To kick off summer, most high school students can be found hanging out with friends in the neighborhood or at home watching television. However, one local teenager is taking a unique approach to his summer vacation by attending an annual gathering with hundreds of other students nationwide who share a passion for mathematics, science and medicine.

At the end of June, 15-year-old Julio Luna-Pina of Forest Park will spend three days in Lowell, Massachusetts at the Congress of Future Medical Leaders, an educational conference hosted by the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists to introduce exceptional students to careers as medical professionals.

To attend the conference, students must be nominated to represent their schools and geographical areas by teachers and administrators who serve on the academy’s Honorary Board of Educators. Faculties nominate students from a criteria of combined academic excellence, leadership potential and an expressed desire to pursue a career in a science-based field. Attendees are all honors students and must hold a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Luna-Pina, a rising sophomore at Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy, was nominated along with a few other peers. However, he will be the only PMSA student attending the conference.

“There were a couple of freshmen at school who got invited to this and we got acceptance letters in the mail,” Luna-Pina said. “It stuck out to me because it’s something I’m interested in and that’s why I decided to go.”

The National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists created the Conference with the intention of encouraging the brightest high school students to enter science and medical professions through the guidance and resources provided by several of the country’s top professionals. At the convention, students will attend presentations by Nobel Prize laureates, deans from elite medical schools, leaders of medicine and award-winning science pioneers under the age of 18.

While students must be nominated to attend the conference, students who decide to go must fund the trip on their own. Luna-Pina will be attending the conference from June 25-27 with his parents and younger sister.

“It’s a conference for [students] that want a career in math or science, and it’ll really let them get a handle on what they’re going to be experiencing when they grow up and how they’re preparing for it,” he explained. “It will be a really great and eye-opening experience.”

During his freshman year at PMSA, Luna-Pina has participated in the pre-International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which includes rigorous instruction that gives students a head start on college courses.

While Luna-Pina has had a passion for medicine since he was in middle school, it was not until recently when some of his family members had serious health issues that he pinpointed what he hopes to do for a living.

“This past year, I figured out I wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon,” he said. “I had an uncle and a grandmother that had open-heart surgery and that sparked it all. It was amazing that they stopped what was going on in such a short amount of time and I was in awe of what happened.”

Luna-Pina is excited about the opportunity at the conference to network with students and respected professionals as well as witnessing breakthrough technologies and medical procedures.

“One of the things I’m really excited for is that there’s going to be a live surgery,” he said. “We can observe and ask the surgeon questions once it’s over. It will be the real deal.”

So far, Luna-Pina says the faculty at PMSA has been very supportive of his academics.

“If you need someone to talk to, they’ll be there and they’ll listen to you,” he said.

As for college plans, Luna-Pina said he is considering staying local, expressing interest in the medical programs at Northwestern University or Loyola University Chicago.

When he’s not reading up on the latest science innovations or studying, Luna-Pina says he likes to do things like other kids his age.

“I like to be a normal kid. I like to go to the park and hang out with my friends, listen to music and play some sports.”

He also had some words of advice to offer to area students who have their sights set on dream careers.

“If you want to do something, you should work hard to do it and don’t let anyone stop you and keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.