Melissa Fuller wouldn't mind being a United States senator someday. The 16-year-old Rockville high school senior has already mastered the direct handshake and intense gaze that would cause the average voter to take notice.
"I don't go for the blatant baby-kissing stuff, though," she said.
Fuller, who attends Charles W. Woodward High School, was chosen recently by Gov. Harry Hughes to represent 220,255 Maryland high school students as the only student member, albeit nonvoting, to the state's 10-member Board of Education.
The Maryland Assembly this year joined five other states and the District of Columbia in requiring the appointment of a student to the board.
To aid in the selection, the Maryland Association of Student Councils and the Governor's Youth Advisory Council notified state high schools to announce to students that applications were being accepted.
The groups received about 50 applications and interviewed candidates before each recommended two finalists to Hughes.
Students were required to submit recommendations from a principal, a teacher and a community member. They also were asked such questions as: Why do you want to serve? What do you anticipate contributing?
"Quite frankly I was surprised that he [Hughes] selected an MASC candidate instead of a candidate from his own council," said Sue Ann Tabler, who was then executive director of MASC.
Of Fuller, Tabler said, "I think the board will be very pleased with her. I think she'll add a lot."
Although Fuller insists that "I'm just an average high school kid with a lot of interests," her background is anything but average.
The daughter of a career Foreign Service officer, Fuller spent much of her childhood overseas.
Fuller was born in the Middle East while her father was stationed in Saudi Arabia, and also lived in Yemen, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.
Her involvement in school and other activities leaves her little time to come up for air. Last year she was a member of the French honor society, the debate club, the field hockey team and the drama club. She was also president of the 4-H Club, was the school organizer for the March of Dimes, and adopted a guide dog to train for the blind.
The state Board of Education vigorously opposed the appointment of a student member, maintaining that a typical high school student would not be able to devote enough time to the board. Members also said a student's lack of maturity might hamper routine board business, and they said they would feel uncomfortable with a minor scrutinizing personnel matters.
"We were concerned, for example, that if the student is from school X, and we were deciding certain matters for that school, that he or she would not be able to be objective," said board Vice President George Asaki.
Sandra Levenbook, a history teacher at Charles Woodward for 10 years, said the board has nothing to fear."Every year I have a student that reaffirms my faith in young people," she said. "Melissa is that person. Above all Melissa has this great desire to learn. She is not aloof, but the type of student who will canvass the students to find out what they want."
Fuller said that high school students are unfairly "condemned for not having issues." The issues these days, she notes, are closer to home and less political than the war in Vietnam or the Civil Rights movement were to an earlier generation. She cited as an example "the appalling number of deaths due to drunk driving."
She also said that she supports a minimum grade-point standard for students who participate in extracurricular activities, such as the C average that the Prince George's County school board imposed.
The junior board member has already begun familiarizing herself with stacks of education codes and procedures in preparation for her one-year tenure, which begins with the July 30 board meeting.