Not everyone is fascinated by formulas, enthralled with equations or digs decimals.
Meet Alyna (pronounced "a-leen-a") Katti.
The Minnetonka High School senior is proof that being a math whiz isn’t just for nerds with pocket protectors.
“I love math because there is a certainty to it,” Katti said. “Once you derive the answer, you know you’re right.”
Katti also notes that there is an abstract side of math. “You can be creative,” she explained. “You can take a rule of math and manipulate it to create a new rule.” Math-o-phobes, take note.
Katti’s academic success was recently recognized with an AP Scholar with Distinction award. The award is bestowed on high school students who demonstrate college-level achievement through advanced placement courses and exams.
Declaring love for math wasn’t always easy for Katti.
“When I decided I liked math, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share that with anyone,” Katti admitted. “There’s a perception that if you like math, you’re a nerd.”
Even Talking Barbie famously called math “tough.”
Now Katti is proud of her passion for numbers. And she shares that positive attitude with the kids she tutors.
Katti volunteers with Backpack Tutoring, an organization that pairs high school students with kids at Minneapolis elementary schools. She recently received a Presidential Service award for her work in tutoring.
“The best part of tutoring is that I develop a relationship with the kids and I see changes in them,” said Katti, who has tutored for three years and is now a leader of the program. “They might start out hating school or struggling in math, but I show them through my attitude that it can be fun.”
Katti plans to major in math in college. She has applied to seven schools, including the University of Chicago.
She’s not sure what career path she will pursue after college. “Ideally, I’d like to help people using math,” said Katti. “It’s important that I do something to touch people’s lives.”
Besides math, Katti’s other passion is learning about foreign cultures.
She is president of the Minnetonka chapter of People to People, an organization founded by Dwight Eisenhower to increase global understanding and respect.
“We help raise awareness of international crises and bring an international outlook to the community,” Katti said.
People to People’s current focus is called Raise Hope for Congo. Profits from minerals mined in Congo fund armed forces that use tactics including brutal violence and rape.
Most of these minerals end up in electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and portable music players. Raise Hope for Congo was created as a way for American consumers to demand conflict-free electronics.
“This is about choosing not to use products with minerals mined in Congo, because they are used in violent ways,” said Katti.
Katti got a first-hand look into another culture last year when she spent a week in Costa Rica for a school biology research trip.
She has also studied the Chinese language since eighth grade. Why Chinese? “My brother took Spanish,” she said. “I wanted to be different.” Katti was able to put her studies to practical use when she traveled to China this past June with a school group.
Katti’s brother, Raj, is a sophomore at Caltech. “Raj showed me that being academically successful is a positive thing,” she said. “He also showed me that it’s not unachievable.”
Katti also gains inspiration and strength from her mother, Michele, who passed away from cancer just before Katti’s seventh birthday.
“My mom left diaries for us to read when we got older,” said Katti. The wisdom and perspective in her mother's writing is applicable to her own life, shared Katti.
When she’s not studying or tutoring, Katti likes to hang out with friends and go to football games. “I’m not all academic and serious,” she said with a laugh.
Katti also likes to play piano at home. “I just learned River Flows in You,” said the self-taught pianist.
As a senior, what advice would Katti give to freshmen?
“Get involved right away,” she said. “I waited until sophomore year to join activities, but I wish I would’ve started earlier. Find something that could interest you and give it a shot.”