Scottsdale youth makes ’18 Under 18’ list Katherine Cecala Jackson Bukata

Junior Achievement of Arizona President Katherine Cecala awards BASIS Scottsdale student Jackson Bukata with the 18 Under 18 award.

This year’s 2019 Junior Achievement 18 Under 18 in Arizona includes one of Scottsdale’s very own.

Jackson Bukata, 18, who just graduated from BASIS Scottsdale, has already worked with Mayo Clinic researchers on colon cancer research, and he completed an internship at Arizona State University helping to create a model of the type of mosquito that spreads the Zika virus to better determine the regions most susceptible to it.

But even with said impressive past experiences, he was surprised he made the cut.

“A lot of people that were on the list tended to have one crowning achievement, where I felt like I’ve had several smaller endeavors. Because they’re going to have that one headliner, I wasn’t quite sure if I would get it or not,” Bukata admitted.

The annual 18 Under 18 awards program honors the most outstanding young people in the state, showcasing up-and-comers who show exceptional entrepreneurial spirit, leadership, community service and more.

Bukata and the 17 other recipients were chosen out of hundreds of nominees. He was nominated by his school’s guidance counselor.

From creating a food distribution network in Chino Valley to provide weekend meals for 300 low-income students to being the general manager and head chef of a full-fledged fine-dining restaurant in Phoenix, this year’s recipients included entrepreneurs, activists, scientists and more.

Junior Achievement of Arizona’s (JA) goal is to empower future generations by equipping them with the skills, knowledge and tools to manage money, plan for the future and make smart academic, career and economic choices.

Each year, JA serves more than 80,000 students; since its founding 60 years ago, the nonprofit organization has served over two million.

During Bukata’s internship at Mayo Clinic last summer, he assisted in creating a deep-learning algorithm that could more readily identify colon cancer in patients.

He worked with Jianming Liang, associate professor and a member of graduate faculties of biomedical informatics, computer science, computer engineering and biomedical engineering at ASU.

“It was amazing being part of such a large institution, even though I was still in high school. It was amazing being in a center for cutting-edge research, while a week earlier I was finishing up junior year,” Bukata said. “[Liang] really helped open my eyes to research at that level, which was really interesting.”

The previous summer, in 2017, Bukata worked with a professor at ASU to model the spread of the Zika virus.

“That was a lot of applied math,” he recalled. “I would help him create the model with a lot of differential equations to figure out what regions were the most vulnerable to spread of Zika in the future.”

Bukata has always loved math and is fascinated by the role algorithms could play in diagnosing and treating disease.

“Basically, as I took more and more advanced math classes, I found that they weren’t really applicable to real world problems; so, that turned to more applied math, which in turn led me to more of a computer science/math approach to problems and that really kicked me into this field,” he said.

Bukata graduated on May 24 from BASIS Scottsdale, which was named the third-best high school, the best charter school and the second-best STEM school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report this year.

“The very rigorous curriculum at BASIS really, really helped me prepare for college and beyond because I was able to take classes that challenged me throughout all four years of my high school experience, which was something I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” Bukata said.

In the fall, Bukata will attend Columbia University in New York City.

He plans on majoring in mathematics or applied mathematics and applying those skills to a career similar to his internships.

“I’ve been looking at math mixed with economics or finance as well, so the internship opportunities and research opportunities there in New York City are the best in the country,” he said.

For the full list of 18 Under 18 recipients, visit jaaz.org.