At sixteen, most of us were treading carefully through the halls of high school, trying to figure out who we were and what we wanted to be. High school student Eileen Huang already knows what she is —an award-winning poet, and a bright STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) student. She’s great at both.
Eileen turned to writing and reading as a creative outlet when she was a child. “When I was younger, my parents would drop me off at the bookstore for several hours at a time,” Eileen said. “While I don’t recommend this parenting approach, the time I spent reading Percy Jackson in the cafe inspired me to write stories of my own.”
After dabbling in fantasy and sci-fi stories, Eileen began exploring poetry. During her freshman year at High Technology High School in Lincroft, Eileen decided to try her luck at having her voice heard beyond the classroom. She submitted a poem to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, a nationwide competition for young writers and artists in high school. “After I got recognized for the poem I submitted, I became one of the 35 semifinalists for the National Student Poets Program — the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work,” Eileen said.
From there, Eileen was chosen as one of five youth ambassadors for the National Student Poets Program. “This honor has been so incredible for me,” she said.
Eileen will be one of the youngest of the TEDxNavesink Makers speakers at the April 9 event at Monmouth University. Her talk, "The potential of a poem” focuses on her experiences as a poet in an academically focused program. She shows audiences the possibilities that stem from poetry, creating a space for the genre in a society that doesn’t always listen to the poet's voice.
But, Eileen isn’t focused on merely having her poetry spread through the country. She wants to make a difference with other students and encourage them to delve deeper into their creative sides. As the youth poetry ambassador for the Northeast region, Eileen’s plans are to “host workshops, readings, and discussions within my community focused on my passion for poetry and writing.”
Something that has stood out to Eileen and to many other students is that authors that schools instruct students to read are “overwhelmingly dead, white, and male.” With her workshops, Eileen hopes to “make a difference, even if it’s just having participants watch slam poetry instead of forcing them to read James Joyce.” Eileen’s workshops will be interactive and discussion-based rather than in lecture form, and she hopes to incorporate poetry pieces from modern performers and writers covering a range of topics like sexuality, race, and gender.
It’s hard to picture a teenager accomplishing all of this while also juggling the rigorous workload of a STEM high school. But Eileen thrives off the combination, saying “balancing school, STEM, and poetry — probably one of the most miscellaneous jumble of subjects — has shown me the differences and similarities between STEM and the arts.” She compartmentalizes the two realms so she doesn’t allow one area to overshadow the other.
Eileen isn’t stopping anytime soon. She spoke at the White House this past October to share her poetry at an event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The honor hasn’t changed Eileen’s humble and hardworking attitude. “I don’t feel like I was able to receive that opportunity because I demonstrated excellent writing ability. Rather, it was a platform to show how crucial the voices of young people can be.”
Eileen plans to make a difference in the lives of teenagers who struggle to pick a side of the spectrum—arts or academics. She shows us that you can find a middle ground and that you can ace your math exam while still writing beautiful poetry.
“I hope to spread this passion to the TEDxNavesink audience by discussing what it feels like to be a poet in a STEM school,” Eileen said.
Don’t miss this driven teen, get your tickets to TEDxNavesink today!