Jonathan Chen selected as 2017 Academic All-Star

Charlie Denison

Fergus High School senior Jonathan Chen was one of 10 students in Montana chosen as a 2017 Academic All-Star by the Great Falls Tribune.  

Photo by Charlie Denison

It’s been a good senior year for Jonathan Chen. Tied for first in his class, he has won a Montana University System tuition waiver and the National Merit Scholarship. Planning to head to Montana State University-Bozeman in the fall to study engineering, he’s feeling ready for this next chapter in life, excited for the opportunities that lay ahead.

Anticipating the next year while finishing his last semester at Fergus High School, Chen’s had plenty on his radar, but, last week, he was completely taken off-guard, as he heard the Great Falls Tribune selected him as one of 10 Academic All-Stars.

For the past 22 years, the Tribune has selected Academic All-Stars from schools throughout northcentral Montana. Being selected in the top 10 this year, Chen said, means a lot.

“Getting this recognition from a statewide newspaper as one of the top students is a great honor,” he said.

This award was not a goal of Chen’s, but academic success has always been a priority, and he’s happy to accept accolades that come with reaching his goal.

“I’ve always strived to get straight A’s and I’ve tried to get involved in as many science clubs as possible,” Chen said. “My interest lies primarily in the sciences.”

Science Olympiad, Key Club and the Principal’s Cup Quiz Bowl are all clubs and activities Chen is involved in, but Robotics Club is his favorite.

“In Robotics Club, we built a robot to perform certain tasks like picking up cubes and balls,” Chen said. “It’s also a competition. We didn’t really win any trophies this year, but we did better than we thought we would.”

Robotics has also inspired Chen’s career choice, as he can see getting into a field where he designs prosthetic or bionic arms and legs.

“I want to help create something the world will use,” Chen said. “I hope it’s something big, but I’m not sure what scale at this time.”

But first, Chen is starting with the basics. He will get his general engineering requirements completed and then try to narrow his focus in the field.

“I plan on pursuing a Masters degree and then will look for a job in that specialized field, but I don’t know what that’s going to look like right now,” he said.


Love for learning

It’s hard to say what the future holds, Chen said, because there is still so much to learn, and it’s this yearning for knowledge that’s helped pave the way for the young scholar.

“I really like learning about new things,” he said. “That’s what’s helped me achieve academically: being able to be interested in things I’m learning about. Even if it’s learning the metaphors from ‘Hamlet’ in English or learning about how our country works in government. I want to know. I want to understand the world better.”

Chen said he got this instinct from his parents. His father is a professor and researcher for MSU and his mother is a nurse. They have also always encouraged him to solve problems and think critically.

“When I was little, my parents bought me spelling, reading and math workbooks,” he said, “and they have always encouraged me to learn at an accelerated pace. For example, my mom was teaching me algebra in sixth grade but I didn’t actually have that class until eighth grade.”

Chen said his teachers at Fergus have also challenged him and encouraged him as he’s gone along.

“My favorite part of being at Fergus has probably been the teachers,” Chen said. “My English teacher, Melanie Smith, has taught me some philosophy and how to argue intelligently. She has been a good example of how to talk to people. I’ve found that really valuable.”


Offering some advice

Asked if he had any advice for peers or underclassmen, Chen had this to say:

“Even if you don’t want to get involved or try something new, try it anyway,” he said. “You never know what will come of it.”

Furthermore, Chen encourages fellow students to invest time and energy into their classes, clubs and whatever it is they must do in order to succeed. There is no substitute.

“When you don’t invest the time, the task doesn’t feel important,” Chen said. “On the other hand, if you do put in the time, you’ll feel more motivated to stick with it. I can say that about a lot of clubs or classes. It’s the ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma: if you don’t try, you don’t care as much. On the other hand, if you don’t care, you don’t try.”






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