Danielle Issa’s older brother taught her the Pythagorean Theorem when she was 11.

“I thought it was so cool I made a presentation of it to all the kindergarten through sixth-grade students in my elementary school,” she says, adding that her teacher was amazed.

“I loved mathematics. I couldn’t tear myself away. It was always the first homework assignment I’d do after school because I just loved numbers.”

Issa graduated summa cum laude from the University of California, Irvine, in 2007. A mechanical engineering major, she graduated first among the 1,000 students in the engineering department. Two years earlier, she attended the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom for a summer abroad program, where she studied British politics and international relations.

Fluent in Arabic and proficient in French, she now attends MIT, where she is pursuing a master’s in mechanical engineering, which she plans to complete in 2009. She participates in more than a dozen clubs and activities and has received numerous honors. Later, she plans to pursue a Ph.D.

At MIT, she is working in a lab that deals with advanced high-strength steels used in the automotive industry. The lab consults with automakers, including Honda, Nissan, and Ferrari. “We’re working on characterizing the mechanical properties of these metals, and finding the most suitable metal for a specific application in designing a car.”

At the University of California as a result of her research — medical imaging and spectroscopy — she earned the $30,000 Barry M. Goldwater National Scholarship. At MIT, she was awarded a Presidential Fellowship.

“The MIT fellowship made a world of difference,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have it, because with the high costs of tuition and living in Boston, there’s no way I could afford to attend the Institute.

“I’m extremely grateful and extremely blessed. If the donor were sitting right here, I would hug them. Donors are doing a grand service to students who have the potential to succeed.

“I’m so grateful. To actually be admitted to MIT is one thing, but to have the knowledge that everything is paid for and that money is not an option, is just mind boggling.”

Issa says she is passionate about learning and plans to use her education for the betterment of humankind.

“I’ve been helped so much along the way, one day I want to be a blessing to others. To be educated is to be free.”