Cool Kids

Kids around here have game — whether on the court, in the research lab, or out in the community volunteering, our area has some pretty awesome students doing spectacular things. We got the inside information from schools in Evansville and Newburgh, Indiana, asking them to give up some of their most outstanding, talented, unique, cool, fun, aspiring, and inspiring kids. Narrowed down to 10, check out these cool kids who have a knack for standing out.

Deven Lockett

Parents: Frances and Al Lockett
Junior, Castle High School, Newburgh, Indiana
Ballet dancer, Children’s Center for Dance Education

Deven Lockett has an ability to defy gravity. On the dance floor at the Children’s Center for Dance Education, she takes a few well-timed steps before leaping into the air, making the ballet move look exceptionally easy.

“When I was younger, my mom signed me up for a camp over the summer, but it was just tap and jazz stuff,” says the 17-year-old Castle High School student. “But I told her I wanted to do real ballet, so she found the CCDE and I’ve been here ever since.”

Lockett was 4 years old when she took her first ballet class, and though she doesn’t remember much of those first years, she does remember the older students who would help with classes. Now, she finds herself following their footsteps.

“I remember watching them and just wanting to be them. I thought they were amazing dancers and people,” says Lockett. “Now I get to step into their shoes and be that role model for younger dancers.”

Being in the position is not lost on Lockett — in fact, she takes pride in being able to show children of all backgrounds they, too, can be dancers and achieve great things. In March, she represented the CCDE at the Youth America Grand Prix international ballet competition, and in July, she will perform in the NAACP’s ACT-SO competition.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the new wave of dancers and to be able to be someone people can look up to,” she says. “I get to look up to [current ballerinas] Michaela DePrince, Misty Copeland, and [former dancer] Raven Wilkerson. They have all paved the road, and it’s exciting to help people have someone to look up to.”


Elizabeth Broshears

Parents: Amy and Dr. Philip Broshears
Senior, Reitz Memorial High School
Swimmer and Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship recipient

Elizabeth Broshears says she strives to be the full package. The Reitz Memorial High School senior has an impressive collection of swimming medals. Recently, Broshears finished in first place at state in the 50-yard freestyle, but she has been a state finalist in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly all four years. Her strides in the pool, however, don’t even begin to touch her long list of accomplishments.

“My coaches have not only developed me as a swimmer but as a person as well,” says Broshears. “They want to not only send out great athletes but great people into the community.”

Along with swimming, which she will continue in the fall at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, her resume already is impressive. She serves as the student council chaplain at Memorial, holds a place on the board for student council, is a member of Key Club, volunteers for Memorial as a Tiger Ambassador, was a National Merit Scholarship finalist (after receiving a perfect score on her PSAT test), was awarded the 2020 IHSAA Mental Attitude Award this year, and will study biochemistry as a pre-medical student at IU as one of the Vanderburgh County recipients of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship.

“I think I was just putting a lot of weight into that scholarship,” she says. “I have four younger siblings, so being able to pay my way through college was definitely going to help out my family.”

Broshears’ father recently had a kidney transplant after being diagnosed with IGA Nephropathy 16 years ago. Raising awareness about organ donation is another issue she has added to her list.

“It’s really teaching the younger generation that generosity can be something that changes not only one person’s life but everyone who knows that person,” she says.


Ben Rugani

Parents: Jason and Ali Rugani
Advocate for orphans and fair-trade work, Binding Thread
Junior, Evansville Christian School

Some kids would choose someplace like Disney World if they got to pick a dream family vacation, but Ben Rugani and his family go a different route. This December, Rugani will take his fourth mission trip to Myanmar to support Love Children’s Home, a network of orphanages in the country.

This trip will be unique, though, as the first one he takes through Binding Thread, the organization he and his family started to organize trips to Myanmar and sell fair-trade products made in the loom house run by the orphanage ministry to give women ethical work and pay.

“My mom loves to tell the story that a couple years before we actually got it started, I was like, ‘Hey, we should get more involved in this. We should be focusing more time on this,’” says Rugani. “My first time I was so passionate about it. I loved being able to make those connections.”

As a junior at Evansville Christian School, Rugani works to get fellow students involved with Binding Thread, which has a brick and mortar store at 300 W. Jennings St. in downtown Newburgh, Indiana. The school now has clothing bins for students and parents to donate clothing for the orphanages, and Rugani dreams of being able to take a group of students to Myanmar for a future senior class trip.

When the Ruganis first started Binding Thread to sell handmade blankets, bags, and jewelry and offer child sponsorships (currently about 300 of 560 orphans still need sponsors), they never dreamed they would be able to organize group trips to Myanmar. Now, they hope to one day expand trips and work in other countries.

