This story is part of Newsday’s 2020 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 12 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. See more Extraordinary Seniors at newsday.com/extraordinaryseniors.
Riley Stotzky often asks, “why?”
“Teachers told me they didn’t want to call on Riley because she always asked difficult questions that they sometimes didn’t have answers to,” her mother, Melissa Stotzky, said proudly.
Riley's curiosity isn’t easily satisfied. “I refuse to accept things at face value and investigate what I don’t fully understand,” said the 18-year-old from Hampton Bays. It’s not surprising that she’s enthralled with epidemiology. “Freshmen year when choosing my topic for the science research program, West Africa was experiencing Ebola and Zika was becoming a global problem. I realized epidemiologists played a vital role in mapping the spread of and understanding those diseases. The more I looked into epidemiology, the more interested I became.”
“Most ninth-graders don’t know the definition of epidemiology,” said Stephanie Forsberg, a science teacher and department coordinator at Hampton Bays High School. “Riley wanted to work with accomplished mentors and reached out to top epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins.”
Stotzky worked on influenza epidemiology research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “While I didn’t study coronavirus, there are some mirroring results between COVID-19 and influenza,” she said. She also presented preliminary results on her influenza research at a professional science symposium in 2019 at Plum Island Animal Rescue Center.
Riley isn’t all science. She served as president of her class, the Peer Educators club and Future Business Leaders of America. She also played varsity tennis and danced with Peconic Ballet Theatre. Her community service includes volunteering for the Special Olympics, teaching dance to disadvantaged students and presenting anti-bullying workshops to middle-school students.
Said Riley, “I love learning about the past because I think it’s the key to our future. Experts are analyzing the Spanish Flu in order to gain more insight into the coronavirus.”
HIGHER ED: Clemson University, political science major
FRESHMEN YEAR: She’s looking forward to “studying next summer in South Africa as part of the National Scholars program.”
DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED: “The connections we have with people are what drive us to be better human beings; not seeing people in person limits our ability to connect.”