SKOKIE — Kristine Park is always busy.
If she’s not in class, she’s playing No. 1 doubles for the Niles West girls tennis team. If she’s not on the court, the senior is working on her high school’s yearbook, laying out pages, choosing designs and instructing fellow staff members. If she’s not designing the yearbook, she’s in the lab, working with cancer cells.
Park is a part of Niles West’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program and has taken independent study classes since she was a freshman. Each year, she’s done high-caliber scientific research projects, including year-long projects on roadside plants and ocean coral. The last two years she’s studied cancer cell death.
In the project at Niles West, Park said she and schoolmate Anne McCarthy worked “on the inhibition of the enzyme telomerase in cancer cells,” predicting that by adding the inhibitor, the cells would no longer flourish. Park even carried the research into the summer, working with a mentor at Northwestern and growing cells and performing tests to observe senescence, the stage before cell death, and telomere length, which is key to understanding cancer cell growth and cell reproduction.
Park has been successful in her research, competing in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at Loyola University as both a sophomore and a junior. The experience itself has been just as rewarding for Park.
“I personally get to experience a little of what a college research lab is like,” Park said. “It’s exhilarating to work in a lab on a serious topic and interact with intelligent and bright people, and I hope I never stop.”
In addition to the research, Park shadowed optometrist Dr. Parres Wright at the Mind-Eye Connection in Northbrook during the summer, and she said she plans to again this winter. Park said she is interested in working in the field of optometry.
“She is self driven,” said JulieAnn Villa, Park’s teacher of four years. “I can’t imagine a student that takes more upon themselves, to manage their time, to go above and beyond.”
Without prodding from Villa, Park has contacted researchers and academic professionals in California and she arranged to work with researchers at the Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum. She also took Villa’s independent research class as a freshman, the first ever to do that.
In addition, Park has thrived on the tennis court. She’s a four-year varsity player and a two-time captain, and she was selected all-conference during her sophomore year. Yet while her skills are sharp, it’s her personality that sets her apart.
“I don’t think there’s a better leader in our school than Kristine Park,” said George Bravos, Niles West’s girls tennis coach.
Park plans team bonding outings, like bowling events, and chooses what uniforms the Wolves wear for their matches. She organizes email and text groups to keep players in the loop and get everyone involved in team matters.
“Just general things that leaders should do,” Bravos said.
Outside of high school tennis practices, Park takes lessons, attends camps and even plays daily during the summer with her father or brother (former Niles West tennis player David Park).
Villa said that Kristine Park is quiet and humble, and that people might not connect Kristine Park the tennis player to Kristine Park the student.
“To meet her, you might not realize just how amazing and how powerful and what a strong thinker she is,” Villa said.