Terrence Kuo is a 17-year-old Taiwanese American who considers himself an atheist. He has no Jewish ancestry.
And yet he jumped at the opportunity to spend last summer in Israel studying architecture at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
A resident of Cranbury, Kuo is now in his senior year at Princeton High School. Before moving to New Jersey, he attended Bronx High School of Science, where he was encouraged by a guidance counselor to attend summer school in Israel. He applied for the SciTech program Technion offers for international high school students.
“I want to study engineering in college and I thought it would be unfit to study the subject without any prior life experience. I thought an international experience would be nice,” he told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 23 phone interview.
In his world history class at Princeton High, Kuo developed an interest in “the conflict of the Jews and Arabs. It really fascinated me. I wondered what it would be like to live in a state where there was all this conflict.
“When I got there, there wasn’t much talk about it,” he said. “But after awhile I started to talk with students and teachers who said they were very proud of their religion, very proud of being Jewish. I found that pretty interesting.”
Most of the other 31 students in the program were Jewish, he said.
Dispute his interest in engineering, Kuo was assigned to take courses in architecture and come up with his own research project. He and a partner chose solar panel design.
Working under a tight deadline of just four days, they created two alternative designs, then used complex mathematical formulas to calculate each one’s efficiency.
That intense experience could be a preview of coming attractions during his years in college.
For the last two nights working on the project, he said, “I only got a total of three hours of sleep. We made a mistake in our calculations so I had to redo the graphs, analysis, and conclusions. But in the end I was proud of my work,” he said.
Because of his summer experience, Kuo plans to keep solar power as a focus of his studies when he enters college to study engineering next September. He is not certain where to attend.
“I want to major in alternative energy engineering, but there aren’t many schools which have that field. They have electrical and mechanical and chemical, and alternative energy is a mixture of these.”
Once he completes his undergraduate work, Kuo said, a return to Israel may be on his agenda.
“I enjoyed Israel, I liked the food and the beaches. It was a nice environment. It was very suitable for solar panels, and if I was going to do testing on them that would be the place I would want to go.”