an important part of my identity,” Xiao said.
Outside of school, she works part time as a diet aide at Fort Washington Estates, serving medical residents and training co-workers.
“I like working with [the residents]. They are all really nice people. I try to make them comfortable,” she said.
The 17-year-old Dresher resident isn’t all seriousness, though.
“I love being in class and talking to my teachers and being involved. I send them information on things,” and sometimes funny memes, she said. “I saw a thing about climate change and sent to my economics teacher, and he brought up a few things about it.”
Sporting a chicken lover’s T-shirt and beautifully manicured iridescent green polished nails — “painted continuously since freshman year” — Xiao said she also loves to cook and garden.
“I love chicken,” she said, noting the family has chickens that lay eggs they eat — not the chickens. She also has seven “chicken-lover” T-shirts.