Hutchison Helped Zelia Cedeño-Avila ’24 Become More Confident and Find Herself

At Hutchison, Zelia Cedeño-Avila ’24 stepped out of her comfort zone to try many different things and hone in on her interest in science and math, from serving as Technology Council president to creating a robotic scarecrow for her myExperience capstone project. A lifelong learner, she will bring her knowledge and skills to Vanderbilt University, where she plans to study mechanical engineering.
Entering high school can be a scary experience, especially when you’re at a new school and only know a handful of people. Hutchison is where Zelia Cedeño-Avila ’24, who started attending in ninth grade, blossomed not only academically but also socially, helping her overcome her shyness and introversion. “To my surprise, when I was applying for a scholarship this year and asking people for words to describe myself, someone described me as ‘gregarious.’ Freshman year Zelia was not gregarious in the slightest, but to know that I’ve overcome that and been able to connect with my community is something I’m proud of,” she said. 

Zelia is a lifelong learner who likes to understand the various reasons why things are the way they are. For example, she attended Latin IV classes during her study hall senior year because she wanted to learn more about the language. She is interested in many different things, but science and math have always stood out in her quest for knowledge. Hutchison helped her dive deeper into her love of STEM in many ways, especially through the STEM cohort of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship’s myExperience program. For her capstone project, she built a robotic scarecrow. While volunteering at the Dobbs Farm over the summer, she realized deer and raccoons were coming in the night and harming the plants. She set up a trail camera and figured out how and when animals were coming in. Using her skills in coding and design, she programmed the robot to take a lap around the farm at 7:00 pm. She also incorporated integrated pest management, which she learned about in AP Environmental Science – using human hair, smells, an herb and vinegar mix, and motion to scare pests away.

“I enjoyed the experience of having a personal project,” she said. “I knew building a robot was going to be a fun challenge for me.”

Zelia presented her robotic scarecrow at the myExperience senior showcase in April.

Interested in a career in the field of aviation, she completed Hutchison’s dual enrollment aviation classes when she was in 10th grade. Zelia will attend Vanderbilt University on a full scholarship, where she plans to study mechanical engineering. She feels prepared for college thanks to her time at Hutchison. “The rigor of Hutchison classes helped me understand what I need to do to improve when I’m struggling in a class, whether that’s reaching out to a teacher or finding additional resources,” she said.

Zelia also participated in robotics, Destination Imagination, and technical theatre, and she served as the Technology Council president her senior year. Last summer, she attended the Tennessee Governor’s School for Computational Physics at Austin Peay State University. The College Board named Zelia a National African American Recognition Program Scholar, an honor reserved for a select number of outstanding students. 

Beyond excelling in the classroom, Zelia has appreciated numerous opportunities to try new things at Hutchison, from studying academic trivia for Knowledge Bowl to expressing her creativity through the upper school dance company. “The flexibility and community of Hutchison has allowed me to follow my interests and reach out whenever I need to,” she said. “I just enjoy trying things and seeing if they stick.”

Do something that interests you, even if it’s only the slightest inkling because you’ll never know what will come of it.

Another challenge Zelia enjoyed was serving as a sound board operator and assistant sound designer for Hutchison theatre productions. As a sound board operator, her job is to make sure microphones are working properly and that all sound cues happen at the right time. As a sound designer, she looks through show scripts, determines which moments need sound effects and underscoring, and collaborates with each show’s director, technical director, and lighting designer to bring all their ideas to life. “I love the feeling I get after a show, especially the joy. Things don’t always go smoothly, but as long as the crowd enjoys it, that’s what matters,” she said. This spring, she received the Technical Theatre Award and the Ruth & Bliss Bowlin Creativity Award for her efforts.

As she prepares to head to Vanderbilt, Zelia is thankful for her four years at Hutchison. In her senior speech, she said being around people who are different from her has broadened her perspective and helped her become more comfortable connecting with new people. She is looking forward to taking on more challenges in college and plans on staying connected with the Hutchison community.

“Hutchison is a place where you can grow and become a better person in an accepting community,” she said. “I’m going to cherish having people who I can turn back to in the future and reach out to. It has helped me knowing that there are people who I can lean on and also are willing to rely on me.”


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