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Student to student: Regeneron ISEF finalists take the stage during Education Outreach Day

By Kevin Easterly

Students from across Texas met Regeneron ISEF finalists at Education Outreach Day. Courtesy of Chris Ayers Photography

Earlier this month, the 2023 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair welcomed over 1,600 young researchers from over 60 different countries, regions and territories to Dallas for the world’s largest global pre-college science and engineering competition.

The finalists weren’t the only ones to experience STEM exploration and fun at Regeneron ISEF this year. Education Outreach Day welcomed over 2,000 students from across Texas to the fair where they took part in a day filled to the brim with presentations and activities designed to inspire them to build scientific questions of their own. This year’s Education Outreach Day was sponsored by Jacobs, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Oracle Academy, Texas A&M Engineering, Exxon Mobile, Hoglund Foundation and Army ROTC.

A highlight of this year’s Education Outreach Day was a series of TED-style talks in which finalists shared their stories and perspectives directly with visiting students. Here are just a few of their wise words:

Advait Huggahalli (Chappaqua, New York)

“I’ve always been interested in the question, ‘Are we alone in this world?’ and my research has to do with the optimization of the search for extraterrestrial life. That might sound like a crazy concept—but it all stems from passion. If you told me a few months ago that I’d be speaking with you all here today at Regeneron ISEF at Education Outreach Day, I probably would have chuckled a little bit and never thought I’d have this chance. All I knew is that I was curious. My advice is to follow whatever you’re passionate about and take it as far as you can—because it’s possible to get to wherever you want to go.”

Rishab Jain (Portland, Oregon)

Rishab Jain, an accomplished participant who secured one of two Regeneron Young Scientist Awards at the 2022 Regeneron ISEF and also received the 4th award in Biomedical Engineering this year, delivered an engaging and thought-provoking talk. Rishab shared insightful reflections, saying, “It can be daunting to engage in STEM and scientific research sometimes, because you look at someone like Tesla and think, ‘How can I compete with that? How can I dream up those kinds of ideas and answers?’ I personally think the answer is that, well, you don’t. Even here at Regeneron ISEF, the world’s largest pre-collegiate science competition, science isn’t about competing, it’s about collaborating. It doesn’t take an Einstein or a Tesla to do science—anybody can do science! Walking around today, you’ll see hundreds of booths of students making things that might one day change the world.”

Sanjana Kumar (San Diego, California)

“I used to imagine scientists as people who think about science 24/7, and who love math and science more than anything else. But I did other things: I loved to paint, I loved to write, I loved to play the piano. I thought I couldn’t possibly be a scientist because I don’t only have an analytically wired brain.

“I think in society, we often tell ourselves that, ‘This is what a scientist looks like, so I can’t be a scientist because that’s not what I look like.’ But eventually I realized that that creativity is actually a huge part of being a scientist, and that science needs people who are passionate about more than just science.” Sanjana Kumar won the 2nd Award in the Environmental Engineering category along with Special Awards from Arizona State University and the Bruno Kessler Foundation.

Aurora Mendenhall (Niceville, Florida)

“Everyone can be creative in different ways, and everyone has different skills that they bring to the table. Ultimately, combining those skills is what moves society forward. Even if you’re not really good at math or science, or you didn’t get a five on your AP Calculus exam, that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to STEM fields—whatever your skills are, there are always ways you can make an impact.” This year, Aurora won the 2nd Award in Mathematics.

Grace Yacobe (Villanova, Pennsylvania)

“It can take a while to break out of the usual patterns and expectations that surround us, but new perspectives really do change the world. People in my community didn’t tell me to find a role model who looks like me and follow in their footsteps, but instead to be someone others could look up to. It’s challenging, but you can always chart your own path. If you don’t see yourself in history, then you can make history.” Grace won the 3rd Award in Translational Medical Science this year.

Faith You (Missoula, Montana)

“As we get older, it can become easy to just accept things as they are. But to be successful, we have to ask ‘Why?’ and continue to view the world inquisitively. When you solve one question, you’ll uncover ten more. Creative ideas have the power to change the world, but everything begins with being curious enough to ask questions.”