NJ Lt. Governor and BioNJ Honor NJ Student for Top Honors at International Biology Olympiad during BIO International Convention

BioNJ President Debbie Hart, left, and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, right, congratulate Rebecca Shi, for her outstanding achievements at the 2011 International Biology Olympiad.

BOSTON – (June 20, 2012) A New Jersey teen who as a high school senior earned top honors at the 2011 International Biology Olympiad was honored yesterday by New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and BioNJ President Debbie Hart at a special ceremony here during the world’s largest annual biotechnology conference.

Rebecca Shi, a 2011 graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, is the first U.S. female team member to take top honors in the world in individual scores at the long-running Olympiad, where 58 other nations sent teams to compete. Team USA 2011, comprised of Rebecca and three other high school seniors from around the U.S., also placed first in the team competition and collected four gold medals in practical assessments and theory.

“It’s such a great honor to be recognized by such accomplished professionals in the industry,” Ms. Shi said in an interview last week from Purdue University, where she was helping high school seniors from around the country prepare for this year’s Olympiad.

Rebecca, who goes by “Becky”, was presented with a BioNJ Special Achievement Award by New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Guadagno and BioNJ President Debbie Hart at the New Jersey Pavilion during Biotechnology Industry Organization’s International Convention in Boston.

“Congratulations to Becky for her significant accomplishments at the Biology Olympiad, and the inspiration she provides our state and our nation’s future scholars and scientists through her hard work, educational achievement and dedication to helping others,” said Lt. Governor Guadagno. “It is the depth of quality and committed talent from our young scholars like Becky to a host of globally renowned bio scientists that make New Jersey the innovation state and ideal place to locate and grow biotech companies.”

BioNJ President Debbie Hart offered her congratulations to Rebecca and said she takes particular pride that a state known for its biocluster also produced the world’s top high school senior in biology last year.

“It’s terrific to see one of our own students excelling in this exciting and still-emerging field,” said Hart. “Biotech offers so many people so much through promise of new medicines and other advances and it’s heartening to see such very bright young people like Becky coming up who will continue to move our industry forward.”

The McClean Va.-based non-profit Center for Excellence in Education co-sponsors the U.S. Biology Olympiad (USABO) and Team USA with Purdue University. Nearly 10,500 students from across the U.S. registered for the highly competitive USABO.

“The Center is proud of the success of Team USA 2011 to honor the United States with their outstanding academic performance – Number One team in the world at the IBO,” said Joann DiGennaro, the Center’s president. “Rebecca Shi received the Number One individual score in the world at the global competition and this is a remarkable achievement for U.S. academics.”

A very modest Rebecca, who just completed her freshman year at MIT, will concede after prodding that she’s proud of her accomplishment, adding, “in that everything I’ve done has paid off.”

More so, she’s hoping her parents are proud of their only child making such a mark on, yes, the world.

When we caught up with her on her mobile phone, Rebecca was in the middle of helping this year’s field of high school seniors compete.

“It’s pretty rewarding,” she says of her experience helping other students. “We try to show them everything we’ve learned in the international competition and try to prepare them as best we can.”

On her being the first female from the U.S. ever to claim top score, she says she hasn’t given it a lot of thought. “I wasn’t aware of it,” she says of the time her top score was announced in Taiwan. “Maybe it’s because three-quarters of our U.S. team were also female.”

What she is focused on is her future.

The 18-year-old – she was just 17 when she won the competition — is majoring in biology at prestigious MIT and considering attaining an M.D., Ph.D. She says she may also “pursue research and possibly become a professor. I enjoy helping others and I’ve found it’s nice to impart knowledge.”

In the immediate future, she’s looking forward to attending the BIO 2012 International Convention as BioNJ’s guest.

“I’ve never attended such a huge conference,” Rebecca says of the gathering, where some 15,000 biotech and life sciences professionals from 65 nations will be on hand. “It’ll be interesting to meet all those people who are doing work on a larger scale. It’ll be more relevant to the real world than a competition.”

She says she’s looking forward to learning more about the biotech field. For starters, it’s a field where Becky’s very bright future has already begun to unfold.