Camas High School Salutatorian Abigail Jiang

California Institute of Technology-bound student inspired by mentoring others

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Abigail Jiang, Camas High School's salutatorian for the class of 2019, will attend California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Abigail Jiang. Camas High School’s salutatorian for the class of 2019, is interested in things like science, technology, activism and politics, which have the potential to alter societies in major ways.

She certainly has the intelligence to thrive in a role in one of those fields, but she doesn’t feel like she has to make a major discovery or be part of an influential social movement to change the world. She’d rather use her prodigious abilities to help other people.

“I don’t really care about making a big world impact,” Jiang said. “I’ve never been like, ‘I want to be like Elon Musk or Bill Gates.’ They are incredible people. Successful people. But I haven’t really had a role model.”

Instead, Jiang’s drive come from mentoring others.

“I really love teaching other people, or being able to help them,” she said. “If I can make a difference in somebody’s life, through either my STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) experience or being a solid mentor or friend, that really means a lot to me.”

Jiang became inspired to give back during her high school career. She attended elementary and middle school in the Evergreen School District, and when she entered the Camas School District as a freshman, she wasn’t quite sure how to fit in. But once she joined the school’s Science Olympiad and math, science and technology (MST) magnet programs, she began to thrive.

“Science Olympiad has been a huge part of my life,” said Jiang, who has served as the club’s president this school year. “The magnet (program) ended up being more of a transitional, trying-to-find-and-meet-new-people type of situation for me. It was less about pure academics and more about having a community of 30 people (so) I’m not lost in this new school of 2,500 people.”

Jiang also participated in the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, Knowledge Bowl, girls golf team and the National Honor Society.

She said her interest in science came from her parents. Her mother, Xin Cheng, and father, Lei Jiang, are both engineers.

“I like the process of exploration, (the) logical thinking process,” she said. “I’m less interested in exploring the unknown. That doesn’t really mean anything to me. I’m more on the engineering side of finding solutions to real world problems that can be solved through STEM or technology.”

For the past three years, Jiang served as a research assistant at the Coffin Lab of Neuroscience at Washington State University Vancouver, studying the impact of stress on antibiotic-induced hearing loss.

“I worked with a grad student on a project for the first two years, and I actually just got a paper published in a scientific journal,” she said.

After her high school graduation, Jiang will move to Pasadena, California, to attend the California Institute of Technology, which is known for its strength in natural science and engineering and is often ranked as one of the world’s best universities.

Jiang isn’t sure what she wants to study quite yet, but is “is leaning toward” engineering or physics.

“I’ve spent three years in a biology lab, and I think that’s helped me realize that the type of research that bio-researchers do isn’t necessarily what I want to do,” she said. “They’re less about finding particular solutions and more about the exploration of new ideas, and I want to find solutions.”

Monica Chang, Camas High’s class of 2019 valedictorian and Jiang’s friend since the fourth grade, said “she could talk for hours” about Jiang’s admirable qualities.

“She’s so hardworking. She has an incredible work ethic,” Chang said. “She’s truly curious and absolute brilliant, of course. In math class she’s always the first one to ‘get it,’ and she explains it to us. She’s so generous with her time. I’m so grateful to have her at my side.”

Jiang has impressed her mentors, including Camas High physics teacher Tristan Wells.

“Her ability to pick up the content and apply the content to new situations far exceeds that of her peers. She is very intelligent and infinitely absorptive,” Wells said. “I teach one of the most difficult classes that is taught in the high school setting, and though it was tough for everyone … I can tell from a teacher standpoint that I never got her to her limit.”

Through her work with clubs and activities, Jiang has learned collaboration and leadership skills.

“I’d say I’m a team worker,” said Jiang, who has played piano since she was 5 years old and dabbles in guitar. “(I’m also) dedicated. Take the neuroresearch, for example. Even though I don’t think I’ll go into biology, I know I really loved that experience, so I did it for three years. I like to follow through on things.”

Jiang credited several Camas High teachers, including Kim Newman, Wells and Elisabeth Edwards, for inspiring her to consider academia as a career path.

“They have showed me how impactful teachers can be,” Jiang said. “I feel like if I can give back that way, I don’t have to make a world-changing discovery.”