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Mr. Shah goes to Washington

Sunset High School sophomore Priyam Shah accompanied representatives from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry last week, traveling to Washington, D.C., to receive a prestigious award from First Lady Laura Bush.

Shah, 15, landed in the nation's capital on Jan. 13, accompanied by his father, Chetan Shah, and OMSI President Nancy Stueber to accept the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

The award is distributed annually by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for extraordinary community service. Along with the award comes $10,000 to recognize museums and libraries that use innovative and effective methods to attain a level of public service that goes beyond the norm.

Shah said he was recommended by OMSI staff to attend the event. He has been a member of the museum's Rising Stars volunteer youth program since the summer of 2006.

Shah said he heard the good news that he would be traveling to Washington just before winter break.

'I was actually surprised,' he said. 'My dad called me. He called me at school. I was like, 'what?''

The museum and library recipients are chosen for their success in improving communities and making a difference in people's lives.

'There were 10 total institutions that accepted the award,' said Shah.

The day after their arrival, Shah and his father arrived at the White House at 7:30 a.m.

'I was really excited,' he said. 'We spent about 25 minutes in security stuff.'

After being cleared, they were escorted to the east room where President George W. Bush makes remarks to foreign dignitaries. They were then treated to what Shah called an 'amazing' breakfast.

Shah said the First Lady made an impressive remark about the nature of the award she was presenting to all the groups, pointing out, 'I have a great respect for libraries and museums because I live in a museum myself.'

After the award ceremony, they had a chance for some short chitchat with the First Lady before being allowed to tour portions of the White House.

'What they said was, 'You're the guest of the First Lady and you can walk around in the east wing,'' said Shah's father, Chetan Shah.

Later they took in sights such as the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Holocaust Museum, and the Smithsonian. Also, Shah was interviewed by a White House correspondent working for KGW.

Shah said OMSI is the place that got him hooked on science.

'I was interested in science and OMSI because it played a pretty big part of my childhood,' said Shah. 'I've been going there since I was 5.'

It was at OMSI that he became a big sustainability advocate.

'Their green practices really sparked a passion in me,' he said.

During that time, his family began building a new home and Shah set out to convince them of the advantages of a green home, even researching costs.

'The costs were pretty much the same,' he said. 'And you were making a difference on the environment.'

Meanwhile, his sister, Naomi, a student at Beaverton's SUMMA options school at Meadow Park, did comparisons of the air quality of a sustainable home with that of a non-sustainable one, finding that the former is healthier.

In constructing their new home, the Shahs have used an advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that is energy efficient. Also, they have used many non-toxic products, those with low volatile organic compounds.

To prove his passion for a greener planet, Shah has even gone so far as to weigh the amount of trash used by each of the four members of his family.

'For every person, we waste three to four pounds a day,' he said.

He estimates if everyone in the United States cut out one pound of trash, there would be a daily reduction of 300 million pounds of trash.

For the future, Shah hopes to pursue a career in either engineering or science, and is looking at the possibility of becoming a surgeon.