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STAR student Marisa Woo said she modeled her spirit of helping others after her teacher Chandra Karnati
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Gainesville High STAR student Marisa Woo has picked Dr. Chandra Karnati as her STAR teacher. - photo by Scott Rogers

Most teachers have a main reason to come to school every day, and for Chandra Karnati at Gainesville High School, his reason is students like Marisa Woo. 

“I can say she’s not only smart, but she’s very empathetic,” Karnati said while sitting next to Woo. “Even though those topics of math and computer science are very hard, she doesn’t underestimate people who have questions. Without judging them, she gives (and helps students) the best she can.”

Woo, Gainesville High’s valedictorian, was named Gainesville’s 2021 STAR student. 

Although the graduating senior said she had many amazing teachers to choose from who positively affected her life, she said selecting Karnati as her STAR teacher “just felt right.” She first took one of his classes during her junior year. Karnati, who has worked at Gainesville High for 13 years, teaches several advanced placement courses including calculus, computer science and research. 

“I feel like out of all the teachers, we get along really well, and he’s always supportive to all of the students,” Woo said. “I just wanted him to know how much I appreciated him.”

When Karnati describes Woo as a “well-rounded student,” he means that in every sense of the word. 

While juggling many AP classes, Woo has served as president of her school’s Chinese Club, National Honor Society, National Arts Honor Society, Beta Club, Coding Club and Web Design Team. She also has taken on roles including the co-president of the President’s Club, founder of the Student Tutoring Service and vice president of the Key Club, Math Club and Mu Alpha Theta Math Honors Society.

Woo enjoys pottery, painting and making paper, as well as playing the piano. During her sophomore year she traveled to Japan for a music competition.

When asked where her motivation comes from, Woo said since childhood she has strived to seize any favorable circumstance that comes her way.

“So, if there’s an opportunity that’s presented to me, and I don’t give it my all, then I'm letting myself down,” she said. “I don’t want to look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I go as far as I could?’ and ‘Why did I stop?”

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Gainesville High STAR student Marisa Woo has picked Dr. Chandra Karnati as her STAR teacher. - photo by Scott Rogers

Throughout her time in high school, Woo said her younger sister, Alyssa, has been her biggest support.

“Even when I’m not feeling my best, she understands and lets me not be my best,” Woo said. “And, I really appreciate it.”

Woo will head off to Stanford University in the fall with an undecided major. Although Karnati wants her to pursue a degree in the sciences, the graduating senior said she is contemplating between majors in political science, computer science, a precursor to a law career or graphic design. 

Whatever she decides on, Karnati said he knows Woo has the potential to make a significant difference in the world. 

“There are many smart people around, but giving what you know to the community, that’s what we need,” he said while looking at Woo. “I think that’s what she does.”

Responding to Karnati’s comment, Woo said her spirit for helping others is something she learned from him. 

“He always gives back to people,” she said. “He’s the least judgemental and kindest person I know.”

In addition to their Gainesville title, Woo and Karnati were recently named Georgia’s Region 2 System STAR student and teacher. They will now compete with other state regional winners for the honor of State PAGE STAR student and teacher. The event will take place online Monday, May 17.

City system and private STAR students and teachers

Gainesville High School

Marisa Woo, student

Chandra Karnati, teacher

Lakeview Academy

Grace Liu, student

Teresa Hughes, teacher

Riverside Military Academy

Oscar Fang, student 

Andrew Jobson, teacher

Regional events