A passion for science and willingness to challenge oneself has led one high school student to shine brightly. Senior Joshua Stephens is the Thomas County Central High School Class of 2020 STAR Student.
The member of each graduating class with the highest SAT score receives the STAR designation. Stephens is honored and grateful to earn this recognition.
“For me, this honor means that my teachers have done an excellent job in building my education,” Stephens said. “I was pleasantly surprised to receive this honor because it is a manifestation of the work I have done throughout high school to learn all that I can, as well as to be the best that I can be.”
He named science teacher Laura Kornegay as his STAR teacher. Under her tutelage, Stephens has taken Honors Chemistry, AP Chemistry, and AP Environmental Science. Currently, she is his AP Physics teacher and TCCHS Environmental Ambassadors sponsor. But Kornegay also served as Stephens’ Science Olympiad team supervisor during his sophomore year and his fifth-grade LEGO League robotics team coach.
“I chose Mrs. Kornegay because of the influence she has had on my education for the past three years,” Stephens said. “She has consistently challenged me to be my best, inside and outside of the classroom. She has always helped me grow in my education, as well as encouraged me to challenge myself.”
The most valuable lesson Kornegay has imparted to Stephens is the importance of challenging oneself. And years as her student has given him ample opportunities to learn this lesson.
“For example, when I first participated in Science Olympiad, she encouraged me to compete by building a model helicopter, which was an area that no one else from our school had experience in,” Stephens said. “I had to do a substantial amount of research, but by the time of the competition, I was able to do something that I had initially thought impossible.”
Kornegay’s high expectations of her students allowed Stephens to achieve growth in both his education and passion for science.
“Because of Mrs. Kornegay’s encouragement for me to challenge myself, I have been able to work toward being my personal best,” he said.
His favorite experience in her classroom was a lab in AP Chemistry.
“We did a lab over the separation of a mixture,” Stephens said. “The lab was complex, which made it interesting, and it helped me to continue developing my understanding of and passion for chemistry.”
Kornegay thanks the PAGE organization and Thomasville Kiwanis Club for sponsoring the STAR program. And she says it’s an honor to share this recognition with Stephens, whom she describes as well-rounded.
“I first got to know Joshua when he was in middle school and on a LEGO League team I coached,” she said. “Back then, I learned that Joshua is naturally gifted, and he has a strong work ethic to put his talent to good work. He also had a quirky sense of humor that makes him fun to work with. Joshua likes to figure problems out for himself, but he also knows how to work with others to find solutions to problems. In addition to being an outstanding student, he is musically talented and a leader in [the TCCHS] band. He is committed to having a positive impact through community service. Joshua sets high expectations for himself and works hard to achieve them.”
This is Kornegay’s fifth time receiving a STAR teacher designation. Having a positive impact on a student’s education is an honor, she said.
“Getting to teach students multiple years and working with students outside of class on competitive events like Science Olympiad and robotics has allowed me to get to know students better and hopefully contribute to their preparation for life after school,” she said. “I hope that my passion for my subject is contagious and that it motivates at least a few students to continue their studies in the area of science.”
As an educator, Kornegay’s primary goal is to provide a space where students feel safe to take intellectual risks as they learn complex material.
“I hope all of my students can say that they were both challenged in my classroom and provided the support needed to meet that challenge,” she said. “As I have watched my children go through school and on to college, I know how important it is for students to build academic stamina. I want students to know that it is okay sometimes to be frustrated and to have to struggle with academic content. I want students to set challenging academic goals for themselves and then work hard to achieve them.”
After graduation, Stephens intends to study chemical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. But he’ll never forget the teacher who so inspired him throughout many of his formative years.
“I am extremely grateful for all that Mrs. Kornegay has done to help me grow in my education, and this honor would have been impossible without her,” he said.
Kornegay, in turn, expects Stephens to embrace life’s challenges and make a positive impact upon the world.
“Not only is he an outstanding student, but he is also a very fine person with great values and a strong sense of purpose,” she said. “He has been active in environmental ambassadors, and he shows a real sense of stewardship for using his natural gifts and for respecting others and our environment. I have every confidence that he is going to have a very bright future.”