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Spokane teen Alexander Popescu earns gifted-student scholarship

Alexander Popescu is pictured with his bike and his periodic table. (Terrence Vent / Courtesy photo)
Alexander Popescu is pictured with his bike and his periodic table. (Terrence Vent / Courtesy photo)
By For The Spokesman-Review By Terrence Vent

Spokane’s Alexander Popescu has been awarded the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship, according to an announcement by the Institute for Educational Advancement on Sept. 12.

Alexander is just the second local student to be selected in the program’s 15-year history. Rebekah Agwunobi was the first, in 2014.

Alexander, 13, has compiled an impressive and varied list of accomplishments. He earned a Taekwondo black belt at age 10, won the sixth-grade Washington state mountain biking championship at 11, and played violin and served as concertmaster for the Spokane Youth Philharmonic during the 2016-2017 season, when he was 12. “(He) has a lot of different interests,” said Bonnie Raskin, the scholarship program manager, “and he pursues them in depth.”

The homeschooled eighth-grader owns a room full of trophies earned in local, state and national math, geography and chess competitions.

“I like to be challenged,” he said. “I get to a certain point … and I move on to a different quest.”

The Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship, endowed in 2002, matches the unique educational and social needs of gifted students with suitable high school programs.

“The fund’s donor named the program after her aunt,” said Raskin. “As a youngster, her aunt … impressed upon her the value and importance of education, especially for gifted kids, who were pretty much not even thought of back in the early 20th century, when she was growing up.”

The program seeks well-rounded candidates. “These are not just kids who are math machines or incredibly gifted in one area,” said Raskin. “We really like to have some balance in their lives.”

Such luminaries as Harvard and M.I.T. recruit its graduates, but the program counsels students to choose the school that best suits their educational needs. “The core mantra of this program is fit over name,” said Raskin. “We have students that get into every Ivy [League University] they apply to, but … we want them to aim for whatever is the best fit.”

Alexander has not chosen a high school yet, but he is already a part-time student at Stanford’s online high school for gifted students. He is particularly interested in bioinformatics, the science of collecting and analyzing genetic code.

“I think you can cure Alzheimer’s with it,” Alexander said. “Each disease like Alzheimer’s is caused by a gene in one’s DNA that is malfunctioning. If we can go in and fix that gene, then we can potentially cure the disease.”

As part of his scholarship application, Alexander submitted a Power Point presentation on climate change.

“It is definitely something that I am passionate about,” he said. “I feel that a lot of people don’t really understand the urgency.”

Alexander’s family – his father Valentin, an electrical engineer, and his mother Monica, a pediatrician – love traveling and exploring. “We like history and we like to hike,” Monica laughed. “We like to combine them.” According to Valentin, the family gets out and hikes or bikes just about every weekend.

Alexander created a travel blog in 2016, called Young Traveler in Europe, to describe a family trip to the Dolomites mountain range in northern Italy. Alex created the blog, in part, to raise money for Smile Chain, a charity that provides surgery to children with cleft lips and palates. “I think it’s important to help those people,” he said.

“He (is) capable of talking about anything, and making you, as the listener, feel valued,” said Raskin. “For someone to do that at 13 years of age is really mature.”

“(To be) someone who can contribute something positive to the world … that’s definitely my broad goal,” Alexander said. “Just help people that are in need.”

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