Alena Pursel has a remarkably low-tech method for studying. She saves the worksheets from each class, going over them before a test. “And for vocabulary, I’m a visual person, so I write out the terms,” she said.
Pursel’s writing things down and going over them is part of a journey that brought her to the designation of Valedictorian for the Londonderry High School Class of 2017. Salutatorian Kiersten Hoglund used a similar common-sense method to achieve her status. Both girls are focused on careers in the sciences.
Pursel grew up in the Londonderry system, spending her elementary years at South School. She always liked school and academics, but it really clicked in the fifth grade. “That was the first time I got all A’s,” she said, “and I decided I wanted to keep doing it.”
Pursel’s favorite courses are in science and the arts. She’s a visual artist, focusing on watercolors and sketching. She plays piano and also plays clarinet in the Lancers Marching Band
She enjoys the sciences, and said the course she had the most struggle with over her four years was Macro Economics. “It was more complicated than I’d realized,” Puscel said. But she mastered it with her worksheet and vocabulary method, she added.
Writing things down is, to her, the biggest part of studying. “If I can get it down on paper, I know I’m comfortable with it,” she said. “Writing it down gets it in your head.”
Pursel has very little homework, noting, :”I do it in school.” But she keeps busy in her spare time. She’s a member of the school’s PVC Pirates robotics team, a member of the Math French and Music honor societies, and takes private piano lessons. She’s also a chemistry lab aide. In the summer she volunteers at a senior center in Salem, everything from playing piano to cleaning, and she’s also an assistant art teacher at the Currier Gallery.
Pursel plans a career in chemical engineering. She was accepted at several colleges and is leaning toward Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or Oregon State.
Her parents are in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, she said, so it’s always been part of her life. “I’m fascinated by the design process, and the execution of the design,” she said.
She is the daughter of Rekha Doshi-Pursel and Rob Pursel.
Hoglund said she has always liked to learn, “though I never particularly liked homework.” She attended elementary school at North School. “My favorite subject was definitely math,” she said, and in middle school she expanded that to include science.
In high school her favorite courses were biology, chemistry and “definitely calculus,” she said. English was her weak area and she had to work a little harder, she said.
This year she has had 1 to 1 1/2 hours of homework most nights, though she had three hours in junior year, noting, “the course load was the same, but the classes were tougher.”
Hoglund said her study skills include time management, a skill she mastered because she’s always been on sports teams. “I have a strict practice and game, schedule, so it’s forced me to prioritize,” she said. She does her homework as soon as it’s assigned, and recopies her notes and makes her own study guides, she said.
Hoglund played soccer her freshman, sophomore and junior years. She’s played lacrosse all four years, and this year is a team co-captain. In school she’s a member of the National Honor Society and Math Honor Society.
For college, she’s deciding between Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and will major in biomedical engineering.
She is the daughter of Cari and Erik Hoglund, and has one younger brother.