Last month Michelle Hackman joked she might win the award “for the most amusing project,” which as it turns out could be the understatement of the year.
Blind since the age of eight, the Great Neck North High School super-senior is now $75,000 richer after finishing second in the national Intel science competition on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
The vivacious 17-year-old said her prize money will come in handy for college next year.
“That goes straight to Yale,” said Hackman, traveling back from Washington on Wednesday. “It will cover a year and a half.”
On Tuesday, the Hackman and other Intel winners were invited to meet President Barack Obama at the White House.
Hackman said she told the president she was Michelle from New York and he said “That’s easy to remember.”
“It was incredibly exciting to be gathered in the East Room,” said Hackman, who said she was also thrilled to have met U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman and Steve Israel, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer during her stay in Washington.
Still in awe of the “how truly brilliant” all of her competitors were, Hackman said she is still taking it all in.
“It’s just such a huge honor in itself, said Hackman. “It’s far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”
Evan O’Dorney, 17, of Danville, Calif., won the top award of $100,000 from the Intel Foundation for his mathematical project in which he compared two ways to estimate the square root of an integer.
Third place went to Matthew Miller, 18, of Elon, N.C., who won $50,000 for his study of the affects of small bumps on the surface of wind turbine blades.
Her award-winning project, “Communication Underload: Validating the Existence of Disconnect Anxiety,” studied the effect of separating teenagers from their cell phones.
The Intel Foundation awarded $630,000 to the top 40 finalists in the competition.
Chosen out of a pool of 1,744 high school senior entrants, the 40 finalists were flown to the nation’s capital to compete for the top 10 spots.
The week-long event featured a rigorous judging process, interactions with leading scientists and the display of her research at the National Geographic Society.
Born with a congenital condition called coloboma which robbed her of her sight in one eye at birth, Hackman became sightless by the age of eight.
But despite her disability, the high-spirited teen started a recycling program and sings with the jazz choir at school. She and a friend have been instrumental in their quest to promote and construct a rural school in Cambodia for underprivileged girls and she is a volunteer with Reporters Without Borders with plans to attend Yale University.
Hackman is the daughter of Daniel and Sarah Hackman, of Kings Point.
School administrators were extremely pleased with the results.
“We are both proud of and happy for Michelle’s accomplishments,” said Great Neck School Superintendent Thomas Dolan. “She has earned everything that Intel has awarded her.”