BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — Paul Sargunas, a Shenendehowa senior, has already gone through the dreaded process that awaits every college-bound 12th-grader — submitting applications.
The schools include selections such as Stanford, Caltech, UConn, UMass Amherst, Michigan and Stony Brook University. When asked which one is his top choice, he responded without hesitation: “Who wouldn’t love to go to Stanford?”
Wherever he ends up, he plans to major in chemical engineering or bioengineering. “I want to do something with biotechnology because it’s a meeting point between the sciences,” Sargunas said. “It intrigues me and there’s so much you can do with it.”
After his undergraduate years, Sargunas intends to pursue graduate school and then a Ph.D.
It comes as no surprise that his favorite subjects are science and math. Last year, he took the hardest math course that Shenendehowa has to offer: Calculus BC. So, this fall he was able to take Calculus 3 as an online course through Hudson Valley Community College and now he is studying statistics.
Of Lithuanian descent
Both of his parents are from the small Baltic country of Lithuania, home to approximately 3 million people. “Everyone in my family, up until me, has been born and raised there,” Sargunas said. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, my parents moved to Canada and then Arizona, which is where I was born; I learned to speak Lithuanian before English.” He lived in Arizona until high school, when they moved to Clifton Park, and he entered Shenendehowa as a freshman.
His father, Vidmantas (Vidas), is a semiconductor engineer at GlobalFoundries and has a Ph.D. in semiconductor physics, which is the reason the family moved to this area. His mother, Vaiva, was an ophthalmologist in Lithuania, but when she moved her degree wasn’t accepted and she was told she’d have to go through medical school all over again. “When I was born she decided to take care of me, and then my brother,” Sargunas said.
His younger brother, Justin, is in 10th grade at Shenendehowa.
“My parents picked names for my brother and I that sound good in both languages; Paul goes to Paulius and Justin goes to Justinas,” Sargunas said. “I like my name and it’s nice that it doesn’t turn heads on either side of the ocean.”
Most of his family still resides in Lithuania, and Paul enjoys visiting. “My homeland is where I could have easily grown up if things had been different,” he said. One thing that he loves in particular is the food such as cepelinai, potato dumplings with a meaty center, and sureliai, cheese curds surrounded by chocolates, which are little desserts eaten at breakfast.
He has an extensive list of extracurricular activities including the high school ski club, travel basketball, volunteering at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, participating in the town of Clifton Park’s Youth Court — his turn as a defendant will be toward the end of April — and the robotics team, The Rocketeers.
“I joined on a whim in ninth grade after my tech teacher was talking about it. Right now I’m one of the three co-captains, the highest elected student position,” Sargunas said. “We put more hours in dealing with award submissions, planning meetings and facilitating communication through different parts of the team.”
Beyond building and prototyping, Sargunas is also one of the main players at competition. He fills the role of drive coach. “For most teams, it’s an adult mentor, but we have trial process for these roles and last year they picked me to be their coach,” Sargunas said. “It’s a decision-making role; the driver is focused on driving, and I’m focused on the macro game. I tell them what they should be doing. You can have incredible robots and . . . if those three play it well they can wipe out the others; it’s a big part.”