CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Faith Aversano speaks quietly in soft tones, but that gentle manner belies her strength and ability to lead.

In October, she was one of two students chosen to represent Caledonia High School in the State of the Student event at Grand Valley State University.

“We talked about education and our goals for it and how the (Kent Intermediate School District) wanted to improve all the schools,” Aversano explained.

Although she was not on the student panel, she did share her thoughts with administrators about her experiences in school.

“I had just said that standardized testing isn’t always a reflection of what we know because I get testing anxiety. I sometimes do worse on tests when I’m really anxious for them,” she explained.

Administrators nominated Aversano as the student of the week for the kind of leadership that earned her a spot at the conference. She said speaking publicly is not something that comes naturally to her.

“I had to work on that because I’m very introverted. I don’t really like having to get to know new people all the time, but I had kind of grown through those experiences,” she said.

Experiences like years of participating in the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Adventure Club helped her learn the skills to become a confident speaker. She has also proven her leadership in sports. Aversano is the co-captain of the Mary Free Bed Junior Pacers Wheelchair Basketball team.

“It’s just a place where I can relate to a lot of other people because we’re all in wheelchairs,” she said.

Aversano was born with spina bifida. She has had eight surgeries starting from the time she was a newborn. She said her case is milder. She has the ability to walk at times but relies on her wheelchair for farther distances. Her most recent surgery in fourth grade was challenging.

“That one was just really hard because a lot of the kids didn’t understand why I had the surgery. It was really hard to explain,” she said.

Aversano hopes to draw on her many experiences and perhaps become a genealogist someday. She wants to help find the cause of her condition.

“There are not that many babies born with spina bifida because there has already been research on fetal surgeries so they can correct it while the mother is pregnant. You still have the disability when you are born. It is just you are not as affected by it. So, I would like maybe to find out what the cause is,” she said.

With her interest in science and history, Aversano said genealogy is the perfect cross-section of the two fields. In the meantime, she plans to keep bringing her different perspective to whatever table she encounters.