“I’m always caught between two or three things,” Adriana Nazarko says of her varied interests, “and I like to use my knowledge of all of them to help structure something.” Right now, for example, the 2017 Coca-Cola Scholar is working on an app to register viral and bacterial genetic codes through a drop of blood, similar to the way diabetics measure their blood glucose level. “I wouldn’t be able to create this app without knowledge of medicine and I wouldn’t be able to know any of the language for the app without knowing syntax, like in English. It’s really interesting how everything flows together and how general knowledge of a lot of subjects helps to pinpoint exactly what you need.”
The bulk of that knowledge comes from her experience as a high school student in the public magnet program in St. Petersburg, Florida, that focuses on STEM education. In response to the gender and diversity gap in STEM fields that’s also apparent in the classroom, Adriana helped form a nonprofit, FLASTEM (short for Florida Stem), that brings hands-on workshops to elementary and middle schools in the local area to promote learning with robotics, programming, and technology.
“As a girl and someone who is a minority in the STEM field, I felt that it was something I should do to get other people inspired,” Adriana says.“ It isn’t taught in most schools, so kids don’t get the exposure to it. And they might not have the confidence to pursue something new like coding, so we wanted to spread the love of coding and teach kids! We’ve spoken to hundreds and hundreds of students through the program.”
When she wasn’t teaching kids how to code, or working on her own programming side projects (or, ya know, in class herself), you could usually find Adriana volunteering at St. Pete General Hospital, where she sat at the front desk and directed people where to go. “It’s something that really excited me, and not just because it gave me exposure to the medical field, but because I was in a position where I had the power to actually help people —to get them to the ER or rush them to see their parents or family members.”
You can tell she really means it, too—that the extracurriculars aren’t just about gaining experience or padding a resume, but that she truly enjoys helping others, a passion that was instilled in her as a child. Originally from Ukraine, Adriana remembers her mom and grandmother buying bread for the homeless people that lived in their village whenever they had the money to do so. The family immigrated to the U.S. when Adriana was 5 with hopes for a brighter future. She knows they sacrificed to come here so she could have the opportunities she does today, and their selflessness is what inspires her to work hard to not only achieve success for herself, but to make a larger impact in the world by parlaying her interests into ways to help others. It’s a pay-it-forward sort of mentality that she’s carrying with her to college this fall.
Adriana just started as a freshman at Bowdoin College in Maine, and part of the reason she chose to study there is because of the school’s commitment to giving back, exemplified in part by Common Good Day. An annual tradition, students, faculty, alumni, and staff spend the day volunteering for nonprofits and other local organizations in the area. Sounds like a great opportunity to bring FLASTEM to Maine. So, MESTEM, we wondered? “We’re going to have to change the shirts now!” Adriana adds, with a laugh.
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation celebrates and empowers visionary leaders who are refreshing the world. With its 29th class of Coca-Cola Scholars, the Foundation has provided more than $63 million in scholarships to 5,877 program alumni who together have become a powerful force for positive change.
You could be part of the 30th class! Current high school seniors may apply to be Coca-Cola Scholars using this link through October 31, 2017, at 5 p.m. Eastern. Learn more at www.coca‑colascholars.org.