By Lauren Ingeno
From discovering a new anti-flu medicine to identifying a potential new treatment for brain cancer, they’ve conducted cutting-edge research that could significantly impact the fields of math, science and technology—and they haven’t even graduated from high school.
For the fourth year in a row, the George Washington University hosted the finals for the Siemens Foundation’s annual science competition, where 20 students competed to win up to $100,000 in scholarship funds.
“As a global company that thrives on innovation, and the United States being our biggest market, we are really committed to helping the education system in this country get to where it needs to be,” said Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens USA, during Tuesday’s award ceremony in the Jack Morton Auditorium. “We want to see the next generation of thinkers and innovators.”
Launched in 1998 and administered by the College Board, the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology invites high school students from around the country to showcase original science research projects. This year, 1,500 research projects were submitted.
The six individual and six team winners from regional contests around the country moved on to present their projects to a team of judges at GW Sunday. Awards ranged from $10,000 to the $100,000 grand prize.
“I think this competition reflects the enormously enlightened understanding of the importance of bringing young people into science and engineering, technological fields and mathematics,” said Provost Steven Lerman at the ceremony. “That investment will pay off in many ways.”
Dr. Lerman cited the steps the university has taken to advance research and learning in the STEM fields, such as the creation of the Computational Biology Institute and the construction of the new Science and Engineering Hall. Both initiatives have a strong focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration, one of the four major themes in the university’s new strategic plan.
He told the high school finalists that their generation will “stand on the shoulders of giants” who came before them, and they will lead new “scientific breakthroughs” of the future.
The $100,000 individual grand prize was awarded to Eric Chen, a senior from San Diego, Calif., who used computer modeling combined with biological studies to speed up the discovery of new anti-flu medicine. He also identified potent inhibitors that have the potential to be developed into new drugs that will prepare for pandemic flu outbreaks.
The people Mr. Chen most wanted to thank were his teachers.
“They are an understated group in our community who many times don’t get the thanks they deserve for all the influence that they have had on us and our development and growth,” he said.
The top prize in the team category went to Zainab Mahmood, Priyanka Wadgaonkar and Jiawen Pei from Hewlett, N.Y. In their study, they found a correlation between ozone resistance and the copy number of a gene. That gene could potentially make certain crops more resistant to various forms of abiotic stress. Ms. Wadgaonkar and Ms. Pei aspire to become physicians, while Ms. Mahmood would like to be an engineer.
In addition to presenting their research, the competition finalists participated in workshops and were able to learn about opportunities at GW throughout the weekend.
Undergraduates from GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science hosted a poster presentation on Sunday for the finalists and their families, which demonstrated the research they had conducted at GW, as well as the various internship positions at agencies around D.C. that are available to students.
Students from the SEAS Student Peer Advisory Network also met with the finalists at their hotel on Saturday night, where they ate dinner and played video games together. The GW Office of Admissions hosted a reception for the finalists’ parents on Sunday.
Rachelle Heller, a professor in the SEAS Department of Computer Science and the Mount Vernon Campus’s associate provost for academic affairs helped judge the competition. She had an essential message to the student finalists before they left Washington, D.C.
“Science and technological innovation are the primary drivers for our United States economic growth and the basis of our national security,” she said. “Our country’s future depends on each and every one of you, as you continue to study and learn and take your place as the next science leaders.”