Pinnacle 2017 Scholarship Winners

Congratulations to our 2017 Winners!

Kiara Bacasen
Otay Ranch High School

Kiara Bacasen comes from a highly ambitious family that includes five children. Her parents brought their family across the ocean to find a place where their hard work would translate into fair and just returns. Jorgina Hall, Bacasen’s biology teacher and current KIWIN’s community service club advisor, has had the opportunity to observe her. With a rank of five out of 569 students in her senior class, Bacasen is considered one of Otay Ranch High School’s academic leaders. Hall states, “As a 12th grader, Kiara is the first Otay Ranch High School student to have been accepted into the prestigious San Diego Life Sciences Summer Institute High School Student Research Program. Kiara has gained valuable lab experience during the last two months working for Dr. SkowronskaKrawczyk in Dr. Zhang’s Lab in the Ophthalmology Department at UC San Diego. By participating in this unique science research paid position, she has expanded her science knowledge and skills beyond her normal school coursework. Kiara’s supervisor has extended her stay for an additional two months and possibly beyond.” Bacasen currently is working with Dr. Laura Isobel-McCall as she pursues her interest in parasitic infection and the hygiene hypothesis. Bacasen also volunteers with SHARP Chula Vista and Corpus Christi Youth Leadership. She has applied to Stanford, MIT, UCLA and other schools that will allow her to pursue a highly impactful career in mathematics, the sciences and other related subjects. 


Liana Merk
Canyon Crest Academy

 It seems that Liana Merk has always been a volunteer. She has been an avid member of the National Charity League for the past six years; donated hours of her time to raise awareness for the San Diego Library; taught children of all ages the joys of caring for animals through the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter; volunteers with Salk’s Education Outreach; and through San Diego Feeding America works to make an impact on the lives of underprivileged San Diego residents. Merk’s love of the STEM environment led to a paid internship as part of the Life Sciences Summer Institute, specifically working for the Laboratory for Gene Expression. Her innate curiosity led her to blossom in this position. She extracted RNA, quantified lipoproteins, determined a cell’s transcriptome, and calculated the exact amount of cholesterol that resides in arteries of an atherosclerosis patient. Merk began researching other types of science and began working with the Nomis Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis. Merk hopes to attend California Institute of Technology, Berkeley or Johns Hopkins University, and has currently been accepted to Caltech and Berkeley, with consideration for the Regents’ Scholarship Program at Berkeley. One of Merk’s teachers says that she is “the absolute dream kid in every way imaginable, has an infectious personality and is a pleasure to work with both for myself and her peers.”


Meilynn Shi
Westview High School

In addition to her love of science, Meilynn Shi has a creative side. She plays the violin and piano, reads literature with beautiful prose and loves to ponder philosophical questions. And, of course, she enjoys math and logic puzzles. Shi has always been an active student as demonstrated by her many school activities including editor-in-chief, news editor and editorial board member for Westview’s national award winning newspaper; president of Westview Advocates for a Better Environment; and participation on the Westview Peer Consulting group and a varsity competitor for the Westview’s Speech & Debate team. In addition, Shi founded Poway Unified School District Food Recovery. Shi has interned at Dr. Hemal Patel’s cardiac/ neuroprotection lab at the UC San Diego VA Hospital. She states, “it was exhilarating to be in a place that pulsed with discovery, as we questioned data and prodded assumptions. Shi also interns at the Palomar Medical Center where she is involved in the diagnoses of patients with obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Jeff Wenger, Shi’s English teacher, notes that “Meilynn is one of the hardest-working, most conscientious students I’ve taught in my 21 years on the job. She’s also one of the smartest. Driven and motivated to learn, Meilynn would be an asset to any team or any university.” Shi has applied to Boston University, Columbia University, Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Virginia, Brown University and Rice University for their strong humanities programs. 


Tammy Truong
Vista High School

Ever since Tammy Truong was in kindergarten, she had her heart and mind set on pursuing her dream of a career in the medical field. In the summer of 2015, she was fortunate to attend a summer medical camp at UC San Diego called Camp Cardiac. A year later, she applied to the Summer Medical Academy (SMA) at Rady Children’s Hospital and UC San Diego and was admitted to spend two weeks learning about various branches of medicine such as pediatrics, surgery and pharmacy. The lectures, activities and conversations with health professionals and the relationships with inspiring doctors at the SMA heavily influenced her decision to become a pediatrician. Truong currently volunteers at Tri-City Hospital. During her four years in high school, Truong distinguished herself in several areas including her participation in numerous clubs. She also finds the time to teach character leadership to elementary students. Truong also participates in Key Club Service events, and organizes events for Oceanside Parks and Recreation. As a first-generation college student, attending college is a very important to Truong because her parents went through major challenges to immigrate to the United States. Among her many interests Truong plays the piano and composes music, dances in Vietnamese cultural performances, and enjoys being outdoors, hiking and camping. Truong hopes to attend the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) or Boston University.


Jessica Xu
Maranatha Christian School

From a young age, Jessica Xu has been intrigued by how things work and drawn to hands-on activities. When she was four years old, her parents would find her dismantling shipment packaging to construct new structures. In first grade, she brought pH paper from her chemistry kit instead of her stuffed animal to show-and tell. Since her freshman year in high school, she has been actively involved in designing and building experimental modules sent to the International Space Station, a rare opportunity that exists in a small number of high schools around the world. Xu has worked on two modules that have traveled to space and back. Now as the project manager of the San Diego Youth Space Program (SDYSP), which has expanded to include 20 students from seven high schools, Xu led the team for a module assigned to NASA’s SpaceX-11 launch which launched April 9. The module will run aboard the International Space Station for 30 days, investigating the phototropic response of garden cress in microgravity. Xu also founded her high school’s newspaper during her sophomore year, and earned National Honor Society recognition during 11th and 12th grades. She volunteers as a camp buddy for special needs children and teaches children’s Sunday school. Her high school counselor Joe Mireles, recognizes Xu as a model student, “Jessica’s unique strengths in science and art... and her ability to explore both areas to such level of proficiency during her time in high school are especially worthy of note.” Xu is pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering. She has applied to UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, USC, MIT, Duke, Vanderbilt and Washington University in St. Louis.