Eastern Alamance High School’s rising STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) stars are getting the chance to put their talents into practice at two separate science fairs.
Last month, six Eastern students placed at the North Carolina Science Olympiad regional tournament; one of those students will move on to the state-level Olympiad tournament. On March 26, EAHS will send another six students to the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair; these six students started with a school-level fair, moving to the county-level then regional-level to now compete in the state-level competition.
Both of these competitions are to promote K-12 students’ entry into the STEM field through providing opportunities for more engagement within the field.
All 12 students are under the guidance of Mrs. Shelley Casey, Biology and Honors Biology teacher at EAHS. Casey started Eastern’s Olympiad team around four years ago with the goal of giving interested students the chance to get hands-on experience in the STEM field. Students’ participation in the science and engineering fairs serves a similar purpose.
“What we’re trying to do is get students involved in getting excited about science, technology, engineering, those kinds of fields of study, so that they can see that science can be fun…” Casey said. “Whether they placed first in their event or not is not my main goal, I want them to enjoy science. I always tell them, ‘If you don’t like science, you’re not doing it right.’”
The six students who placed in the regional Science Olympiad are as follows: Rocio Rosa and Nikki Liu placed 6th in Anatomy and Physiology, Landon Blackburn and Bridget Galicia placed 6th in Rocks and Minerals, Rocio Rosa and Connor Waters place 4th in Chemistry and Carson Gardner placed 1st in Gravity Vehicle, meaning he will move on to the state competition in April.
Gardner said he is extremely excited to be moving on to the state competition. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to seeing what other people build and seeing how they thought through the process of it compared to mine,” he said.’
Six EAHS students will also soon be participating in the NC Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held virtually this year on March 26. Those students shared their projects for the upcoming fair with the Mebane Enterprise.
Benny Salvatore will be taking three different types of leaves and burning them in a controlled environment to test how each one impacts the surrounding ecosystem. Salvatore said his inspiration for the project was to tackle something that is an issue now and, with all the wildfires throughout the country recently, he felt it would be interesting and important to explore how specific types of leaves burn in the fires.
Rocio Rosa’s project will involve testing the structures of certain protein collagens and how it impacts a variety of biomedical functions. Rosa said her inspiration for her project came from when she worked in a biomedical research lab at Vanderbilt University last summer, and she wanted to build off that work with this project.
Mackenzie Webber, Audrey Hupman and Rosa teamed up to research salt’s effect on its environment by gauging its impact on mealworms and on aquatic species, specifically. Webber and Hupman said their project was inspired, in part, by Rosa’s summer research, but also by the environmental impacts of road salt runoff.
Haley Lambert and Marissa Elam teamed up to test how thermochromic materials respond to different temperatures. Lambert and Elam said their inspiration for the project was prior work in an AP computer science class, which involved a lot programming including materials currently being used in robotics.
Casey said competitions like the Olympiad and fairs are important for students who are interested in science, as it gives them the opportunity to engage in more niche corners of the field, such as ornithology or biomedicine, compared to the State of North Carolina’s standards for science classes.
“It gives them a chance to explore topics that could have real world applications, but they might not necessarily get to in a class setting just because, as educators, we don’t have time with a set curriculum that we have to go through,” she said.
She added, though, that the competitions are also useful in getting all students involved, even those who are less interested or naturally inclined to STEM. Casey said she had a student who, for the first time this year, competed in the regional Science Olympiad and said it was the most fun he’d had doing something school-related.
“He actually wants to work and potentially be an engineer now in the future because of that,” Casey said.