May 24, 2012 in Washington Voices

Rogers scholar takes time for fun

Nathan Weinbender

Since he was in the sixth grade, Karl Fencl has wanted to go to Stanford University.

“It just seemed like the perfect school for me,” he says, “everything about it.” Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania also were considerations, but it was Stanford’s outstanding academic history and laid-back approach to learning that made it Fencl’s primary choice.

“Everyone who’s there realizes they’re smart and driven,” he said, “and they don’t feel the need to compete with anyone anymore.”

He has been accepted into Stanford, earning generous scholarships and free room and board for at least his first year in attendance. And if it weren’t apparent enough that his allegiance to the university is already strong, the Stanford sweatshirt he sports is the clincher.

That aspiration to be accepted to his dream university has been the main drive behind Fencl’s various scholastic achievements, of which there are a staggering number: He’s a class valedictorian; he has served as captain of the debate team, Science Bowl and Knowledge Bowl, as well as vice president of the National Honor Society; and he is a student representative to the school board.

Such a hectic schedule doesn’t allow for much free time, save for the baseball tournaments (he’s a pitcher) and bowling leagues (his average score is 210) in which he participates in and outside of school.

“But I make sure I don’t completely overload myself at one time so I’m not completely useless,” he said. “Everything I’m involved in is something I want to be a part of.”

This kind of involvement in school has not been solely relegated to his final year in high school. His junior year, Fencl took a whopping seven Advanced Placement tests – “For the entire month of April last year, I don’t think I saw sunlight” – and, including the three he took as a senior, passed all of them. Over the summer, he worked at a research lab at Gonzaga University constructing antimicrobial neuropeptides, which are small amino acid chains that scientists are experimenting with in hopes of combating certain diseases.

His work at Gonzaga is what he thinks earned him an award from the Spokane Scholars Foundation, which includes a $4,000 college scholarship.

He also credits his parents, both Whitworth graduates, for their encouragement throughout his academic career.

“They have never forced me to achieve a certain standard,” he said. “They’re the type of parents who will say, ‘As long as you’re doing what you need to do for what you want, we’ll support you.’ ”

So where does Fencl see himself in 10 years?

Graduating from Stanford with a master’s in chemical engineering – and possibly a doctorate – and ideally applying his love and knowledge of math and science to a socially valuable field. “Some chemical engineers end up as bomb-makers,” he said. “I want to do something that’s actually benefiting people. I’d rather help the world than destroy it.”

“It’s been an eye-opener to see how much work is required to maintain such a high standard,” Fencl said. Yet he recognizes the import of the occasional break.

“You have to stretch yourself, with extracurriculars, friends, and free time. It can’t be about academics all the time. Give yourself a chance to breathe.”

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