Tucson freshman David Zulli has had a pretty awesome few weeks.
The 15-year-old has earned awards at regional and state science fairs and was recently named Arizona’s Military Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“I’ve been very blessed these past few weeks,” Zulli said in a telephone interview.
The Youth of the Year awards recognize Boys & Girls Clubs members for their academic performance, contributions to their club and community, and overcoming adversity.
David attends Sonoran Science Academy Davis-Monthan, has a 4.3 GPA, teaches piano lessons, and is an Eagle Scout. He volunteers with his church, and is active in the Boys & Girls Club affiliate on base, Youth Programs, where he is president of the Keystone Club, a character and development program.
“Things matter to him, so he applies himself and he works hard,” said his mother, Cindy Zulli. “It doesn’t really come easy. He gets up every morning sometimes at 4:30 to spin all his plates.”
The award came as no surprise to Youth Programs’ director, Tara Wagner.
“David is a very polite, responsible, dedicated, active young man,” she said. “He’s a very good speaker for his young age. He amazes me, he really does.”
For the speech requirement part of the Youth of the Year application process, David spoke about the challenges of being part of a military family.
“One of the problems associated with being a military child is moving. However, for myself, moving was not the issue, that was the adventure,” David said. “For me, it was trying to restructure my social life, because I have a lot of differences with guys that are my peers. I talked about how I’ve been taunted and pushed down ... and how the Boys & Girls Club accepted me and was a good place.”
His state award came with a $1,000 scholarship prize, which the teen hopes to use to attend Harvard University, where he’d like to study biology.
In May, David will showcase his science skills when he competes in the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project Olympiad.
He earned an all-expenses-paid trip to the competition after winning a second-place award at the Southern Arizona Science and Engineering Fair. He also won a third-place award at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair.
For his project, David studied the growth rate of a green algae, and sought to find out if he could enhance its growth using supplemental illumination to cultivate it for biofuel research.
“Green energy and biofuel research has come to the forefront of the scientific community in terms of trying to create a more sustainable world, so last year I had a really good project, too,” he said. “It was successful. However, it wasn’t the most applicable or relevant in today’s society, so I wanted to do something that was useful and that was sort of keeping up with the trends of science.”
David’s science teacher, Brian Rafacz, called him an “inquisitive high-level thinker” who doesn’t hesitate to help others.
“You’ve got some of those kids out there that are so bright that they sort of leave everybody, including the teacher, kind of blinking,” Rafacz said. “He doesn’t do that. He asks great questions, (is) willing and able to turn in his seat and explain something in a layman’s terms to a student so that they understand it as well.”