Alina Shkurikhina | Mass Academy
I am curious...
Curiosity is, perhaps, the most amazing human quality! Where would we be if we hadn’t been intrigued by the dancing flames of fire, endless ocean waters, vast unreachable skies, or anything unknown? I am fascinated by the world around me and I’m always looking for more perspectives, whether through art, science, or any other study.
In my sixteen years of exploration, I have gathered a modest collection of interests on the way. If you’re interested in a particular one, here’s a map to help you find it (although I have not taken up cartography yet, so please bear with my lack of expertise).
Rhythmic gymnastics (RG), which is a competitive sport that involves acrobatics and dance, has been my longest commitment. RG is arguably the most beautiful sport in the world and I fell in love with every aspect of it, from the routines and artistry to the training and competitions. Despite screaming “I’ll never do gymnastics again!” after breaking my arm when I was five, I did RG for eleven years at Fitness Elite Training Center, up to 15 hours every week. I started doing RG when I was two, began competing in the group event at the age of six, and started competing individually the following year.
An RG competition usually takes place over several days since each gymnast has four routines, each with one of these apparatuses: floor, rope, ball, hoop, ribbon, or clubs. Even though I did not have much natural talent (it took me the longest of my friends to reach a full split), my dedication paid off, and when I was eight, I became the National Level 4 Champion all-around. That competition was one of the proudest and most influential moments in my life because I managed to earn this title even after a rough start with my first routine and low expectations from my coach. I continued competing successfully for the next three years and built myself a bit of a reputation in the RG community. Up until then, national championships were open, meaning anyone can compete regardless of their performance at state and regional competitions. But starting at level 7, you could only compete at nationals if you made it into the regional team, the top eight gymnasts of all age groups at that level from the nearest 5-8 states. Another one of my greatest achievements in RG was somehow making it into the regional team at level 7, which was really exciting since I got to meet many girls from other states who shared my passion for RG.
Usually, a rhythmic gymnast’s career in the individual event would end at level 9, unless they want to pursue the sport professionally. Unfortunately, mine was cut short by a knee injury and my last competition was the level 8 state competition. There had been a lot of expectations from me given my performance that year, so this was an emotional time for me, but I knew that RG wouldn’t end there for me. After recovering from the injury, I began volunteering at Boston Rhythmics, and eventually, I got a part-time job as a coach to some of the younger gymnasts there. Overall, rhythmic gymnastics has shaped who I am because it not only developed my physical abilities, but also taught me perseverance, cooperation, and leadership.
I was incredibly lucky to have been exposed to music from an early age, which gave me time to understand the theory behind it and to completely fall in love with it! When I was 4, my mom began teaching me how to play the piano. Hearing her practice Debussy and Beethoven inspired me and I owe much of my experience in music to her.
In fifth grade, I decided to join the school band and learn to play the clarinet. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The clarinet is an amazing instrument: every little key has a purpose and the fingerings are a beautiful form of sign language. It took me a very long time and a lot of patience from my private teacher to get past the squeaking and to achieve a stable sound. Once that happened, I felt so invigorated by the idea I was that much closer to saying the wonderful words, “I know how to play the clarinet.”
Some of my favorite experiences both in middle and high school have involved music, from performing at concerts, auditioning in and participating in Central Districts, joining the select band and select choir, playing in the pit, and playing in the marching/pep band. I played in the school band for six years and in the Central Districts band for four years, and this year, I also joined the Worcester Youth Symphony Orchestra. Every music ensemble I’ve participated in allowed me to grow musically in completely different, yet interconnected ways. Understanding the intricacies behind the instrument and the music itself will always be enthralling to me, and I hope that I can continue learning music in college and beyond.
After finishing my competitive career in rhythmic gymnastics, I felt a deep urge to keep dancing. I had some ballet background because it was included in our rhythmic gymnastics training, so I decided to try pursuing ballet. I was very lucky to be accepted into the pre-professional upper school at the Danceartists Ballet Academy where I completed the Royal Academy of Dance Intermediate program. In this wonderful environment, I was exposed to the professional world of dance and was able to perform with five roles in the Great Russian Nutcracker with Moscow Ballet. I also performed at a show called Fashion on Fire and in the production “Liana and the Paintbrush” for two years with the fantastic Hybrid Movement Company.
