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Students of Society Fellow First to Make Intel ISEF Finals

By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Specialist, Society for Science & the Public

Two of Society Fellow Susan Vincent’s students, Maryama Diaw and Marjana Chowdhury, will be coming to Intel ISEF 2011 after winning first place in the New York City Science and Engineering Fair. Not only is it the first time students from Susan’s school, the Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem, have been to Intel ISEF, it was the first time students from the school even competed at the New York fair. “So that was exciting in and of itself, that we entered and their project was accepted,” says Susan.

At the competition, the girls, along with the rest of the participants, had a surprise when President Obama visited. “The girls got to meet President Obama and hear him speak…so that was such a thrill!” Susan says. While the girls still hoped to advance, they told Susan they were happy they had come this far and had a chance to meet the President. However, they soon learned that they would go even farther and compete with students from across the globe at the Intel ISEF in Los Angeles.

After the awards ceremony, the school held a pep rally and, “the whole place was just in raucous celebration!” Susan says. “Here we are, a little school of 460 girls from East Harlem, and we were competing with the big schools in the city…all the big guns that have 12-1500 students. Most of those schools are highly selective. We don’t screen academically at all. We take 460 kids from our neighborhood and it’s a huge range of ability levels. So the student body as a whole owned that success and was so ecstatic that our girls competed against all of these big names and made it to the finish!”

With support from the Society, and under the guidance of Dr. Frank Jordan of Loyola University and Katherine Allen of Columbia University, Maryama and Marjana studied the breeding habits of an endangered fish in a damaged habitat in Eglin Air Force Base in Northwestern Florida. By weighing, counting, and assessing the maturity levels of eggs of a surrogate fish (as they cannot remove the endangered fish) and conducting careful statistical analysis, they were able to infer the breeding activity of the endangered fish.

“I am just so thankful that being a Society Fellow has allowed me the opportunity to network and bring the research opportunity to my students,” Susan says. “It’s such a great, heartwarming thing to see girls come from behind, girls that are not expected to be able to compete at the level that these girls are. It just goes to show you that if you put the resources in and give them the help that they need, they can do it.”

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