Saad Amer has never shied away from tackling an issue.
He has been an advocate for technology in the classroom, better science education for young students, and preserving and enhancing the ecology of a local nature preserve.
That was all before the 18-year-old from Medford went to college – Harvard University, to be exact.
Last Sunday, Amer was one of a few hundred people invited to take part in a national conversation about problems within the education system. He sat in the front row during the televised “Student Town Hall,” a portion of the annual Education Nation Summit, hosted by NBC News.
“It was an impactful experience,” said Amer, who graduated third in his class from Patchogue-Medford High School earlier this year and is now studying computer science at Harvard.
Amer was invited to the summit as the recipient of a Buick Achievers Scholarship, a $25,000 scholarship -- renewable for four years -- given by the General Motors Foundation to a student pursuing an education in science, technology, education or mathematics.
Sheri Marshall, assistant secretary for the General Motors Foundation, which is a summit sponsor, said Amer and four other recipients were chosen to attend the summit because of a proven ability to identify problems within the education system and develop solutions.
“They’ve been able to succeed so they know what works,” Marshall said. “They also know what challenges they need to overcome and their input is tremendously valuable.”
During his freshman year of high school, Amer took issue with the fact that younger students did not have enough exposure to the sciences.
Using the Fish Thicket Preserve, a 100-acre nature preserve in Patchogue, as a subject and a classroom, Amer formed an after-school club that studied the local ecology and gave educational tours for elementary and middle school students.
Throughout Amer’s four years in high school, he said more than 1,000 young students took the tour. Last year, the club also managed to secure funding from Cornell University for a bird habitat rehabilitation program in the preserve; Amer also produced a series of videos on their environmental efforts, which won the school $80,000 worth of technology in a contest run by Samsung.
Patrick Murray, a science teacher at Patchogue-Medford High School who served as adviser to Amer’s club, said Amer is a unique student with relentless dedication.
“He’s an excellent student who always took the initiative,” he said. “He did things beyond what anybody else could possibly do.”
Amer said part of that dedication comes from his desire to take advantage of every educational opportunity, especially because his parents came to the United States from Pakistan so their children would have them.
He said he’s proud of all he’s been able to accomplish so far, thankful of all the help he’s had along the way -- specifically the Buick scholarship, and his science teacher’s mentorship -- and now he’s looking toward the future.
“I took advantage of every opportunity that came by in school and created my own where they didn’t exist, and now I’m at Harvard,” he said. “If you put in the time and effort for something you care about, you can really go anywhere.”
Above: Medford teen Saad Amer (second from left) was one of five Buick Achievers Scholarship Award Winners chosen to attend the NBC News Education Nation Student Town Hall. (Sept. 23, 2012)