My STEM Story: Perseverance of a Scholar

Zuriel Johnson-GCA

Originally published in STEM Magazine – January 2019

Where did your interest in math and science begin?

My interest in math and science started when I was accepted into the Advanced Learners Program at Georgia Cyber Academy, powered by K12, in the third grade. At 8 years old, I thought about going into math and science but I also believed it was too challenging and I wanted something that I could do quickly. As the years went by, my view transformed.

When I was accepted into SMASH Academy, my view of math and science broadened. I had a chance to experience the different ways scientists use math and science to shape our society and improve it as well. I wanted to become someone that changed the world with my ideas. The way that I saw it was utilizing science and math.

How did it become a passion?

The field of STEM became a passion when I saw the many opportunities available and the resources God provided me. In my Advanced Program classes at Georgia Cyber Academy, I was introduced to the different ways I could use science in real life. During my time at SMASH, I had an opportunity to see it with my own eyes. I met different people who worked in the STEM field and learned how they utilized their training to help people in my own community.

What excites you about math and science?

I am passionate about solving problems and overcoming the challenges and obstacles to understand them. Knowing that I have been put in this world for a reason and using the knowledge that God has given me is thrilling. It took a while to realize it, but math and science is all around us. Science and math is in our electronics, cars, and even the money we use. I also get excited when I can find out the way they work in our world.

Who or what was your greatest influence and why?

Honestly right now, many people have influenced me. However, I would say that the benefits of technology influence me directly and indirectly. It influences me directly because I am always around technology. I use it continually throughout my daily life. For example, I use it in my academics and when I DJ or make beats.

It also influences me indirectly by seeing the various ways scientists use new technology to enhance other people’s lives. They create new cars or new phones with enhanced features that makes the lives of others easier (even though they can be expensive).

Any special challenges along the way thus far?

I believe the main challenge for me is balancing my academic life with my social life. I am participating in various things and am busy doing something every day. Trying to balance being a scholar, soccer player, soccer referee, SMASH scholar, friend, and older brother can be a lot to handle.

However, participating in these things have helped me to become better at time management and a better person in general. Although I have thought about giving up numerous times, God has helped me to endure through the hard times, and as a result I am grateful for those times.

Why did you choose virtual education over public school?

I chose Georgia Cyber Academy over public school because of the adaptability and opportunities for a quality advanced education. With a flexible schedule, I am capable of doing many things that I believe if I attended a brick-and-mortar school would be limited.

When we need to travel, I am able get my work done ahead of time or while I am away. I can take my school anywhere! I can also spend valuable time with my family. Georgia Cyber Academy also gives my family and I a more flexible schedule so we can do both academic work and serve others around us. I am the oldest of five children and all of us are enrolled in Georgia Cyber Academy. I also have a job as a certified Georgia soccer referee and have the flexibility of working around my demanding course load.

What is the GCA’s Advanced Learner Program?

Georgia Cyber Academy’s Advanced Learners Program is a supplemental enrichment program designed to meet the needs of advanced learners through accelerated course planning, topic enrichment, Learning Coach support, curriculum compacting, and other activities that incorporate academics, multiple intelligences, and social interaction.

To get into the ALP program, students must qualify. Because GCA’s qualifications variate every year, students must qualify yearly. I was accepted into GCA in third grade and have qualified every year since to remain in the program. It becomes challenging at times because of the workload, but I persevere through it and in the end, I notice how much I have improved because of it.

Why Morehouse college?

SMASH Morehouse is a STEM extensive college prep program for underrepresented high school students of color. Out of all the SMASH sites, SMASH Morehouse is specifically made for young men of color. When I was accepted into the program, I had the privilege to live on the Morehouse campus for 5 weeks this summer (which I will do for 3 years). During those 5 weeks, scholars take stem classes every day, and once a week, we network with STEM professionals. During those weeks, I met and created relationships with the other 50+ scholars in the program as well. During the school year, we meet every month for Saturday Academy.

On those days, we go through different classes like College Success which prepares us to become successful in college. We apply for scholarships, learn how we should manage our money, and are given tips on how to become successful in our academics in college. SMASH has given me many opportunities and has helped me become more confident going into college.

Where are you headed after high school?

My goal is to attend either Morehouse College or Georgia Institute of Technology. I am not exactly sure what I want to major in, but I am moving towards majoring in either architecture, architecture engineering, or civil engineering.

Although I am still deciding, God has given me the desire to major in something that I enjoy and use my abilities to help others around the world. If I go into architecture or civil engineering, I want to be able to build convenient and affordable homes for people in need of a home. I could create different utilities that help people that lack water around the world as well.

Career goals?

Presently I am pursuing a possible career in architecture or civil engineering. Although my goals may change overtime, my short-term goal is to maintain a high GPA so that I can obtain various scholarships and have opportunities for internships in the STEM field.

I also aim to be a leader in my classroom at Georgia Cyber Academy by taking initiative to help other students who may be struggling in science and math. My long-term goal is to excel in the STEM field and graduate with the highest degree. Furthermore, I desire to utilize my skills in a way that benefits others. I am also aiming to use my life and career to be an example to others who also want to go into the STEM field, primarily minorities.

What do you hope the “takeaways” are for readers? What do you want them to remember?

The takeaways I hope the reader will remember is that perseverance and faithfulness can take you very far. It took me very far and has opened many possibilities. Opportunities like Georgia Cyber Academy and SMASH has helped me tremendously. SMASH Academy’s motto is “SMASH Transforms Lives” and they have certainly transformed my life. Georgia Cyber Academy has done the same. I am very grateful for that.

Ever since I was young, my parents have prayed continuously for me and have trusted God to provide the best education for me. I believe that they have made the right decision by choosing Georgia Cyber Academy and that the possibilities for my future as a STEM professional are endless.

With the ear of thousands of students and teachers world-wide, what are your words of advice or encouragement?

My words of encouragement are to persevere through your challenges. Never give up, no matter what other people say. Moreover, do not quit because things are hard. Make connections with people and always have a support system. Getting to where I am now has (and still is) a challenge. Fortunately, I’ve had a good support system which includes God, my family, and friends. This has kept me moving forward. Additionally, you can be skillful in sports and still be skillful in academics. You can use the same determination that you put into sports, for your academics as well.

Life is about balance. I have not done this perfectly, but from my mistakes, I am learning how to balance my academics, athletics and social life. I am able to have a healthy social life, but if it’s all about a social life, then my focus will just be about popularity. My last words of advice are to stay true to yourself. God has made us all distinguished and unique, so you do not have to try to be like anyone else. If you would take the time to notice your own attributes, you will not have time to worry or be envious of others.


To learn more about Georgia Cyber Academy, visit

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