5 Intel STS semifinalists discuss their work

Sanford H. Calhoun High School senior Asia Brown,

Sanford H. Calhoun High School senior Asia Brown, 17, an Intel contest semifinalist, examined genes that are involved in colon cancer as part of her research project. (Jan. 20, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

The story of Samantha Garvey -- the Brentwood High School teen who has been living with her family in a Bay Shore homeless shelter -- captured national attention when she was named a semifinalist in the Intel science contest this month.

Garvey, 18, is one of the more than 60 students Islandwide named semifinalists in the prestigious national contest. They comprise the most student winners of any region in the country.

Educators say it's likely that at least one student could advance when Intel announces 40 finalists Wednesday, solidifying Long Island's role as a powerhouse in the national competition, which has a top prize of $100,000.

"Clearly a tradition has developed," said Stony Brook University president Samuel L. Stanley Jr., noting that the resources at the university -- where many of the semifinalists have participated in research and partnered with faculty mentors -- also have played a role in generating so many young local scientists.

Here's a look at five of the semifinalists, their work and inspiration.

 

Mariyam Qureshi

Valley Stream South High School

In a personal quest to help family members, Mariyam Qureshi, a senior at Valley Stream South High School, undertook her project, "Dynamics Underlying Tissue Integrity," which focused on creating an alternate solution to kidney failure in the form of an artificial kidney.

"My uncle suffers from kidney failure and two of my cousins have it as well and my grandfather had it, too," she said. "Because I love science so much, I thought I could help my family."

Qureshi, 17, who started her project three years ago, applied her hands-on research at the mechanical engineering lab at Columbia University, mentored by a postdoctoral student there. She spent hours in the lab, staying with an aunt in Brooklyn over the summer to be closer to work and missing a Hawaii vacation in order to continue her research.

Her teacher, Jeffrey Hsi, said she is hardworking and took her project "very, very seriously."

Qureshi said she wants to continue what she started. "I want to major in biology and go into the medical profession, and continue with the artificial kidney," she said.

 

Casey Vieni

Plainedge High School

Senior Casey Vieni, 17, was caught off guard when he researched the ranking of his school on state report cards that list student achievement.

His school was "at the middle to the end of the ranking. That surprised me the most," Vieni said. "I always thought in Plainedge there was a really good work ethic, kids had opportunities and they tried hard."

Vieni decided for his research project to look deeper into the spending and achievement records at Long Island's public schools. His project is titled "Economics of Education: An Analysis of Long Island Public High Schools and Economic Efficiency."

He gathered statistics from the state report cards and looked at test scores and per-pupil spending for every school to develop a formula to determine which schools were most efficient. Vieni didn't re-rank the schools; rather, he grouped them into sections.

His adviser, Sean Patrick Corcoran, an associate professor of education economics at New York University, said Vieni conducted his work mostly on his own and in his results found there was little relationship between student achievement and resources such as spending per student and class size.

 

Jacklyn Sullivan

MacArthur High School

Forget sibling rivalry among the three Sullivan children, it's sibling inspiration.

Jacklyn Sullivan, 17, is the youngest member of the family and the last sibling in a family of Intel semifinalists. Her brother, Michael, 20, was named a semifinalist in 2009 and her sister, Christine, 23, was named one in 2006.

They all attended MacArthur High School in Levittown and all shared the same main adviser, David Friedman.

Sullivan, a senior, was named a semifinalist for her research titled "The Social Cost of School Restructuring: The Impact of Middle School Reform on Young Adolescent Girls' Body Image."

She found that tweens, those in the fifth grade who are enrolled in middle schools, report significantly higher levels of body dissatisfaction than those who attend school with younger children. Her sister had looked at a similar issue and Jacklyn had helped her with her project then.

"I have always been a feminist/female advocate," Sullivan said.

Her father, Stephen Sullivan, who is a social studies coordinator and a research teacher in the Lawrence school district, said the siblings display "a little bit of a positive competition. They are very, very helpful and supportive of each other."

 

Asia Brown

Sanford H. Calhoun High School

Asia Brown, 17, was still analyzing data the morning her Intel application was due. She had worked on it over the summer in the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University and was receiving results days before the paper had to be completed in mid-November.

"The week of Intel, it was crunchtime, I got 10 hours of sleep that week I was working on my project," Brown said.

The result was a paper titled "Analysis of Altered Gene Expression in Human Colon Cancer Cells Exposed to the Methylation Inhibitor 5-aza-2'deoxycytidine."

Kimberlie Lascarides, one of her research teachers, said Brown examined the genes that are involved in colon cancer and more specifically looked at identifying genes that are involved in pathways that lead to tumor growth.

Brown plans to pursue a medical degree along with a PhD so she can continue research. She said she has loved the sciences since she was a little girl, but her interest really took off in high school.

When her principal told her she had been named a semifinalist, Brown said she "was shocked and in disbelief, all the hard work I put in ended up amounting to something."

 

Juliana Coraor

Huntington High School

Senior Juliana Coraor turned 17 the day after the Intel semifinalists were named.

When she was 15, Coraor attended freshman physics classes at Stony Brook University. She traveled to Stony Brook with her mother, a professor there, and returned by train to Huntington Station, walking 20 minutes to the high school to make her classes during her junior year.

It was at Stony Brook, under the guidance of her professor, Matthew Dawber, that Coraor came up with her project. Titled "The Impact of Compressive Misfit Strain on Improper Ferroelectricity in Lead Titanate/Strontium Titanate Superlattices," it focused on materials with special electrical properties. She found that the properties of these materials could be altered by applying strain, creating a possibility for greater efficiency in their applications.

Teacher Lori Kenny, who previously worked as a lab technician at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, overhauled Huntington's research program three years ago. It has grown from seven students to more than 50, and a second teacher has been added.

"They love it and want to be involved," she said.

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