Thomas “T.J.” Haskell seems like a typical, laid back high school student.He plays football, volleyball and basketball, and also plays the trumpet in the Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School Band. The freshman also enjoys hanging out with his friends on the weekends and procrastinating when having to finish his English homework. He wants to study his favorite subjects—science and math—and, ideally, eventually pursue a career in one of those fields.
His post-high school resume is already loaded with volunteering stints and extra-curricular activities, even though he is not expected to graduate for another three years.
And it will also soon feature a line that no other student attending ESM, or possibly any other high school across the country, can boast: separate five-day stints spent at both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Three years ago, Thomas, who prefers to be called “T.J.,” completed his first Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, program at West Point. As a middle school student, Thomas toured the military facility, participated in chemistry experiments and learned the basics of magnetics.
Next month, the 15-year-old will be heading south to the Naval Academy to conduct experiments in a lab-course setting, learn about the science and math programs offered to undergraduates at the naval base, and tour the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. T.J. and the other students accepted into the prestigious program will also listen to presentations on all of the science and technology courses offered at the Naval Academy.
T.J. is hopeful that his experience at both military institutions will boost his chances of gaining entry into the Naval Academy—his top choice—once he graduates from high school.
“I’m very excited,” T.J. said during a recent interview about his upcoming trip, during which he will stay in the dorms at the Naval Academy along with 125 other students also entering their freshmen and sophomore years of high school.
When he completes his latest venture, T.J. will be one of a select few students to have completed both STEM programs offered through the military. The programs, which focus on the sciences and math, are open to both middle and high school students, though the acceptance rates for the programs is low. For example, more than 4,200 students applied for this summer’s program, meaning only 3 percent of applicants were accepted.
According to the Naval Academy’s website, students enrolled in the STEM program will explore topics such as energy, light, infrastructure, transportation, cybersecurity, environmental challenges, flight and fluids, and automation. They will also spend time studying biometrics and robotics.
As for T.J., he said he’s looking forward to participating in the experiments, explaining that the hands-on activities were his favorite part of the West Point program.
“For most kids, if this happens once, it’s phenomenal,” ESM Schools Superintendent Mark Nocero said at a recent Board of Education meeting during which T.J. was recognized by school officials for his accomplishments. “We are so proud of everything you have accomplished so far.”
Also in attendance for this month’s ceremony were T.J.’s parents, Tom and Rose. Mr. Haskell watched his son accept a certificate from Mr. Nocero with tears in his eyes.
“I could not be prouder,” Mr. Haskell said at his home during a separate interview about his son. “He’s fearless. He takes on any task with a cool head and breezes through.”
In spite of only being 15, T.J. already has the next 10 years of his life planned out. He wants to study geospatial design—a field that examines statistics that focus on a certain geographic area—at the Naval Academy and earn his undergraduate degree there. In particular, he noted: “I want to look at a certain area and see how much food is needed to sustain the population, how many buildings and people, stuff like that. I think it’s really interesting.”
If accepted to the Naval Academy following high school, T.J. will enlist as a midshipman on active duty in the U.S. Navy and, after earning his degree, be commissioned as an ensign in the Navy or as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, where he will serve for at least five years.
“You really have to be smart and know what you’re doing before you go into the military,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t realize science and math were such an oriented part of the curriculum.”
As for the rest of the upcoming summer, T.J. said his plans mirror those of the typical high school student. In other words, he plans on taking a long break.
“Not really thinking about school will be nice,” he said, laughing.