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Standout grad Sravya Uppalapati grows up with Lake Norman Charter School

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/09/17/28/sBXXK.Em.138.jpeg|209
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Sravya Uppalapati stands as she is recognized as Lake Norman Charter School class valedictorian. She will start pre-med at Virginia Commonwealth University in August under a scholarship that guarantees her acceptance into medical school.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/09/17/28/tUU7x.Em.138.jpeg|316
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Sravya Uppalapati gets a hug from Shubha Krishnan after graduating Saturday from Lake Norman Charter School.

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When Sravya Uppalapati came to Lake Norman Charter School as a fifth-grader, the school was a complex of trailers awaiting a building.

Eight years later, she graduated as valedictorian of a class of 195, having grown up along with the Huntersville school. Uppalapati, 17, will start pre-med at Virginia Commonwealth University in August under a scholarship that guarantees her acceptance into medical school.

Uppalapati says Lake Norman, which has 1,600 students in grades five through 12, has become a second family for her and built her confidence and skills. Her parents – Venu Uppalapati, who works for Wells Fargo, and Sri Uppalapati, a stay-at-home mom – enrolled her in the independent public school seeking safety and smaller classes than traditional public schools offer, she said.

Uppalapati’s interest in science developed into a plan to become a doctor over the years. She says biology teacher Leigh Ann Williams helped pique her interest with activities such as a lab, where students practiced dissection on a pickle.

“Even though the work has been hard, (my teachers) have challenged me and helped me uncover interests and talents that I didn’t even know I had,” she said.

Those who have worked with Uppalapati say her intelligence and heart show in everything she does.

Uppalapati, who was honored as an Observer All-Star Scholar, has volunteered in a range of roles at Novant Huntersville Medical Center, from working in the cafeteria and guest services to shadowing doctors.

“She’s going to make a difference in the world somewhere,” said Peggy Barnette, the hospital’s volunteer coordinator. “She’s just a little package of dynamite.”

Geoff Southwell, her tennis coach, recalls when Lake Norman faced rival Gray Stone charter school in a particularly tough match. Uppalapati lost her first set badly, but she sized up her opponent and won the match.

“It was a combination of her intelligence and perseverance,” Southwell said.

Last summer, Uppalapati spent four weeks doing original biochemical research on cancer proteins at Eastern Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. She was accepted to Duke University but chose Virginia Commonwealth because of the pre-med scholarship.

Uppalapati has visited family in India already and hopes to travel to South America and Europe while she’s in college.

“I just want to immerse myself and get a taste for their health care systems,” she said.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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