BAR HARBOR — Sirohi Kumar of Bar Harbor, a senior at Mount Desert Island High School, is one of only two high school students in Maine and 161 nationwide to be named a 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar.
“The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects scholars each year based on their academic success, artistic or technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as a demonstrated commitment to community service and leadership,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Kumar is a climate change and racial justice activist. She was a founding member of the local Climate Emergency Action Coalition, which wrote a resolution to declare a climate emergency in Bar Harbor. The resolution was approved by voters in 2019. Kumar was a charter member of the town’s Climate Emergency Task Force.
She also has served as president of the MDI High School Eco Team, which was a strong advocate for installing solar panels that provide the school’s electricity.
In recognition of her environmental activism, Kumar was one of six student winners of the 2020 Brookie Awards, which recognize Maine’s young environmental leaders. The awards are given by NRCM Rising, a program of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
In the summer of 2020, Kumar was one of a small group of students who formed the Racial Justice Collective (RJC) on Mount Desert Island. She also was instrumental in the creation of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System’s Anti-Racism Task Force.
In recognition of her environmental and anti-racism activism, Kumar was one of six Maine students who were runners-up for the 2021 John Lewis Youth Leadership Award, which is given by Maine’s secretary of state.
“Sirohi is such a vibrant scholar and an amazing leader and, most important, just an amazing person who appreciates the people who have helped her along the way,” said MDI High School Principal Matt Haney. “She is one of those people who knows what she wants and knows the best way to go approach that, and she does it with kindness and gratitude and a fierce determination to achieve the goals that she’s set. She’s also a great advocate for human rights.
“I’m looking forward to the day when I can say I knew her when.”
Kumar has spent the past two years conducting research at The Jackson Laboratory, where she is completing an academic year fellowship in Professor Carol Bult’s lab.
“Sirohi is both a gifted scholar and someone who cares deeply about her community and expresses that concern with action.” Bult said. “She has organizational and leadership skills that are rare to find in someone so young.
“What I loved about working with her in my lab is that she has a fearless curiosity. She asks great questions and doesn’t give up when things get challenging. Sirohi is the kind of young person who gives me hope about our future.”
Each year’s group of Presidential Scholars includes one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 students in the arts and 20 in career and technical education.
This year’s other Presidential Scholar from Maine is Brett Palmer of West Gardiner.
“Presidential Scholars represent the best of America and remind us that, when empowered by education, there are no limits to what our young people can achieve,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Each Presidential Scholar may nominate a teacher to be recognized as a Presidential Scholars Program Distinguished Teacher. Kumar nominated
MDI High School science teacher Ruth Poland.
Haney said of Poland, “Ruth is a great teacher, a great leader and an incredible person. She teaches a lot of the freshmen in their first science class in high school, and she finds the perfect balance between welcoming them with warmth and kindness, but also with high expectations and then lots of support. You just couldn’t ask for a better start to high school.”
Poland also teaches the advanced placement environmental science course.
“That’s a course with high expectations and high stakes, obviously, with the climate crisis that we’re in,” Haney said. “It’s so important that our students have an understanding of that when they leave high school.”
Poland also is the faculty leader of the high school’s Eco Team.
“That’s a huge group of students who do some really impactful work,” Haney said.