Southern High School student Zoe Kasprzyk describes herself as shy and quiet.
Though the 17-year-old senior has held several leadership positions in school organizations such as in the Tri-M Music Honor Society and the National Arts Honor Society, she acknowledges that she struggles to express herself verbally.
But Kasprzyk recently received national recognition for her preferred method of sharing her emotions. The Tracys Landing resident was named the lone recipient of the National Art Education Association's 2014 Rising Stars Secondary Recognition award for her work with oil paintings, primarily self portraits reflecting her moods.
"I was shocked," she said. "But definitely really happy."
Kasprzyk has been painting for about as long as she can remember. Her mother, Beth Kasprzyk, recalled her daughter once asking to paint the bathroom tiles of their home after watching an episode of "Painted House," a home-decorating show on PBS.
"Of course we said no," her mom said with a laugh. "It shows, though, she's always been excited about [art]."
As she grew, Kasprzyk continued to hone her artistic talent, and was ultimately awarded with a spot in Southern High School's gifted and talented visual arts program, which has allowed her to paint murals in the community.
"She spent all her time always drawing," Beth Kasprzyk said. "Middle school was when she really started to get more into it."
Michael Bell, art department chair at Southern High who has taught Kasprzyk for several years, said he was proud to see his student's hard work pay off.
"The work is really realistic," Bell said. "Her paintings have a lot of depth to them and are very personal."
Kasprzyk said she most appreciates art as a vehicle for social change, but while juggling a challenging schedule — five Advanced Placement courses to help maintain her ranking in the top 3 percent of her class, working part time at the library, playing the violin and competing in tennis, cross country and soccer — painting is also a way for her to relax.
"It's a form of release for me," she said.
Kasprzyk is waiting to learn if she will be admitted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she intends to enroll in the college's Art, Culture and Technology program. She's still figuring out what she wants to do for a living.
"I'm interested in merging art concepts with technology and science," she said. "I really like chemistry and biology."
Kasprzyk is the fifth Anne Arundel County public school student — and the fourth from Southern High — to win the Rising Stars award in as many years. Bell said the other three Southern students are all attending the Maryland Institute College of Art, where they've received scholarship packages.
"Every year, our kids put in the hard work and dedication to be competitive with the best of the best in the nation," he said. "And we're not an art school or a magnet program; just the smallest rural public school in Anne Arundel County with one of the largest and most thriving five-person art department."
Bell credits the first Rising Stars win, by former Southern student Katie Emmit, as the spark for the school's winning streak. Others were Louis Fratino and Cat Allen.
"Once you win the first one, you have a road map," he said. "We're very well-versed in the process."
Kasprzyk will receive her award in late March at the National Art Education Association's annual convention in San Diego, Calif.