The Senior Spotlight series features interviews with Sibley seniors who have shown commitment to academic excellence and personal achievement. The series will highlight two seniors each week until graduation.
Son of Jay Alva and Teresa Heath-Alva of Eagan
Academically, Ben Alva is drawn toward engineering, science and wanting to learn how and why things work. What he has discovered throughout high school, however, is that even linear thinkers can excel in the abstract.
Ben learned this lesson when he took his required art class at Henry Sibley. His teacher, Mrs. Patt, encouraged him to try new things and explore his creativity. The next year he signed up for another art class as an elective and soon, he was creating sculptures out of clay, card paper and 3D modeling software. Ben says his art projects, which trend toward subjects like architecture, have provided him with a form of freedom that he doesn’t get in his other classes.
“I like it because instead of needing math or computer code to get something to work, you can put what you want into building something,” said Ben. “It has inspired me a lot.”
In the summer of 2016, Ben entered the Minnesota State Fair art competition and won fourth place for his card paper model of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. He also had a sculpture featured in a Phipps Center for the Arts show in Hudson, Wisconsin.
Ben’s pursuits outside of school include working as a Lifeguard at The Grove Aquatics and Fitness Center in Inver Grove Heights and volunteering for the past three years at The Open Door Pantry food shelf in Eagan. In 2016, Ben achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America organization.
When he was young Ben participated just about every sport offered by Eagan Parks and Recreation, playing soccer, lacrosse, basketball and more. He focused on football in high school in the middle linebacker and tight end positions his freshman, sophomore and junior years at Henry Sibley. He also wrestled as a freshman, before quitting due to an injury.
Over the course of his years at Henry Sibley, Ben has enrolled in some of the school’s most challenging courses. He completed Intro to Engineering, Principles of Engineering and Architectural Engineering through the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, which offers college credits from the University of Minnesota. He also took Advanced Placement (AP) Biology, Chemistry, Physics C Mechanics and Calculus AB.
Ben plans to study Genetics, Cell Biology and Development with a minor in Business at the University of Minnesota. He says he is excited about working with scientists at the U of M and studying the use of gene therapies in fields such as agriculture. He has even been experimenting with bacteria samples using a do-it-yourself, at-home synthetic biology research kit that recently came on the market for amateur scientists.
“The Genetic Engineering field is growing and it’s going to be incredibly important in the future,” said Ben. “I’ve been reading tons of engineering and biology books about it.”
Before starting classes in September, Ben is looking forward to joining the College of Biological Sciences’ annual summer trip for first-year students to their Field Station in a few months. During the trip, freshmen get to know faculty and other students, engage in research projects and learn university traditions while surrounded by the beauty of Itasca State Park at the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
The other schools Ben attended in District 197 were Pilot Knob Elementary and Friendly Hills Middle School.
District 197: How has Sibley prepared you to succeed after graduation?
Ben: The course work was rigorous and it required careful planning to juggle my AP courses, a job and outside activities.
Who is your favorite teacher or what is your favorite subject?
The teacher who made a lasting impression on me is Mrs. Carol Patt. I am very focused on math and sciences, but Mrs. Patt helped me to recognize my talent for and love of art. She encouraged me, recognized my efforts and helped me to participate in two art exhibitions.
What advice do you have for younger students about high school?
Make sure you apply yourself right out of the gate and take AP courses. The work is far more rigorous, but it is worth the knowledge you'll gain and the prep you'll get for college.
Anything else you'd like to share about your time at Sibley?
I appreciated the opportunity to get to know many people from diverse backgrounds. Sibley's student population draws from many different cultures and I learned a lot by being friends with people from many cultures and whose families are from places all over the world.
Read about other achievements by students in the class of 2017:
- Senior Spotlight: Liliana Jimenez
- Senior Spotlight: Sam Gantman
- Dan O’Reilly and Alex Nilles named National Merit Finalists
- National Merit Semi-finalists and Commended - Dan O’Reilly, Alex Nilles, Sam Altshuler, Nicholas Crary, Joseph Dill, Victoria Garner, Willa Gegelman, Maya Levine, Greta Prokosch, Oren Rosenberg, and Jake Wendt.
- Greta Prokosch named Henry Sibley's 2017 Athena Award winner
- Ninety Sibley Students Earn AP Scholar Awards