“We want to be able to help not only in Myanmar but continue to go out to other third-world countries where there are underprivileged people,” says Rugani. “We want to do what we can to help, and we want to do this for God’s glory.”


Emma Ruedlinger

Parents: James and Shelly Ruedlinger
Eighth grade, Thompkins Middle School
Artist and painter, Emma Ruedlinger on Facebook

When she was younger, Emma Ruedlinger’s dad would draw a picture, and it was her job to paint it. This began Ruedlinger’s passion for painting and art.

“I’m going to have to give all the credit to my dad, because he is a really talented drawer,” she says. “It’s our thing we have in common.”

The eighth grader at Thompkins Middle School now paints all kinds of items like suitcases, wood pieces, water bottles, and tennis shoes. Through her Facebook page, titled Emma Ruedlinger, she says she has even gotten commissioned requests for pieces, from a custom painting of a pet dog to a painting of someone’s house.

One day, she says, she would love to see her work displayed in a gallery or museum. Another goal is to one day paint a mural on the exterior of a building. Along with entrepreneurial ambitions, she also has used her talent for philanthropy. She designed T-shirts for Thompkins to raise money for the foundation Granted, which assists kids who are sick, and donated a painting to the Highland Challenger League of their mascot for an auction.

Although Ruedlinger stays busy with other hobbies and school activities, like sports, student council, and academic teams, she always returns to painting.
“I’m very busy, so it allows me an escape,” she says. “It’s a really good stress reliever. I think some people might disagree, because it is really frustrating when you don’t get something right. I think it’s really fun to do that when I’m stressed, and it normally calms me down.”


Elliott Piekos

Parents: Chris and Lauren Piekos
Third Grade, Evansville Day School
Chess player, ranked third in Indiana

Everyone has been asked the age-old question — what do you want to be when you grow up? For 9-year-old Elliott Piekos, the answer is simple — a grandmaster in chess.

A third grader at Evansville Day School, Piekos qualified for state at the Regional Scholastic Chess Tournament and placed third out of 73 competitors at the 2020 Scholastic Chess of Indiana Individual Finals in January.

Only in his first year of competitions, Piekos began playing chess at 6 years old when his family lived in Poland. After moving to Evansville, he began seeing a private instructor, attending chess club after school, and playing online.

“I like that there are almost an infinite amount of moves and each piece has its own superpowers,” he says. “My goal is trying to become a grandmaster.”

While he spends his time reading chess books and teaching his friends opening strategies at chess club, Piekos also enjoys playing with legos, practicing piano, and munching on his favorite food of pizza.

Although he has many goals for the future, like eventually beating his paternal grandpa, Piekos says his biggest victory already occurred.

“I still remember the first time I beat my dad,” he says. “I took a pawn and I realized I had a double check, so after a while I was like, ‘Is that checkmate?’”


Andrea Reisinger

Parents: Drs. Patrick and Melissa Reisinger
Senior, Mater Dei High School
Deaconess Women’s Hospital pet therapy founder

Lots of high schoolers have hobbies, but 18-year-old Andrea Reisinger has turned her passions into more than an after-school activity.

Reisinger, along with her 2-year-old goldendoodle PoohBear, is the founder of the Deaconess Women’s Hospital’s pet therapy program. After enrolling PoohBear in basic training classes at PetSmart and a recommendation from the instructor, Reisinger signed up for and passed the TGI Therapy Dogs International Test.

“I basically grew up in the Women’s Hospital,” said Reisinger. “I was born there and my mom worked there more than 18 years, so I kind of think of it as a second home. The opportunity to give back was something I couldn’t say no to.”

The daughter of Dr. Melissa Reisinger and Dr. Patrick Reisinger, she has always felt strongly about helping other people. After successfully visiting patients in the antepartum wing with her mom as an escort, the hospital allowed them to expand the program.

As she prepares to leave Evansville for college, Reisinger says the program will live on past her, with other handlers covering her weekly shift. The Mater Dei High School senior hopes to found similar programs at other hospitals in the future.

“I think seeing the patients and the smile when they see the puppy is a really special treat for them, and for me too,” she says.


Michael Beaven

Parents: Jim and June Beaven
Freshman, Central High School
Captain, Civil Air Patrol; Central High School Cross Country team; American Red Cross lifeguard; magna cum laude scholar, Medical Professional Academy; Honor Flight volunteer

Michael Beaven always has had a wild mind, he says.

“When I was young, I always was thinking of a lot of things and branching out into many areas,” he says. 

That curious nature has not left the Central High School freshman as he’s grown up; today, he truly is a renaissance man. A captain in the local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol (a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force), Beaven also is a member of his school’s cross country team, serves as an American Red Cross lifeguard, participates in Central’s Medical Professional Academy, is a volunteer for the Honor Flight program and Wreaths Across America honoring military veterans, and recently served as a page for Indiana Rep. Matt Hostettler. None of it overwhelms him. In fact, he believes the challenges are important.

