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Levittown semifinalist's project reflects his life

MICHAEL COMUNIELLO, 17 Division Avenue High School, Levittown

Division Avenue High School, Levittown
PROJECT: ?Science Fair, Science Unfair: Analysis of Equity in High School Science Research Education?
DESCRIPTION: Looked at factors that help some high schools succeed in national science competitions year after year, while other high schools succeed only rarely.
TEACHER: Gerard Marzigliano
Credit: Newsday/Mahala Gaylord

Michael Comuniello knew Wednesday Intel semifinalists would be announced, so he wasn't taking any chances. Rising early, the valedictorian at Division Avenue High School in Levittown got out his lucky sweater and ironed it.

"Just on the slight chance someone might take a picture or something, I'd look semiprofessional," he said.

Comuniello, 17, has seen hardship in other parts of his life. Family financial troubles have plagued him, and in June his mother died. Now living with an aunt and uncle, he does his best to get by, even working last summer as a school custodian. Still, his motivation remains strong.

"Sometimes I find myself so stressed out about trying to make a deadline or trying to be the best I can be, that there are moments when I almost want to quit," he said. "But because of everything I've gone through, I know I can overcome it, so I have that final motivation to push me over the top."

Comuniello's project, "Science Fair, Science Unfair: Analysis of Equity in High School Science Research Education," looked at the very inequities he has faced. Unlike many semifinalists, Comuniello lacked access to a university research facility or mentor. His project aimed to figure out why his school, which has not had a semifinalist since 2002, has not been as successful as others in research competitions. He analyzed other schools' research programs and factors that might explain their success producing Intel and Siemens semifinalists. The closer a school was to a university, he found, the more winners it would have.

"Those who do take the opportunity to work with a university professor and a university lab, they are going to have a better chance to succeed," he said.

Comuniello has been accepted into the University of Notre Dame and hopes to major in chemical engineering.

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