By A.M. Sheehan
OXFORD HILLS — At 7, Zane Dustin of Hebron was taking things apart, putting them back together and asking questions such as, “How fast does someone run?” and “How long does it take for the light to go on when you flip the switch?”
His goal in second grade was to be a scientist and an inventor.
In short, he says, he has always been a geek.
He grew up watching “Myth Busters” and anything on the Discovery Channel.
And last week he was named a Merit Scholar semifinalist.
In middle school he “had some really good teachers in eighth grade and they presented new challenges and opened my horizons,” he recalls.
He joined the math team and did a “substantial project” for the school science fair on a Tesla coil – a form of induction coil for producing high-frequency alternating currents – that shoots a long spark.
“You’ve seen them at the Boston Museum [of Science],” he explains.
Those teachers, he says, were Steven Shaw, math and Rosalie Schwaner, science.
Ranked second in his class at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School he began his education at Hebron Station School.
“Hebron is one of the smaller schools in the district and we have pretty fair representation in the top percentage of school [OHCHS],” he points out noting that Hannah Hartnett, ranked first in the class of ’17, is also from Hebron Station School.
AT OHCHS, he cites two teachers who have made a difference in his chosen field of focus. Chemistry teacher Luc Roy who taught him chemistry and AP chemistry and for whom he is a teacher’s aide in the AP physics class.
“He has also been my coach in track and cross-country since I was a freshman.”
Alan Gerry, math teacher, is “the reason I was able to skip pre-calculus and jump into calculus.” He is now taking calculus II – the only student in the school to do so.
However, he is quick to add, “I could make a long list of all teachers I could give thanks to for what they have done for me.” He thinks about John Pinto and Jeff Norton but decides not to attempt the long list.
The 17-year-old says he has always been good at school, enjoys learning and pushing himself. He is taking classes ahead of his year especially in maths and sciences.
He also credits his parents – Kimlee and Randy Dustin – for supporting, encouraging and not stopping his pursuit of knowledge.
“They allowed me to build multiple dangerous devices in the garage,” he laughs.
“I didn’t get in trouble for shorting out the garage and they didn’t tell me, ‘Hey, step back there,’ when I got bitten one day.”
Getting bitten, he explains, is akin to being zapped by high voltage. “It’s not dangerous but very painful.”
“In fact,” he adds, “they were fascinated by stuff I was doing. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without their go-ahead.”
He says he guesses the garage is his workshop although he hasn’t spent much time there lately and has a few projects “in the works” that have been neglected.
After high school, his goal is to go to college for a degree in aerospace engineering with “astrophysics somewhere in the mix.”
He is looking at schools and his top four are MIT, Stanford, University of Michigan and University of Colorado-Boulder.
Michigan, he says, has the best aerospace program in the country and a sizable endowment for research. Colorado-Boulder also has a strong aerospace program and his brother lives out there.
“Working as an aerospace engineer.”
He mentions SpaceX [Space Exploration Technologies Corporation] an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company.
“They do private spacefaring.”
(For those not in the know … spacefaring is having vehicles capable of traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere.)
“They provide transport to the International Space Station and are planning on sending people to Mars.”
Does he want to go?
“No! I don’t want to go up … knowing the stats for safety I’m good here,” he states, patting the table. “For the time being,” he adds, leaving that door open … a crack.
He says he fell in love with the idea that “we [as a world] have sent very few people off planet as compared to the number that live on Earth.”
He quotes astronomer, cosmologist Carl Sagan’s “pale blue dot” description of Earth.
“Any way we can leave this ‘pale blue dot’ interests me.”
Not so geeky
Although he is a self-proclaimed geek – “I see a cool engineering thing and I geek out about it” – he really isn’t.
He has played piano since he was 5, violin for nine years, taught himself the guitar this summer and has just joined the chamber choir.
He has been a cross-country and track athlete and Nordic skier all through high school. He is a Boy Scout and earned his Eagle Scout rank a few years ago by creating “Welcome to Hebron” signs.
What he is is grateful.
“It is really cool I got this … any opportunity to be recognized is great and (if he wins a scholarship) the money will be very much appreciated,” he says.
And he may not be the last to win this honor … his little brother comes up from the middle school to take high school math classes … .
National Merit Scholarship
The National Merit Scholar program is in its 62nd year. This year about 1.6 million juniors in 22,000 high schools entered the program by taking the 2015 Preliminary SAT (PSAT). The PSAT serves as a preliminary screen. From those 1.6 million results, a nationwide pool of approximately 16,000 semifinalists are chosen. Of those, 15,000 are expected to advance to the finalist level and will be notified in February.
Those 15,000 will compete for one of three types of scholarships. They include the 2,500 National Merit $2,500 scholarships that will be awarded on a state-representational basis. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit scholarship awards will be provided by approximately 230 corporations and business organizations for finalists who meet certain criteria. In addition about 190 colleges and universities are expected to finance some 4,000 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for finalists who will attend the sponsor institution.
The finalists will be announced in April.