Hybrid Movement Company is an incredible group of aerial acrobatic artists in New York who have performed worldwide at many prestigious events, including the Burning Man Festival. As a part of my experience at Danceartists, I was able to participate in the Movement as Metaphor summer intensive program, where I was taught aerial silks, contemporary ballet, martial arts, breakdancing, and puppet making by masters of these arts. In 2018, I had the amazing chance to perform “A Secret Door” with Hybrid Movement Company at the Maker Faire Google Event in NYC. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my entire life and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I was gifted through ballet.
Math...what isn’t there to love! It is incredible: limitless, but governed by wonderful patterns, invisible, but at the very fabric of our universe. I began my journey in math in fourth grade when I joined the math team at Spring Street School. Since then, I’ve participated in the math team at every school I’ve attended and this year, I also joined the Western Mass ARML team. Some of the competitions I’ve participated in over the years are Math Kangaroo, MOEMS, MathCounts, AMC, and WOCOMAL.
My favorite mathematical concept is infinity! The idea that there can be different sizes of an endless quantity, and the fact that such a quantity could even exist, is still baffling to me. My fascination with infinity began when I learned about Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel, and at the moment, my favorite infinite puzzle is the Banach-Tarski Paradox.
When I was in sixth grade, I discovered the magical world of the Science Fair! My first project was about the strength of water, as I had just learned about the concept of surface tension and was absolutely intrigued! Using a completely professional, definitely not done from the kitchen, 100% flawless experimental design, I found out that a square inch (pardon the imperial unit) of water can hold up about 2.5 grams, or roughly two paper clips. Though this experiment was not exactly innovative or useful, the process of finding an answer to something I was curious about completely captivated me!
In my most recent project, I explored the microbial fuel cell (MFC) and how its proton-exchange membrane could be improved to produce more energy. The MFC is a device from the future: it essentially turns mud into energy! However, it’s not nearly effective enough to provide energy on a large scale, so there are a lot of ways that the concept can be improved. With this project, I went through my school fair, the regional fair, and ended up with 3rd place at the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair. This year, I am working on a project equally as exciting involving different types of micro-energy harvesting (more details will follow soon).
Poetry is the best kind of writing, it resonates with everyone who reads it in a unique, beautiful way. Though I’ve only ever formally published one poem, for the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Contest, I have written many poems in the past couple years, each about a curious experience in my life that couldn’t be captured any other way. But the most wonderful poetry is the kind I’ve written with others, so if you are ever interested, I’m always up for an improv poetry session.
Along with music, I also discovered my love for all kinds of art. The first medium of visual art I experimented with was painting, and it opened me up to a whole new world. Over time, I learned how to see the world from the perspective of an artist, for its true, not relative, colors. After painting for several years, I began to explore other mediums and found out that there are so many, I will probably never get to even half of them! So, I’ve experimented with as many styles/mediums as my time and resources permitted: watercolor, oil painting, drybrush, colored pencil, sketching, pastel, ink, charcoal, alcohol ink, sculpture, stamp carving, pour, line art, pointillism, realism, digital, steampunk...the list goes on. I would run out of space if I were to tell you about the unique qualities of each one, so I will focus on the one I have most experience with below.
Pyrography is an art form that is more widely known as woodburning. Ever since I received my pyrography set from “Santa” when I was 10, I’ve been learning how to make art on wood using a metal pen connected to a magic heat box. The reason why I am so infatuated by pyrography is because of the process: there are so many techniques to create different textures and you can always find a new way to burn something. But most of all, I love the feeling of the scorching metal sinking softly into the wood, the quiet crackle of sparks, and the smell of the thin wisp of smoke being drawn from the wood. I wanted to share my woodburning with others, so I opened up an Etsy shop. It is still very much under construction, but I am hoping to add some new goodies soon.
Last year, I auditioned for the Speech and Debate Team at Shrewsbury High School and made it into the Extemporaneous Speaking category, which relies on knowledge of current events and improvisation skills. When you compete in Extemp, there are typically three rounds, each with a different theme like economics, domestic policy, and international. Each round, you choose one of the questions relating to that theme and have thirty minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech answering it that you then must present to a judge by memory. Extemp has taught me to think on the spot and to speak more eloquently, which is helpful in a lot of areas outside of speech and debate.
