Student Feature: Mariia Smyk ’20

“Before I came to Hill, I got a chance… Okay, I fought [for] my chance to represent Ukraine for a couple of International Oympiads,” Mariia Smyk ’20 said. 

Smyk’s passion for astronomy has been on display ever since she arrived on The Hill School’s campus.

Smyk attended her first International Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) in India back in 2016. She also went to the 2017 Olympiad held in Thailand this past November. She earned honorable mentions for both competitions and she ranked among the top 100 within the 250 representatives from 45 different countries present.

“Basically, you can get gold medal, silver medal, bronze medal, then honorable mention,” Smyk said.

Smyk is from Kiev, Ukraine. Her first year at Hill also marked the first time she set foot in the United States.

“I was interested in going to an American school when I was in sixth or seventh grade,” Smyk said. “Everyone knows that America is cool, so everyone wants to go. That was the general idea I had back.”

Smyk has expressed her interest in astronomy and astrophysics ever since she arrived at Hill. She organized the first star party back in September, utilizing the school’s telescopes. About 30 students participated and observed the views of Saturn, the moon, and the International Space Station, among other celestial objects.

Smyk said that before she asked Damian Baraty, instructor of computer science, for help, none had been using the school telescopes for five years.

“We have a lot of good telescopes here for students’ use,” Smyk said. “After the winter term, when it’s not cold outside, I’ll probably have another [party].”

Aside from the star gazing event, Smyk, alongside Baraty, has also helped organize the Hill’s first participation in the USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad (USAAAO). The competition’s goal is to “promote interest in astrophysics and astronomy across the country and to select students to represent the USA at the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics,” according to an email sent out by Smyk. Five students, including Smyk, participated in the first round of competition. Their results will be available “in a few weeks,” according to Baraty.

“Mariia has implemented her passion for astronomy in a number of ways at the Hill,” Baraty said. “She has also been interested in space exploration with a design-your-own satellite payload project, and most recently has convinced four other students to compete in a national astronomy exam just this week.”

Smyk has pursued astronomy since 9th grade. Back in Ukraine, she participated in competitions, interned for her teachers and professors, and helped conduct astral researches on telescopes.

According to Smyk however, her experience has been “limited” as there was not a lot of funding for research.

In summer 2018, Smyk will research magnetic fields and spectra of different types of stars with a professor at the Australian National University for two months under a grant.

“It’s actually a very interesting topic for me personally,” Smyk said. “I didn’t know a lot about it, but I was amazed by this particular topic in my first International Olympiad, in India.” 

Science has been Smyk’s passion ever since she was young. Both of her parents are associate professors in chemistry at Tara’s Shevchenko National University in Kiev. Smyk’s mother would show her “fun experiments like liquid changing colors or small [explosions],” leading her to have an early appreciation for science.

“I don’t know… I was just amazed by the sky,” Smyk said. “I guess everyone is amazed by the sky at some point.”

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