Boise student is MIT bound

Sophie Van Pelt told her stepdad when she was 10 years old that she would go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. on a full-ride scholarship.

Turns out, Sophie was right.

“I was completely joking,” she said. “I never thought I would actually get accepted.”

She will be among the 2022 graduating class at MIT and will attend on the prestigious Gates Scholarship from the foundation established by computer billionaire Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Out of 11,000 applicants, Sophie was one of 300 to receive a full-ride scholarship.

Sophie said she can now see the benefits of the many sacrifices she has made throughout the years.

“I had restless nights of homework and I put a lot of effort in and felt that I wasn’t getting much out of it,” she said. “But now I know it was worth it.”

The 18-year old Borah High graduate credits her mom, Nijone Lockhart, for giving her a better life. Growing up, Sophie lived on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation where she lived with her family in Oregon until the second grade.

“It was a culture shock,” she said. “The reservation didn’t have much push for education.”

Sophie said she wonders what her life would be like if she hadn’t moved 10 years ago.

“I’m so grateful,” she said.

She was admitted into one the toughest schools in the country with just a 7 percent acceptance rate. Sophie said it was because of the opportunities she was offered in middle and high school. Sophie attended Borah High School, Treasure Valley Mathematics and Science Center, Dennis Technical Education Center and took online and advanced placement courses.

Last summer, Sophie spent six weeks at MIT taking classes as part of the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science program.

“This gave me the college experience and passion to apply,” she said.

She also received money from MIT, AXA Achievement Scholarship,  Horatio Alger Scholarship and the Society of Women Engineers Scholarship.

Sophie isn’t taking a break this summer. She is working full-time as a computer science intern at Hewlett-Packard in Boise.

“I’m chasing my own thrill in a weird way,” she said. “I can’t stop my brain from learning.”

She wants to be the first person in her family to graduate college with a four-year degree and will study electrical engineering and computer science with a goal to enroll in an applied biomedicine doctorate program in the future. She wants to have a career in surgical robotics.

“Sophie is someone that I am certain will go on to make a difference in the lives of many others,” said Holly Maclean, the principal at the Treasure Valley Mathematics and Science Center. “We would likely see her standing off to the side watching others and taking it all in, with her Mona Lisa smile firmly in place.”


Andrew Reed

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