WARNER ROBINS -- One of Willa Wangs favorite assignments as a volunteer at Houston Medical Center involved escorting wheelchair-bound patients throughout the hospital.
Being able to help out in that little way just by wheeling them to their room or wheeling them to the driveway where someone can pull up their car is really rewarding, Wang said. They really appreciate someone being able to help them through their time of illness.
Wang has been volunteering at the hospital since the summer after her freshman year of high school. She also has donated her time to Heart of Georgia Hospice where she worked in a bereavement camp for children and Antebellum Grove, an assisted living facility, where she has played piano for residents.
Wang, Houston County High Schools valedictorian and senior class president, has a beautiful passion for service, said Sherin Hinnant, one of her teachers.
Margaret Molyson, who taught Wang in Advanced Placement biology, agreed with Hinnant. She said she was especially impressed with Wangs experience working in a hospice environment.
She didnt understand why I found that so unique in someone her age, Molyson said. Because she was capable of doing that, she didnt see how that was an outstanding characteristic.
Volunteering allowed Wang to explore different possible career paths, but it wasnt just a means to an end.
Ive been able to experience the medical field through the hospital and work with helping children at the bereavement camp, Wang said. I enjoy doing those activities.
Wang works locally to help others, but she thinks on a global scale as well. She was one of 13 people chosen to serve on the advisory board for the nonprofit group, Darfur Dream Team, whose mission is to help provide a quality education to refugees in the north African country of Sudan.
In the United States, education is a vital but often underappreciated tool, Wang wrote in her biography on the Darfur Dream Team website. The reality that many refugees in the Darfur region do not have this opportunity pains me.
A book lover, Wang cited the memoir of Dr. Hawa Abdi, who has been described as the Mother Theresa of Somalia, as an inspiration.
Wangs parents are first-generation immigrants from the Jiangsu Province of China, which she said helped her develop an openness to other cultures and perspectives.
Describing her parents as hardworking and dedicated to education (her father, Li Ma, earned a doctorate degree in engineering and teaches at Veterans High School), Wang also credited her older sister, Lucy Ma, Houston County Highs 2010 valedictorian, for being a role model.
She did a lot of extracurriculars and really branched out in high school, and I saw how that influenced her and how she enjoyed those activities, so I really wanted to be able to immerse myself in different areas.
For her academic success and record of service, Wang earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Chicago, and though she is interested in environmental science, economics and psychology, at this point she is not set on a career path.
She is definitely innately gifted in many, many areas, Hinnant said, but she remains humble about those gifts.
Hinnant is retiring after 40 years in education and said Wang is among the top high school students she has ever come across.
I truly think that no matter what career she chooses she will maintain that focus on service for others, Hinnant said.
To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 478-256-9751.