STEM top 2 going in different directions

STEM Academy's valedictorian Abigail Paredes and salutatorian Forrest Harlow pose for a photo at the STEM Academy sign Thursday. They had a friendly competition to get to their spots atop the student body. Paredes is heading to Texas A&M Galveston to study marine biology and Harlow to University College Dublin to study computer science. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

The race for the top two spots at STEM Academy between Abigail Paredes and Forrest Harlow was close and came down to the end.

“Frankly, I don’t think the teachers were sure who was going to get it because at the celebration for the top five, her video played before mine, even though she was ahead of me in the rankings which indicates, at least to me, that when they were editing our videos into one clip, they thought I was ahead of her,” Harlow said.

Paredes turned out to be the valedictorian and Harlow the salutatorian.

Harlow said the graduating class is only 38 students. Commencement is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 23 at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

Harlow plans to attend University College Dublin to study computer science. He’s leaning toward going for a graduate degree in cybersecurity.

Paredes is going to Texas A&M Galveston to study marine biology and a master’s degree after that “at the very least.”

“There’s a bunch of different fields you can go into. There’s a bunch of research fields. I personally want to go into conservation and rehabilitation. That involves going out and rescuing any of the animals and bringing them to a facility if they need extra help, getting them better and then releasing them back out into the wild,” Paredes said.

She added that she has always loved animals.

“I just find them all so fascinating,” Paredes said.

Harlow’s term in Ireland will start in September. He decided on University College Dublin because both of his parents have studied internationally at one point or another.

“And they tell me that they learned so much from living in a culture that wasn’t their own, that they couldn’t have hoped to learn in any other way and I hope to emulate that in my college experience,” he said.

As long as he can remember, Harlow has liked computers. Most of what he knows he learned in school. In elementary school, they had mandatory computer lab.

In middle and high school at STEM Academy, everything is based on knowing how to use a computer.

“Most of what I know did start at school in some way. After that point, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve taught myself, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the foundation that ECISD has provided me,” Harlow said.

Generally speaking, Harlow is excited about the possibilities and potential ahead of him.

Paredes, who has been going to STEM since it opened 10 years ago, said she has enjoyed the program at STEM Academy.

“I think the way that the campus works, it just formed such a nice little community that you can rely on each other for help whenever you need it. If the students don’t understand something, (the) teachers are willing to help you at any given moment and they’re not afraid to say they don’t know either. I think that helps students be more aware that it’s okay to not know something and the teachers and students will learn together. I think that’s just really cool,” Paredes said.

Harlow said he came to STEM in sixth grade and before that was at Cameron Elementary School.

Paredes said if she were to advise other kids who wanted to get into the top 10 or top 2, she would tell them not to give up.

“It’s going to be hard. There’s going be a bunch of people that are rooting for you if you know you can do it. You have to believe in yourself, and even if you don’t believe in yourself, find somebody who can push you that extra mile. I think Forrest did that for me quite a bit when I was doubting myself,” Paredes said.

She added that students shouldn’t be afraid to fail or ask for help.

Harlow said students should learn what their limits are.

“If a class is too difficult for you, and you’re able to drop it don’t feel bad about dropping it. I made that mistake last semester with a class I was assigned through UTPB and it lowered my grade point average quite a bit,” he added.

“Your teachers are there for you. your parents are there for you. You have resources available. Don’t be afraid to use them,” Harlow said.

As an example, Paredes said they had a study group for precalculus.

Because the class is so small and has been together so long, their relationship is almost sibling-ish.

“You have those that are like super close and you have those they get into their squabbles from time to time. But I would say we all know each other pretty well. We kind of all know what each other likes; what we don’t like,” Paredes said.

Harlow would agree with that.

“I think I would say we all know each other pretty well. But I think that also comes at the cost of between friendship groups, most of the dynamic is petty political squabbling, rather than, hey, I know you, let’s go do something,” he added.

Paredes said there have been times when the friend groups intermix and they hang out together.

For the past two years, Paredes has been President of the National Honor Society. Before that, she was the secretary her sophomore year. She was also part of the Destination Imagination team throughout high school “here and there.” She was fundraising chair for Student Council last year.

Paredes also works for the Midland RockHounds and ECISD as an AVID tutor. She’s an assistant manager in the picnics department for the RockHounds.

“While we’re there, me and the manager tell the team members what their specific station is. So if they’re at the window, they’ll be serving the food. A lot of us come in early, like four hours early, and just make thousands of hotdogs every single game day,” Paredes said.

Harlow has been the head programmer on the school’s flagship robotics team for a while, an NHS and Student Council member and he’s been a team member on the UIL computer science team.

He also has interned at the Odessa American. Harlow also is very active in his church, Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, and does a lot of volunteer work through them such as the Jubilee Center of Midland food pantry. He has also done work for Venture Robotics, helping teach their home school program.