I really enjoy speech and debate and I’m making steady progress; last year I won 1st place in Novice Extemp at the Natick Holly Festival and advanced to Varsity Extemp. I can’t wait for the first tournament of the season, which will happen later this week, and maybe try another category later on in the year. I’ve always loved a good debate, and in the Speech and Debate Team, I get to discuss my opinions of political issues with other students who share this passion.
In seventh grade, our class did an amazing science project lasting several months about songbirds! We were each assigned a bird species and were tasked with making a website about it and a field guide page for our collective “Field Guide for Springtime Birds of Central Massachusetts.” I was assigned the bald eagle, but I quickly traded it with one of my classmates for my favorite bird, the gray catbird. As a small gray bird that often hides in the bushes, it seems ordinary and unassuming at first, but the gray catbird is a remarkable creature that you can learn all about here.
I was really excited about this project and tried to contribute to it as much as possible, by helping to edit the field guide and creating an extra page for it about the hermit thrush. This project was so awesome that my wonderful teachers who organized it were able to get it featured in Models of Excellence and at the MassCUE educational conference. I was among the four students chosen to represent our class and school at the MassCUE Student Showcase which took place in Gillette Stadium. It was an incredible experience because we not only presented our own project but were also able to explore the newest technology developed by professional companies showcased at the conference.
But my journey with birds was only beginning! I became really interested in ornithology and started going on walks almost every day, learning to recognize the birds around me by voice and appearance and recording my observations in a birdwatching database called eBird. I also began participating in annual birdwatching events like the Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon and the Great Backyard Bird Count and have identified a total of 60 species in the past few years. Identifying a bird I’ve never seen before is a most remarkable feeling! Just a few days ago, I spotted a pine warbler for the first time, an energetic yellow bird with a meaningful gaze. Birding allowed me to become part of a community that advocates for the protection of wildlife, united by our love for birds and nature!
As I learned more about birding, I also began to develop my skills as a photographer. I had become intrigued by photography at an early age when my parents gave me their old digital camera. The first real picture I took with my little silver camera was of a sunset behind the silhouette of a tulip. In my photos, nature was almost always the prime subject, and when I started birding, I took my camera with me, now a Nikon D3000. Birds are especially exciting to capture in photos because you must learn how to approach them as silently as possible and how to predict their behavior to take the best shot.
Along with photography, I recently discovered that I’m able to combine my passions for math, science, photography, and animation into one product: a video! I began making videos when I learned about the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, where students from across the world submit 3-minute videos explaining a STEM concept of their choice. In 9th grade, I made a video on my favorite Banach-Tarski Paradox and last year, I created a video about chaos theory. The process of creating a video is difficult, especially since my animation style is hand-drawn by frame, but I learn a lot every time I make one, both about the content of the video and editing. If you’d like, you can find my videos here.
My biggest experience in community service was when I was chosen to represent Shrewsbury as a Project 351 Ambassador. Project 351 is a non-profit organization that brings together eighth graders from every town/province in Massachusetts with the mission of building a community united by youth-led service. Through Project 351, I coordinated multiple drives in my town as part of the organization’s state-wide service events. The largest drive I organized was a clothing/toy drive in my school and town library for Cradles to Crayons, and with the help of my team, we were able to collect over 70 bags of donation items. I learned many important collaboration and leadership skills as a Project 351 Ambassador and I am extremely grateful for all the people who helped make this happen.
After Project 351, I was inspired to volunteer in my community. In ninth grade, I helped train young gymnasts at Boston Rhythmics for a year until I was hired as an official coach last year. In my school, I volunteered throughout the year by peer tutoring and over the summer, I joined an organization called Aptitutor as a certified tutor. Through Aptitutor, I am currently teaching Latin, Russian, and Elementary Math.
Since the length of page is already terrifying enough (spooky season is upon us), I will simply list my remaining high school activities below:
~ Advisory Committee (past extracurricular)
~ Arduinos (current extracurricular)
~ CAD (current extracurricular)
~ Center Stage Productions (summer theatre camp, 2 yrs)
~ Girls Who Code (past extracurricular)
~ Logo/poster design (hobby/commission)
~ MIT HSSP (summer STEM camp)
~ National Latin Honors Society (past extracurricular)
~ Tri-M Honors Society (past extracurricular)