Senior Profile: Joshua Lukens
Senior Profile: Joshua Lukens – A Man for all Seasons
by Sheryl Blunt, AFA Parent and Freelance Writer
He may be best known for his passion for rockets and space, but sit down with Ad Fontes senior Joshua Lukens and you quickly discover that he is equally comfortable discussing Sophocles, Molière, and Vincent van Gogh’s olive trees as he is discussing rocket motors and Richard Feynman’s theories on quantum electrodynamics.
In fact, one might actually say that this well-rounded student embodies the idea of a classically-educated “Renaissance Man.”
An Ad Fontes student since the sixth grade, Joshua has won awards in nearly every academic subject, received Magna or Summa Cum Laude designation every year of high school, captained the cross country team, and impressed his teachers and peers with his intellect, wisdom, humility and servant leadership.
“Josh demonstrates Christ-like humility and kindness to everyone around him without expecting anything in return,” said Mrs. Linda Mathwin, who teaches Literature and Classical Composition at AFA. “Whenever Josh speaks, everyone knows to listen. What he has to say will change the direction of the conversation, and it will be towards the good.”
“Very few people are wise,” she said. “Even fewer teenagers are wise. Josh is wise.”
A longtime rocket enthusiast, Joshua said he believes he can trace his fascination with rockets to when he was five and “first saw ‘The Magic School Bus’ adventuring across the solar system.” He later got an up-close look at the life of rocket scientists participating in NASA’s Advanced Space Flight Adventure Camp at its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
“We stayed on the same base, and went to the same work as some of the NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and Antares rocket scientists,” he said. “One of the most memorable moments was watching an Antares rocket launch as we pulled into the Wallops Island Space Visitor’s Center.”
Joshua said the collective influence of science fiction films, television, and literature—particularly C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy and H.G. Wells’ writing—also fueled his fascination with space, as did his teachers at Ad Fontes Academy.
“Hearing about the stories of the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from [AFA Math and Physics teacher] Mr. Bill Carey reinvigorated my love for space flight and rockets about a year ago,” he said. “Armstrong flew the lunar lander down to the last ten seconds of available fuel on the moon, and Buzz Aldrin took communion as the first meal on another world.”
It is no surprise then that Joshua wrote his senior thesis on the best way to build rocket engines, and hopes to pursue a career in aerospace engineering. What may come as a surprise is that he is also a certified rock climbing instructor and a talented artist with a fondness for classic authors and playwrights.
At AFA’s annual student talent show this spring Joshua’s impressionist-style paintings won numerous awards.
“I began painting in oils around two years ago,” he said. “I particularly enjoy painting landscapes, though I have also painted some still life’s.” Joshua said he likes the way impressionist and post-impressionist art “combines colors in beautiful and sublime ways, without feeling constrained to replicate a scene perfectly.”
Asked about some of his favorite Ad Fontes memories, Joshua recounted his involvement in Mrs. Mathwin’s Play Reading Club, where he and other students enjoyed reading scripts aloud and “admiring the beauty of the plays.”
“We read ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ by T.X. Elliot, ‘Tartuffe’ [the theatrical comedy by Molière], and works by Shakespeare,” he said. “It was a unique group of students who brought a lot of passion to the readings.”
Other fond memories include afternoons spent working with Mr. Carey and fellow students in AFA’s Techne Society, constructing everything from computers to robots, to Josh’s favorite—model rocket cars.
“It’s an opportunity to have younger students and older students build something together,” he said. “It doesn’t even have to work, but if it doesn’t then we ask ourselves why, and talk about what we can do better next time.” The key is that students learn from their failures and mistakes. “We’ve had some good laughs seeing our own creations fail before we’ve really evaluated the weaknesses of the contraption,” he said.
Joshua’s latest Techne efforts have been devoted to improving his model rocket cars. “It’s basically a dowel rod with a rocket runner attached to it,” he explained. “We use a densely packed solid that is flammable—kind of like a firecracker. … These engines are solid rocket motors, or compact material that produces a thrust when ignited.”
He credits AFA with honing his analytic skills and instilling in him a passion for engineering.
“In Physics, Mr. Carey introduced us to Einstein’s relativistic theory through Einstein’s Relativity,” he said. “He also taught about quantum mechanics in Feynman’s Lectures in Physics or Six Easy Pieces. Our class either found physical experimental results of the double slit experiment described in Six Easy Pieces, or we attempted to write a computer program to simulate the experiment. Almost finding the formula for parallel resistance felt rewarding. Mr. Carey described the process like what real experimental physicists do.”
Joshua said he also learned valuable lessons analyzing math papers last year in Mr. Carey’s Pre-Calculus class. “We learned that the object of math isn’t always to apply the formula to a specific problem, but also to communicate with other mathematicians in a clear and persuasive way,” he said. “Doing math is a lot different than talking about math.”
He is looking forward to attending Covenant College in the fall where he plans to pursue a pre-engineering track. The Christian liberal arts college in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, awarded him a Presidential Scholarship.
“If all goes well, and Lord willing, I’d also like to intern at a rocket company like NASA or Aerojet Rocketdyne,” he said.
Joshua, who in addition to his numerous academic awards has been recognized for his student leadership and Christian character, said he is thankful for Biblical teaching that he believes has strengthened his faith. Reading scripture is now “a much bigger part of my every-day life,” he said. “My prayer life has also grown exponentially.”
“Ad Fontes has helped me connect with God more and ask questions as well,” he said. “In Mrs. D’Angelo’s 6th grade class we read and memorized Bible verses. [Math and Science Teacher] Mrs. Susan Smith also encouraged us to memorize verses which really increased my appreciation for and knowledge of the Bible.” One of his favorite books is the New Testament Book of Romans.
“It covers the most central truths and values of Christianity and the Christian life, and who we are in God’s eyes,” he said. “There is also the comforting assurance that ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’”
At a recent school award ceremony, Mr. Carey used the analogy of a lighthouse to describe Joshua’s influence on his fellow students during his seven years at Ad Fontes.
“A lighthouse helps guide other people to safety—to goodness,” Mr. Carey said. “It keeps them from danger, and I think Josh does that …by being there as a beacon of what is good, and true, and just.”
With his many gifts and talents, and with his firm foundation on Jesus Christ, Joshua’s light will undoubtedly shine a great distance and inspire many.