Freedom rings out praise for Isha Jain
Student receives $100,000 for college as result of top science prize.

Saturday, December 15, 2007
The Express-Times

BETHLEHEM TWP. | After school officials, politicians and hundreds of students spent an hour gushing over Isha Jain, she got up and confessed: "When I heard about this assembly ... I was so embarrassed."

That admission undoubtedly reminded adults in Freedom High School's auditorium Friday that for all her accomplishments -- most notably snagging the nation's top student science prize and becoming the first girl to do it -- Jain is only 16.

Assistant Professor Kathy Iovine and young researcher, Isha Jain

She's on a path toward world-changing scientific discovery, but remains self-conscious as only a teenager could be.

Already, research begun when she was 13 has advanced the study of growth spurts, according to a judge who earlier this month awarded Jain first place in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

"For a high school student to be embarking on studies at a doctoral level is mind-boggling," said Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Lewis.

Approaching the podium after two of the assembly's three standing ovations, Jain said she used to compartmentalize her life.

The 12th-grader didn't tell classmates about her research at Lehigh University so she wouldn't be labeled a science geek and shied from discussing Freedom with Lehigh labmates so the college kids wouldn't think less of her because she's a high school student.

"Now that everyone knows everything, I realize there was no need for that," said Jain, whose peers cheered her Friday with enthusiasm usually reserved for sports stars.

She gave as good as she got though, telling well-wishers their support paved the way for her success.

"You guys have made me who I am," Jain said. "You are the reason I'm here."

Her win at the Siemens Competition in New York City came with a $100,000 college scholarship and lots of media attention, including a story and photograph in The New York Times.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent said he saw the piece and afterward told his son, "The only way I'll get my picture in The New York Times is if I do something really naughty or really stupid."

The congressman is one of five elected officials who turned out to laud Jain, a Bethlehem resident. State Rep. Steve Samuelson dubbed her a "genius of the 21st century" and state Sen. Lisa Boscola promised to get her a meeting with Gov. Ed Rendell, who phoned Jain with congratulations after the big win.

Jain's parents, Himanshu and Sweety Jain, and teachers she's had over the years attended the event. Even Liberty High School Principal JoAnn Durante braved heckling from Freedom students to wish the teen well.

"This is a wonderful day for Freedom and it's a wonderful day for the district" School board President Loretta Leeson told Jain. "You are a very inspirational young lady and you will hear that over and over again."