MERIDEN — Four years ago, if you had asked Shiv Patel, 17, whether he would be named valedictorian of his graduating class at Maloney High School, he likely would have shrugged you off.
But a few things have happened since then. First, Patel’s older sister, Zeel, graduated from Maloney in 2019 ranked second in her class. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Connecticut during Patel’s freshman year. Patel said as a result he suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands. Patel said it was during that time he discovered the field of engineering. Patel finished that year exceptionally well academically, garnering all “A-pluses,” he said.
“I realized what I was capable of,” Patel said. He would discover through research, watching NASA videos and other content, and getting in contact with current engineers for the aerospace firm Pratt & Whitney, that he gravitated toward engineering, in particular aerospace engineering, and that he has a knack for science and math.
Patel said he learned that if he put enough effort into something, “I can be really good at what I wanted to do.” It inspired him to continue putting in that work and effort.
“I feel like, if i’m not performing at peak, and doing as much as I possibly can, I’m kind of letting myself down,” Patel said.
Of course, a friendly sibling rivalry and wanting to match his sister’s academic feats was another motivation that spurred Patel’s academic success throughout high school.
Patel heads to the University of Connecticut this fall and will pursue aerospace engineering as his field of study.
Patel described UConn as having a “strong research background.” And many researchers do go from Storrs to more elite universities.
Patel’s career at Maloney was not just about academics. He played trumpet in the Maloney band and marching band, becoming the leader of the trumpet section. He is also captain of the Meriden Co-op boys swimming and diving team.
Patel also served as a mentor with Maloney’s Student Leaders and Mentors [SLAM] program, in which upperclassmen work with freshmen on things that will help them achieve academic success, like time management. He was also an ambassador for the Meriden Public Schools’ Portrait of a Graduate initiative. It involves ongoing conversations with community members about what a graduate should look like and the skills and attributes they should leave high school having obtained.
Patel, asked where he sees himself after UConn and even 10 years from now, said he would likely further his academic studies in graduate school. After that, he would like to work for a corporation that provides orbital space launches, like SpaceX.
Patel said he watches footage of space launches voraciously.
“Every time you see one, I guarantee I’ve watched it,” he said, adding he is excited about learning and knowing about the complexities behind those launch vehicles — “being able to know the parts of that vehicle, how everything works.”
Patel added, “A lot of the technology we use every day comes out of aerospace.”
He described aerospace technology as the apex of technology developed by humans. “And I feel like being able to work on something like that would be amazing,” Patel said.
As an example of how systems engineering, aerospace engineering and rocket science has fascinated Patel, he pointed out a recent series of experiments he and a group of friends set out to accomplish — building and launching their own 3D printed rocket. It was basically the size of a bottle rocket.
They launched two separate rockets, which the team designed and fit with motors and a parachute.
Patel said he already understood a lot of the engineering behind a small rocket launch. He and his friends worked together as a structured engineering team, which each member assigned to oversee specific tasks. They first developed their plans on paper and then used computer-aided drafting software to finalize those plans.
“Then we put it into an aerodynamic software that would simulate the entire flight, and we estimate the height off of that given what type of motor. And then we launched it. So we knew what was going to happen with that flight,” Patel said.
The second rocket launched 100 feet higher into the air than the first one did.
For their next rocket, they will try a different type of frame with a different motor, as well as screw in joints.
Patel, reflecting on his four years at Maloney, described Advanced Placement Chemistry as his most challenging course. It was the first class Patel said he “felt completely lost in and so challenged.”
He felt as though the A-plus he received in that class was especially earned.
“AP chem taught me a lot of just how difficult school can really get. That was another one of those things where I realized if I really try and work hard towards something, I can do it,” Patel said. Patel said experience on the swimming and diving team has also helped him to learn how to manage his time, due to the rigid daily practice schedule.
Jennifer Ward, who teaches that class, described Patel as “super curious, very intellectual — but also very determined to figure things out.”
“So if something comes up and he doesn’t get it immediately, he puts in a ton of effort to try and figure out all the little details on why things work the way they do,” Ward said, describing her pupil as someone who is not only curious, but has the “skillset and drive to go the extra mile to figure things out.”
Brian Cyr, director of instrumental music and Maloney’s band director, described Patel as a “natural born leader” who has been a”tremendous part of” Maloney’s band program.
He is also a part of a graduating class that successfully navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, which made their high school experiences challenging, because it happened largely in the middle of those experiences.
Ward described Patel as “that consummate life long learner. Whenever something comes up, he will do his best to figure it out and make it better,” she said.
Patel, whose parents are Prakash and Vaishali Patel, attributes part of his academic success to date to the influence of his older sister, Zeel. “She was such a big mentor to me,” he said “... She would always drive me to do that little bit of extra work and just always keep me performing at the highest level possible and doing as much as I possibly can.”