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She's all in on Harvard

What's the secret to getting into Harvard?

Finding and following your passion, said Cloquet High School senior Harmony Fisher. Which, in her case, is birds. It is a "random" fascination she owes to her little brother.

"It's kind of random, but Oliver was super interested in birds and he got me hooked," she said. "Now he's not so interested, but I'd like to get a Ph.D. in ornithology."

Of course, it also helps to have a 4.0 grade point average, an ACT score of 35, a wide variety of activities and interests, and to apply early.

Family support is also important.

She talked about driving across the country with her mother, Emily Fisher, last summer to attend a birding camp for teenagers in Maine, a life changing experience with like-minded people.

She said her mom and grandmother, retired teacher Deb Fisher, have been incredibly supportive of her throughout her life.

"My mom has been amazing. I throw out crazy ideas and she'll be like: You do it, and I'll give whatever I can. I'm super grateful to have a mom that allowed me to chase my passions as far as I wanted to and supported me financially."

Fisher has known she is headed to Harvard University since December, after applying through restrictive early action, which basically means a student promises to commit to attending the college if they're accepted. Fisher said applying early was also nice because she didn't have to stress about applying to a half-dozen other schools in the first part of the year, because she had already been accepted to her dream school. She had also applied to the University of Montana, as a "safety" school, she said.

She is at least the third Cloquet grad to get into the exclusive school, following in the footsteps of Luke Heine (Class of 2013) and Landon Straub (Class of 2012).

Fisher said she worked hard throughout her high school career to create a lengthy and varied resume, which includes sports such as cross country running and Nordic skiing, National Honor Society, science fair - where she won her way to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair two years in a row for her research on wild turkeys and the effects of climate change on their range.

As a junior, Fisher also took first place in the state for her ArcGIS story map and advanced to the national competition, which led to an internship with the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Superior last summer, where she applied her ArcGIS skills to the research. She also spoke at a GIS educators workshop day.

In addition, Fisher held down a job after school at a greenhouse and volunteered at Hawk Ridge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as being a Junior Rotarian and a member of the school's senior executive board.

Science fair mentor Cynthia Welsh, who has known Fisher since teaching her middle school science, said Fisher messaged her and said she wanted to do a research project on birds. She was interested in studying the effects of climate change on bird home range in northeast Minnesota. Between the two of them, they landed on wild turkeys, which were suddenly appearing in northeast Minnesota.

"Climate change made the habitat here a lot more stable for turkeys," Fisher said. "They've been able to expand their range into places they've never been before."

Welsh suggested she illustrate it with a mapping project, using ArcGIS.

"I do not think I have ever worked with a student that has been able to, on her own, independently troubleshoot and teach herself to use ArcGIS online," Welsh said, adding that Fisher found a wide variety of sources and experts to share data with her and turned out an excellent project. The two of them were part of a Cloquet group that traveled to Georgia last week for the first in-person ISEF competition in three years.

Fisher had high praise for Welsh. "She has been a fantastic mentor," Fisher said. "I'm so impressed by the amount of time she dedicates to science fair. I owe a lot to her and the opportunities she's given me."

Fisher said her Ivy League experience won't leave her in mountains of debt either.

There's a stereotype that Harvard is for rich people, but they offer great financial aid," Fisher said. "It's actually cheaper for me to go there than almost anywhere."

She visited the school earlier this spring, and was amazed by the beauty of the campus. She also got to meet some other freshmen who were admitted early.

"It was super cool," she said.