Earlier this year, Hillsborough High School senior Youssef Abdelhalim received a notice from the U.S. Department of Education that he had been selected to submit an application for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
The prestigious honor has been given out by the U.S. Department of Education since 1964 to high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education fields.
More than 6,000 seniors from across the country applied for the award that is given out to one young man and one young woman from each state, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 scholars in the arts and 20 scholars in career and technical education.
Abdelhalim was honored to qualify for the selection process and took the opportunity to apply for the award, but didn’t think he was going to get it.
To his surprise, Abdelhalim received news last week that he was selected to be one of the 161 high school seniors accepted to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
“Honestly, it was pretty insane when I found out, ” Abdelhalim said when he received the news. “I didn’t think much of getting it. I’m really excited.”
Abdelhalim is one of four New Jersey high school seniors to receive the award this year.
Akhil C Paulraj from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, and Katherine Vandermel and Lara Ozkan of the Bergen County Academies were the other recipients.
All 2021 Presidential Scholars will be honored through a virtual ceremony this summer.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, Abdelhalim is the first student from Hillsborough High School to be a Presidential Scholars recipient.
Many local officials have reached out to Abdelhalim about his prestigious honor, from Gov. Phil Murphy to Hillsborough Township Mayor Shawn Lipiani. Abdelhalim will be honored at the next Township Committee meeting on May 25.
Being selected for the award meant a lot to Abdelhalim and his entire family.
It was four years ago that Abdelhalim and his mother, Marwa, and his two siblings moved to America and settled in Hillsborough from Saudi Arabia. His father, Ashraf, joined the family in the States two years later in 2019.
Abdelhalim said his parents made the difficult decision to move away from their home because they knew the United States would provide the best college education for their children.
Seeing his siblings both already off to college at nearby Rutgers University and now himself becoming a presidential scholar, Abdelhalim knows his parents feel the hard decision they made was “worth it”.
“My parents thought this award was the most important thing ever since we moved here,” Abdelhalim said. “All the risks they had to make to move here was worth it.”
Abdelhalim is slated to attend Northwestern University this fall where he plans on double majoring in astrophysics and aerospace engineering.
Since he was a little kid, Abdelhalim said he has always dreamed of working for NASA and sees other aerospace companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX as another example of a place he would love to work at someday.
“People study why things happen in space. I want to find out how we can do these things again,” he said.
Abdelhalim is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and has worked on many mechanical engineering projects outside of school.
One project Abdelhalim is about to complete is creating a snow-melting device that will help clear snow off the roads and driveways without having to salt those areas.
The project hits home for Abdelhalim, who saw an accident occur near where he lives that was caused by the salt being put on the road because of the snow that unfortunately resulted in two people losing their lives.
Since that accident occurred, Abdelhalim dived deeper into finding how many accidents are related to icy and snowy roads by researching sites like the Federal Highway Administration, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
He found that there are on average 2,000 deaths and 135,000 injuries per year in the United States due to car accidents on icy and snowy roads.
Seeing that snowplows and salt were not helping solve the issues, Abdelhalim has focused on the last couple of years creating a more efficient device to remove snow and limit icy road conditions.
Abdelhalim explains that the snow-melting device that he is in the process of finishing up can be placed in water systems around towns that will spray each surface with solutions found in dish soap and alcohol methanol when it senses snowfall to keep snow from sticking on the surfaces.
He adds that he hopes to patten his snow-melting device soon as he believes it will make it safer and easier for people during the winter season.
As Abdelhalim prepares to finish up his senior year at Hillsborough, he is very proud that his hard work inside and outside the classroom has “paid off” and he looks forward to interacting with his fellow presidential scholars in the future.
“I feel for the first time my hard work has been appreciated,” Abdelhalim said. “It feels really nice to be appreciated for something. I look forward to connecting with other scholars.”