Science star headed to Exeter Academy for fall 2014

2012 3rd place cal state sceince fairAilis Dooner, who was named California’s Outstanding Young Scientist in 2013, will not be returning to Carmel High School for her senior year. No, it’s not because she got expelled for working too hard. In the beginning of March, Dooner was accepted into Phillips Exeter Academy, consistently ranked among the top ten preparatory school in the United States.

Although Dooner has always been interested in boarding school, she decided on a whim to apply to Exeter during this past winter break. With her parents’ approval she applied that day, thinking it would be good practice for the college application process. At 2:30 a.m. on March 10, she woke up to her alarm to see that she had been accepted into the prestigious preparatory high school and had received a generous scholarship.

Her father, CHS science teacher Tom Dooner, is excited for his youngest child.

“I think she’s a naturally curious and inquisitive kid,” the science teacher says. “So being put in an environment where she can maximize her potential is going to help her.”

The junior says she is most excited for Exeter because of the teaching method, the Harkness Method, which uses a 12:1 student-to-teacher ratio and courses taught solely in a seminar format. Students sit at a large oval table and learn not only from their teacher, but from their surrounding classmates.

Exeter is also on a term system, similar to college, where there are three terms in a school year and students take different courses each term. The three-term school year allows students to take 15 different courses in a year and allows them to immerse themselves in a large variety of subjects.

“I feel like I’m walking through a candy store when I look at the course catalog,” Dooner says.

On top of the changes in class instruction and courses, she is also excited to meet new people and challenge herself academically.

Post-Exeter, the science whiz plans to apply to colleges on the east coast to be near her family. As far as a major goes, Dooner is unsure, but she is certain that biology will be a part of her studies. She gained her love for science at a young age, spending much of her childhood traveling to various national parks and being in nature, and she has pursued her love in local and international science fairs.

In 2013, Ailis received the Outstanding Young Scientist Award and took top honors at the International Science & Engineering Fair and the Monterey County Science Fair for her project titled, “Targeting Lung Mutagenesis: Mycosporin-like Amino Acids as Scavengers of Pah O-Quinone Derived Ros for the Reduction of P53 Strand Scission and Mutation in Human Lung Cancer.”

Although the ocean-lover is known for her achievements in the science realm, she is just as interested in literature, philosophy and the humanities.

“My goal is to get as much exposure to as many different subjects as possible.”

If things go as planned, Ailis hopes to one day get an M.D. Ph.D. and possibly be a pediatrician while also doing research on the side…and being editor-in-chief of Sunset Magazine.

“A little ambitious,” says Dooner, laughing.

The former basketball player loves conducting research, but she also loves human interaction and the practical application of science, which she finds most interesting.

Even though the junior is ecstatic about spending a year at Exeter, she will miss her friends, family and mentors here in Carmel. Dooner has had many influential mentors during her time at CHS, including English teacher Whitney Grummon, history teacher Bill Schrier and counselor Darren Johnston. It’s clear that the admiration is mutual.

“Ailis is everything a teacher would ever want in a student,” Grummon says. “I think we are losing a leader in academics.”

There is no doubt that Ailis Dooner has a bright future and will continue to follow her passions after CHS.

“I just do what I love,” Dooner says. “I don’t really think about the end result. I just enjoy what I’m doing in the moment…. I think that pays off in the long run.”

-Helaine Ridilla