Good Chemistry For the Win
By Lisa Cannon
“He loves the hands-on, concrete, tangible nature of chemistry.”
For the first few minutes of our chat with Vandalia Junior Noah Calhoun, he speaks, at first, in teen boy lingo, lots of monosyllabic answers, and lots of “100%.” There is a bit of a characteristic teen slouch too.
But no sooner than we hit on the subject of chemistry, he is sitting straight-up, fully attentive, and speaking in complete and enthusiastic sentences! It’s nice to see a young man who is unabashedly proud of his intellect. “It’s just something I’ve always had,” he says with only a slight blush.
Noah was so eager to take chemistry that he took it as a sophomore, and was one of the few from his grade in that class. He loves the hands on, concrete, tangible nature of chemistry. As we commented, “It’s literally what we are made of.” Noah agrees, saying: “It’s at the core of life, 100%.” He explains that he really appreciates subjects where you can obtain clear, unequivocal answers. He even prefers applied science to theoretical for that reason. Math is another favorite subject. Though when his honors algebra 2 class touched on “imaginary numbers,” he wasn’t having any of it!
When we ask if he has thought about what kind of careers he might be interested in, Noah mentions pharmacist (which, appropriately, in England is called a “chemist”). It appeals to his interest in compounds but was also a suggestion from his father. His parents have both been really supportive of his college plans and encouraged him to think about job prospects, earning, and stability. This is especially poignant because his dad, while plenty smart, didn’t have the opportunity to go to college and went into the Army instead. Noah’s mother did go to college and got degrees in education. Noah credits her for much of his academic success as he proudly shares that she just got a job as the Principal of the school in the nearby prison—a big step up in responsibility and salary from her previous work as an elementary school teacher. Both parents are employed by the prison, and while they are glad to be able to provide for their sons (Noah has a younger brother, Will, who is a sophomore at Vandalia) they make it clear that they want them both to go to college in order to open a broader set of options for themselves.
Regarding confidence he says: “I don’t have it for much, but for some reason this SAT, I’m just like, it’s like a mountain. I’m just ready to climb it.” It’s refreshing to see that kind of a can-do attitude.
Noah had hoped to be in AP Chemistry this year but his teachers told him he needed to take advanced biology first. Initially reluctant, he now understands the wisdom of that sequence and has advised Will to follow it next year. Noah says: “I do really well in math. Though I’m in pre-calculus right now and it’s not my favorite stuff.”
Asking if it makes his brain “tingle a bit,” he chuckles and says, “Oh, it makes it hurt is what it does.” As far as extracurriculars, Noah is in band and several clubs including Dungeons and Dragons and Scholar Bowl.
We ask if he has specific colleges in mind that he wants to apply to. Apparently, he’s just getting on with visiting schools and learning more about that side of things. He brings up the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. We suggest that there are lots of other applied science type jobs to learn about and explore.
Moving on to a discussion of life after college, we ask Noah if he can see himself returning to Vandalia to make a life. At first, he talks about how “everyone will leave” and come back together for reunions. But later admits that maybe he could see himself continuing to live in town and being the pharmacist or commuting to a job elsewhere. It all still feels a bit abstract and far down the road.
Before we break we share some info with Noah about Journey 12’s new “College Navigator” program. It’s a great, free program led by an expert in college admissions. Noah is going to check it out, and if you are a high schooler thinking about college, you should too!