“The hardest thing to do is start,” he says. “But once you set up a schedule and be organized, you can get all your stuff done.”

For Beaven, the future is about serving others. He has goals to join the Air Force not only to serve his country, but also because of his love for flying. His work in the Medical Professional Academy will allow him to shadow professionals in different medical fields — a career he is very interested in studying. 

“Right now, I’m thinking of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon. But I think neurology and the brain are very interesting, especially emotions,” says Beaven. “Another area I like is genetics, because DNA is the building blocks of all living things.”

Whichever area he decides on, Beaven has one end goal in mind — using his passion to help others.

“I just want to help people,” he says. “I want to help by doing something I like.”


Audrey Stallings

Parents: Stephanie and Tom Stallings
Junior, Castle High School, Newburgh, Indiana
Vice President of Business, Castle FIRST Robotics Club

"FIRST is more than robotics,” says Audrey Stallings, a junior at Castle High School. “It’s a life-changing experience. Nothing compares to how FIRST makes me feel.”

Castle’s FIRST team (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competes within the highest tier of the organization, First Robotics Competition (FRC), which is the most complicated and challenging program of FIRST. In this tier, Castle’s team builds human-sized robots and Stallings is the team’s vice president of business.

The first one in her family in robotics, Stallings was unaware of the diversity of positions. While originally interested in STEM, Stallings now builds the team bumpers, manages the business team, gives presentations at competitions, contacts sponsors, and oversees social media coverage as part of the social media team.

“It opened my mind to the fact that business is something I really like and can do,” she says. “I don’t think I would trade my experience with FIRST for anything in the world.

"Stallings also is the vice president of Japanese Club, president of her local 4-H club, a member of the Warrick County 4-H robotics club, and has already mapped out plans for the future.

“After I graduate from law school, I want to start my own team, because I want to give students access to education in STEM and education in business,” says Stallings.


Ankush Dhawan

Parents: Andeep and Radhika Dhawan
Senior, Signature School
Researcher working to fight water contamination

Ankush Dhawan is out of this world. The asteroid named after him, Minor Planet (34647) Ankushdhawan, is the proof.

The asteroid, named in his honor by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, was Dhawan’s prize after winning a second place award in his category in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science competition that has more than 1,800 contestants each year from across the world.

The project that won him these honors was inspired by a summer vacation to visit his grandparents in Prayagraj, India, which borders the Ganges River.

“When I went there, I was kind of appalled at what I saw,” says Dhawan. “I saw there was a murky brown current with trash floating in the waters. This stuck with me, and that helped me realize there are these issues, such as water contamination, all over the world.”

The problem is that current methods to detect arsenic are either too expensive or are not able to be used in remote areas where the contamination is the worst. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standard is 10 parts per billion (ppb). By refining a previously developed method, Dhawan was able to reduce the detection method to 3.5 ppb. He also devised a fast, portable visual test that can detect arsenic at about 50 ppb for less than one-tenth the cost of existing methods.

Dhawan is finishing up his senior year at Signature School and was accepted to Stanford University, Stanford, California, where he wants to study environmental engineering and continue research into water contamination.

“One thing that is important to me is using science to help humanity,” says Dhawan. “Making the product I develop accessible to a wide range of people has been a theme in my research.”


Khristian Lander

Parents: Keith and Brandi Lander
Junior, F.J. Reitz High School
Point guard, Reitz varsity boys’ basketball team

Khristian Lander had a basketball put in his hands at age 3, and he’s yet to put it down.

“It’s pretty much my dad’s fault I play,” says the Reitz junior with a smile. “When he saw how I shot the ball when I was young, he said it was a really good form. He knew I had it in me.”

As Reitz blazes through a successful season in 2020, Lander (who committed to Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, in early March) says the best thing about playing for the West Side high school is the people who surround him on the court.

“They always are looking for us to win as a team; none of them are selfish,” he says. “It’s a good family we’ve been building since my freshman year.”

Off the court, Lander works hard to keep his grades up (averaging a 3.8 or higher grade point average and hoping to hit a 4.0) and does what many other teenagers do — hang out with friends at other school functions or plays games on his Xbox. But more often than not, he admits, he’s on a basketball court with friends and teammates.

“To be honest, we either go out to eat or we just play more basketball together,” he says. “It’s pretty much the only two things we really do.”

And while Lander is excited to get to Bloomington and hit the court at Assembly Hall, he’s still got eyes on a big win for Reitz.

“I’m excited to try and win a state title for Reitz before I leave,” he says. “And finish out my high school career on a good note.”

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