President Barack Obama strolled past UF student Kiona Elliott in the White House courtyard.
It was the 2013 White House Science Fair, and she stood next to the bicycle-powered water-filtration system she and her high school team had developed.
She invited him to hop on and try it. He did, and she explained to him how his pedaling provided energy to the device.
“I still can’t believe that I had the opportunity to meet him,” she said. “I’ll see him on TV, or I’ll read an article about him, and it hits me really randomly that I’ve met him and I’ve shaken his hand. It’s crazy.”
For this and other accomplishments, the 20-year-old horticultural science sophomore has been named a 2015 Young Futurist by The Root, an African-American news, opinion and culture website.
The site selected 25 people around the U.S. between the ages of 16 and 22 who have shown leadership in their communities. Tafari John-King, a 2014 Young Futurist she met at the Aspen Ideas Festival, nominated Elliott.
After graduating from Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Elliott went on to found S.T.E.A.M. Academy, a UF student organization dedicated to solving global problems with science, technology, engineering, art, math and compassion.
The club chooses a different challenge to focus its projects on each year, she said. This year’s is world hunger and food insecurity.
Elliott said the hardest part of her work is finding balance between her academic and extracurricular responsibilities.
“I tend to stretch myself too thin by getting involved with a bunch of things,” she said.
Elliott said she plans to research ways to improve food production and quality in graduate school after getting her bachelor’s degree from UF.
Dana Bigham, the faculty adviser for S.T.E.A.M. Academy, said she thinks Elliott deserves the Young Futurists recognition because she is a strong and compassionate leader.
“She truly wants to have an impact in the world,” Bigham said, “and she works her hardest in every avenue of everything she does to do that.”
[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 3/23/2015 under the headline “UF student awarded Young Futurist by popular website"]