2014 Spring Lake Park High School graduate Joseph Shoulak is the first Spring Lake Park student ever to receive the Minnesota Department of Education’s Minnesota Scholar of Distinction Award.
In 2014, only 38 students were presented with the award statewide.
Students apply for the Minnesota Scholar of Distinction Award in various categories, showing significant achievement in leadership; mathematics; science; social studies; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); or theater arts.
“It’s quite a rigorous application,” according to Marianne Paulos, coordinator of the Lighthouse School, an alternative learning program in Spring Lake Park for gifted students.
But Paulos thought Shoulak would be up to the challenge with all of the work he had already put into a mathematics paper selected for publication last year in “The Pentagon,” an undergraduate journal produced by the national mathematics honor society Kappa Mu Epsilon.
The paper explores a new way to analyze number sequences. Arranging numbers in a grid, rather than in a row, opens up new possibilities, Shoulak found. It helped him identify patterns.
Only five other Minnesota students were given Minnesota Scholar of Distinction awards in mathematics.
Shoulak began writing his 13-page paper sophomore year as an “escape” from high school, where severe anxiety affected him.
Though his mathematics knowledge is evident, he nearly failed geometry, unable to function in the traditional learning environment.
He found the Lighthouse School last year and has thrived there, he said.
To earn a speech credit required for graduation, Shoulak opted to present his paper to high school classes. He gave 10 45-minute lectures at Spring Lake Park High School and St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater.
He presented to his own calculus class, throwing in jokes to keep the math engaging for to his classmates, he said. “I had my class, several people, in tears with laughter.”
Next year, Shoulak will study math at the University of Central Missouri. He hopes to pursue a doctorate in number theory someday.
Olivia Koester is at