Lena Zlock '15: Voltaire's Digital Muse
Lena Zlock '15: Voltaire's Digital Muse

Princeton Day School Alumna and Bucks County Native Is an Intellectual Star on the Rise

Lena Zlock '15, now a senior at Stanford, made the Stanford News recently for her tenacious work to make Voltaire's 6,700-book library, which has been locked inside Russia's Hermitage Palace in St. Petersburg, available to everyone. We loved that the first sentence mentioned her experience here as Lena's catalyst: "Lena Zlock became intrigued by using digital tools for humanities research since she first heard of data science methods like visual mapping and machine learning in high school."

We caught up with Lena to congratulate her strenuous efforts to "create a three-dimensional portrait of Voltaire's mind," as she puts it, and she reflected on her time at Princeton Day School: "PDS gave me the foundation to embark on my own independent research, and the skills to read, write, and think critically. I am eternally grateful to my teachers on the Great Road who gave their time, effort, and occasionally books to fuel my passion for the humanities."

Lena has always been considered among the School's best and brightest, according to all who know her. As History Chair Howie Powers '80 remarked when Lena won the History Prize in 2015, "You represent all the best that we value in the department—a wonderfully playful sense of intellectual engagement, an ability to write with brilliant insight, and the skill to enlarge the academic scope of any class in which you participate. History students of your grace and passion happen by only rarely, and we've been fortunate to have you as a student."

US French teacher Laurence Farhat reflected, "Lena Zlock continues to impress wherever she goes... Of course, none of us who had the privilege to observe her go through her years at PDS ever doubted that such an exceptional high school student would go on to do extraordinary things in college!" Farhat, who greatly admired Lena though she did not have her as a student, noted that Lena, an avid Spanish language student, won the Spanish Award as a senior.

Lena's independent Senior Project at PDS offers a window into her mind, as her AP Spanish Literature and Culture teacher Michelle Simonds can attest. With a team of PDS teachers, Lena researched and developed a new interdisciplinary course for the School. Of the project, Simonds declared it "amazing" and explained, "As a high school senior, Lena was already considering how to dissemble the silos of the traditional academic disciplines in order to facilitate deeper understanding and learning."

This excerpt from Lena's project proposal is a crystalline, concise description of top-drawer interdisciplinary scholarship: "...advanced students of Spanish will read a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. In determining the boundaries of reality and fantasy, these students will develop close reading, vocabulary, and annotation skills. In their World History classroom, these same students will examine surrealist painting, facilitating connections between the visual elements and the historical context of post-Enlightenment philosophy and the events of World War II. In the Biology classroom, the students will examine the psychological and neurological stimuli behind human perceptions of reality."

Lena is destined to have an enduring impact on the School, as is her family. A few years ago, Lena's parents established two funds at the School: The Kevin M. Zlock and Sima Zlock Scholarship Fund provides need-based financial aid for outstanding children to pursue a quality education at Princeton Day School. The Zlock family is devoted to Bucks County, PA, where they reside, and requested that the Scholarship be designated annually for a Bucks County accepted applicant in need, to the extent that is possible. The Kevin M. Zlock and Sima Zlock Faculty Fund supports Princeton Day School faculty in their pursuit of creating and teaching interdisciplinary courses and promotes student independent research in the Upper School.

With the clarity for which she is so well known, Lena summed up the impact of PDS on her present life: "Without the close faculty connections, the small classroom sizes, or the generous course offerings at PDS, I would have neither the capacity nor the confidence to undertake the Voltaire Library Project."

We're watching you with awe, Lena! -Melanie Shaw

Image credit: Michal Krenz as published in Stanford News. Here's the full article about Lena Zlock '15 in Stanford News.