After participating in the State swim meet for a year ago, expected to return to the finals next weekend with her teammates for a run at a top-five team finish.
Little did Wang know this past summer of scientific research at the University of Chicago would force her to decide between competing for the Scouts or presenting a scientific paper that could lead to a $100,000 scholarship to the college of her choice.
Wang, a senior, landed an internship at the University of Chicago this past summer and wrote a 20-page paper on her scientific research on human metabolism. She entered the paper in the Siemens Foundation competition among high school students in math, science and technology.
After applying for the job and securing it, Wang knew she wanted to conduct research that would give her an opportunity to enter the competition. University of Chicago professor Hao Luo was happy to accommodate Wang’s wish.
“We had some key data missing (on a project) and I asked her to finish it,” Luo said. “I assigned it to her (Wang). She spent six weeks finishing the experiment and two weeks writing.”
According to Lake Forest High School biology teacher Tamar Cooney, Wang’s research on how the molecular structure of cells and amino acids effects human metabolism could help Luo’s efforts. Both Cooney and Luo labeled Wang’s effort as equivalent to what a graduate student in college would do.
Two years ago Wang’s sister, Diane Wang, currently a student at Columbia University in New York City, entered the same Siemens competition but did not advance. Lilly hoped for better results, but put it out of her mind.
On Oct. 21 when regional finalists were announced, Wang secured the permission of her math teacher, Paul Goldstein, to have her cell phone on during class to check the results as they were posted online.
“First I looked at the semifinalists and didn’t see my name,” Wang said. “I thought I didn’t win, but looked at the finalists anyway.”
As Wang saw her name and realized she was a regional finalist, she was immediately conflicted.
“I was happy but disappointed,” Wang said, describing how she felt when she might have to choose between presenting her paper Saturday at the University of Notre Dame and swimming with her Scout teammates at the State meet.
Wang hoped she could do both. She immediately contacted officials with the Siemens Foundation in hopes she could pursue both her dreams. She was told if she did not present the paper, she would be dropped from the competition and lose the $1,000 scholarship she already earned.
“I’ve been to state the last three years and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Wang said. “I was torn. If I did not present my paper I would lose the scholarship.”
If she wins at the regional level, her scholarship grows to $3,000 and she presents the paper as a national finalist. If she takes the national prize, she earns $100,000.
Lake Forest girls’ knew the choice was simple.
“She shouldn’t think twice,” said Grevers, a molecular biologist herself. “This is her life."
Wang is considering several top flight college possibilities, but is keeping her choices to herself for now. She hopes to continue swimming as well as pursuing an education.