DENVER (CBS4) – Maya Hunter is a sophomore at Cherry Creek High School, but she’s also a volunteer at an elementary school and a hospital, a science intern, curator of a website, and an organizer of a Teen Science Café. Now, Hunter is the Future Leaders winner for March.

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Every month during the school year, CBS4, along with its partners at the Colorado School of Mines and PDC Energy, honors a high school student who is excelling in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The winners get $1,000 cash prize and a profile on CBS4.

LINK: Nominate a Future Leaders Candidate

Hunter volunteers at Holm Elementary School in Denver. She’s piloting a program with Junior Achievement that harnessed the energy of 4th graders to solve global crises.

“I love working with the 4th graders because they’re just so curious about everything that’s around them,” Hunter told CBS4. “One group is developing a drone to pick up trash. And one group is developing a laptop that has a solar power machine to allow people in Africa to be able to use technology without needing access to electricity.”

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The bigger lesson for the girls in the groups is to use technology to make lives better, which is a mission Maya embraces herself. She’s creating an online community called Pediatric Pals.

“It’s a program where we connect two pediatric patients together, which really helps to combat the isolation and loneliness that happens in hospitals,” Hunter said.

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She came up with the idea through her volunteer work at Swedish Medical Center.

“I met a little girl. She was a burn patient, and she was always so lonely in the hospital. And it just really made me think about how we could combat this loneliness,” Hunter explained.

Pediatric Pals will be a secure connection for kids who have to stay in the hospital.

“I kind of wanted to harness this energy that kids can bring to each other, and make it available for kids across the nation,” Hunter said.

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Last summer, Hunter did two internships, one on the Anschutz Medical Campus and one at National Jewish Hospital. At the Cell and Developmental Biology Lab at Anschutz, she did hands-on work with a researcher on a project about how radiation and chemotherapy impact taste buds. At National Jewish, Hunter helped to write a medical paper.

“I was gathering data from the CDC and studying the epidemiology of common variable immunodeficiency as well as other deficiencies,” Hunter said.

“Maya, what did you get out of those two experiences?” asked CBS4’s Ashton Altieri.

“It definitely taught me more like what science is all about,” Hunter replied.

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Hunter is working toward her own goal of getting into pediatric trauma care. In the meantime, she continues to teach the next generation of students to embrace technology and the big issues facing the world.

“They can be scary, these world issues. But we’re taking them and we’re making them less scary, and so that’s sort of allowing them an opportunity to become leaders, which is what I really love to see.”

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Hunter chronicles her projects and volunteer work on her website. She is working to set up a Teen Science Café, which would host prominent scientists to do presentations and experiments with teen audiences.

“To expose them to what they do and the different fields in science that are open to them,” Hunter said.

Hunter also works on robotics with the kindergarteners at Holm Elementary School, she’s organizing A Day of Code, and is working on a Virtual Volunteer network.


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