Ernie Levroney is the sort of student who makes teachers cry -- for joy.
The 11th-grader at Northeast High School has been chosen as one of 50 students in the nation to receive a fellowship at the prestigious National Institutes of Health this summer.
Guidance counselors get teary-eyed when they talk about Ernie, and students say what a good guy he is, this 6-footer who will help anybody, any time, with homework.
As class salutatorian and biochemical whiz-kid, the 17-year-old student already has colleges beating down his door. Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, which has one of thecountry's top chemistry programs, has invited him up for several all-expenses-paid weekends to visit the campus.
He will be the first person in his family to go to college, Ernie says.
"My parents just encouraged me to do the best I could. And I wanted to do my best for them."
The young man doesn't seem much like the stereotype of a budding biophysicist. He is well rounded. He is husky and athletic with a deep voice. He exudes shy charm.
"No one is better than anyone else," he says softly, shrugging off praise. "We all have things we're good at and things we're bad at."
Modesty aside, there isn't much the teen-ager isn't good at. He takes seven courses, including three advanced placement classes, which leaves him no lunch period. Teachers give him a 10-minute break around noon to grab a snack.
He is president of the National Honor Society, active in student government, runs track and tutors underclassmen -- all the while maintaining a 3.61 grade-point average.
Last summer he wrote a play for incoming ninth-graders to orient them to high school. This weekend, he coordinated a golf-athon to raise money for National Honor Society scholarships.
"I don't get a lot of sleep," he admits. "But if I weren'tbusy, I'd be bored."
He won't be bored this summer, working as anassistant in the Biochemistry Department at NIH under Dr. David Cooney, says Ernie.
The young man applied three months ago for one of the fellowships, was interviewed at NIH and learned recently he wouldhave the chance to spend his summer in a lab coat in Bethesda, measuring mice cells for cancer experiments.
He'll have to learn the metric system down to 10 to the negative 15th, "something I'd never heard of," he says.
Says Northeast science teacher Rochelle Slutskin,who has supervised Ernie's independent research this year: "If a student is interested in a career in medicine or medical research, this program (at NIH) shows them the way. It helps them take the right courses in school and fill out medical school applications."
When Ernie started this year's project, an overview of the most recent cancerresearch, Slutskin first gave him college graduate student textbooks, she says. He consumed them with ease and went on to read the actualstudies themselves in medical and science journals.
"He has all the raw material," says Slutskin. "He's bright, interested and motivated. He amazes me the way he is able to understand information in science journals that a lot of college graduate students wouldn't understand."
She is not alone in her praise. Guidance counselor Anne Klyman calls Ernie "Mr. Wonderful." "Everyone who meets Ernie is better for it," Klyman says. "I've been in many schools in this county, and he's one of the best students I've ever seen."
Susan Carroll, chairperson of the English department at the high school, wrote in a letter of recommendation: "I have seldom encountered a student so driven to achieve constantly to his highest potential."
Ernie says the credit goes to his family and his teachers.
He grew up in Solley, in a close family. "I could always talk to my parents," he says. "I looked up to them and listened to them, and I found out everything they were saying was right."
His grandparents also were helpful in theirdiscipline, he says. "I was a real brat as a kid. They wouldn't let me get away with anything."
As an elementary school student, Erniewasn't much of a scholar, he says. But a sixth-grade science projectpiqued his interest, and by ninth grade, he knew he wanted to be a scientist.
"Something just clicked," he says. "I just knew -- 'Thisis what I want.' In science, it never stops. There's always more to know."