Serena Booth, from Memphis, Tennessee, took a slightly different path after winning a national Award for Aspirations in Computing in 2011. She was admitted to Harvard after graduating from high school, but decided to take a gap year to work in behavioral research at Disney.
Serena was inspired to take her gap year for a couple of reasons. Her brother also had been accepted to Harvard as an incoming freshman, and as with many siblings close in age, Serena decided that a little bit of distance might do the both of them some good. She also felt like she needed a break from school. "I didn't have anything in mind when I first decided to defer, I was just sort of burnt out, too many teachers, too many rules, and I was just tired after high school … I didn't know what I was going to do, but my ears were open."
Not long after she made her decision, a Disney employee who had attended Serena's high school reached out to inquire whether any students were interested in coming to work for Disney Research. After two interviews, Serena joined Disney as a Research Associate.
"Transitioning from high school in Tennessee to working in a research lab in Boston was both challenging and exciting," she said. "When I arrived at Disney Research, I was able to familiarize myself with everything that was going on in the lab and had the opportunity to explore several options before engaging in a focused set of projects. It's a pretty great place to work, because they encourage you to explore ideas you may not be able to pursue in a traditional office."
Serena started at Disney in August of 2011 and finished her tenure in June of 2012 with a two-week jaunt to Disneyland Paris, where she got to interact with people who were testing the product she had been researching and building for the past year. Following the Paris trip, Serena returned to Massachusetts and began her freshman term at Harvard. At the conclusion of her freshman year, Serena has found that she and her brother actually are taking many of the same classes and she's happy they are both at Harvard.
Serena hasn't yet declared a major, but suspects she will likely lean towards Computer Science. She shared a math class with another Aspirations recipient, and through her, Serena got the opportunity to be a technical chair on one of Harvard's research organizations. "I can't stress enough how awesome it is to have the Aspirations community as a support."