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No Horsing Around: Minnetonka Senior Gets Perfect Score on ACT

Student Spotlight: Equestrian Maria Filsinger excels at school and on horseback.

Maria Filsinger can add “perfect ACT score” to her list of accomplishments. 

When she learned that she got a score of 36 on the ACT college entrance exam, the jumped up and screamed. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” said Filsinger.

Her reaction is understandable. Only one-tenth of one percent of all students taking the ACT get a perfect score.

“It's all about speed,” said Filsinger, who is a National AP Scholar. “Being a fast reader helped me to finish all the questions.”

Academics have always been a priority for Filsinger.“Challenging yourself and setting yourself apart academically is the key to success,” said Filsinger. “When you're staying up late, practicing for long hours and pushing yourself harder than you ever have, one day it is all worth it.”

Filsinger’s love of learning was inspired by Minnetonka social studies teacher Cheryl Duncan. “She is the most amazing teacher I have ever met,” said Filsinger. 

Duncan sees a combination of traits in Filsinger. 

“Maria is unusually smart, but she has none of the arrogance that gets in the way of learning,” said Duncan. “Sometimes the teachers even wonder what we can teach her, but her open mind and generous spirit allow her to make the most of every day.”  

Filsinger’s passion is science. She is captain of the school Math Team and Science Olympiad team. 

“Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to change the world, and science was the way I wanted to do it,” said Filsinger. 

This fall, Filsinger plans to make that dream a reality by attending Stanford University to major in biology. 

“I’d like to get a doctorate degree and work in biology research, perhaps synthetic biology or genetic engineering,” said Filsinger.

Filsinger is just as comfortable in a stable as she is in a science lab. The teen started riding horses at age six.

“I ride almost every day,” said Filsinger, captain of her school’s equestrian team. 

During summer, she travels around the country participating in regional and national competitions with her horse, Pete. 

She is the reigning state champion in her riding discipline, eventing. Eventing is like the triathlon of horseback riding. The competition has three phases which include dressage, cross country and show jumping.

Though she’s fallen off a horse a few times, she’s only suffered one injury: a broken pinky finger.

She credits her parents for her equestrian success. “My parents have been very supportive,” Filsinger said. “Being a show horse parent means waking up before 5 a.m., driving 16-plus hours in a day, and paying extreme sums of money for me at be able to pursue my passion.”

Filsinger combined her equestrian and entrepreneurial skills by starting her own business, MF Photography. “I sell photos that I take at horseback riding competitions,” she said.

Filsinger also earns money as an assistant trainer for her riding coach, Liz Lund. “I teach lessons, exercise horses and groom at competitions,” explained Filsinger. 

Filsinger considers Lund a mentor. 

“Liz’s personality is so cheerful, so bright,"Filsinger said. "She sees the best in everyone and every situation. She taught me that the most important thing is the attitude with which you approach the world.”

When Filsinger isn’t studying, riding or working, you might find her volunteering.

Her volunteer service ranges from tutoring elementary students each week at an inner-city school to volunteering at the Minnesota Zoo during summer break.

In addition, she occasionally volunteers as a laboratory assistant at the University of Minnesota, helping analyze muscle samples for an equine genetics research project. 

Filsinger’s commitment to service recently earned her the gold level Presidential Volunteer Service Award. 

Filsinger is looking forward to ringing in the New Year, which will bring new adventures like leaving for college. 

“I’m excited,” she said. “But I will miss my family immensely.” The Filsinger family includes the horses, chickens, dogs and cats that live on their hobby farm in western Excelsior.

Her New Year’s resolution? 

“To enjoy every minute of my last part of high school,” Filsinger said. “It's a time in my life I'm never going to get back.”

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