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LI students win in European Union Contest

Half Hollow Hills High School West senior Poojan

Half Hollow Hills High School West senior Poojan Pandya and Ward Melville High School senior Leo Takemaru won one of four first-place prizes in the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Credit: Amit Pandya

A two-student team from Long Island was among four first-prize winners in an international science contest for their research on HIV proteins.

Poojan Pandya, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills, and Leo Takemaru, a senior a Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, were among the top winners last month at the 31st annual European Union Contest for Young Scientists. This year's contest consisted of 154 students, ages 14 to 20, from 40 countries and was held in Bulgaria.

Pandya and Takemaru's research explored the role of a specific protein in HIV budding and how that protein may be a viable target for potential antiviral therapeutics because it is not present in the majority of adult human organs.

The students were awarded 7,000 euros, which equates to about $7,700.

"Winning the first prize feels amazing because it validates the countless hours we put into our project and science in general," Pandya said. 

To be eligible for the contest, Pandya and Takemaru won "best-of-category" in microbiology earlier this year at the 2019 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.

Their research mentor was Feng-Qian Li, an associate professor of research in Stony Brook University's Pharmacology Department.

"I warmly congratulate the winners of this year's contest on their outstanding achievement," said Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation for the European Union. "I am convinced that we will see many of the 154 participants hitting the headlines in the coming years with breakthrough discoveries and innovations."


New principal

Kathryn McNally is the new principal of Washington Drive Primary School in the Harborfields School District. She replaced Kelly Fallon, who held the position on an interim basis.

McNally, who joined the district in 2000, was previously an assistant principal at Washington Drive and Oldfield Middle School. She also has been the district's assistant director for pupil personnel services and a special education teacher at Harborfields High School and Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School.

"I aspire to help the students within our learning community reach their personal best," McNally said.


New principal

Jon LaRochester is the new principal of Islip High School. He replaced Michael Mosca, who is now principal of Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station.

LaRochester previously served six years as an assistant principal at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore. He also has been a social studies teacher and AP psychology and senior seminar instructor at Bethpage High School.

"My goal as the new principal of Islip High School is to provide students with the most dynamic learning experiences through the creation of a culture that is rich in opportunities and fosters authentic student development," LaRochester said.


New appointments

Donna Jones is interim superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District, while Emily Wernau is the new principal of the district's Tremont Elementary. Jones replaced Michael Hynes, who is now superintendent of the Port Washington School District, while Wernau replaced Lori Koerner, who is now executive director for curriculum, instruction and professional development for the Riverhead Central School District.

Jones previously was the district's deputy superintendent. Wernau was an assistant principal in the district's Saxton Middle School and a peer instructional coach, department chair and assistant principal in the Bronx.

"It is my desire to utilize my skillsets in order to provide innovative and creative opportunities for all," Jones said. "Through the ebbs and flows of the year to come, my goal will be to understand, learn, collaborate and model excellence."

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