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Young Changemakers: Regeneron STS finalists are social entrepreneurs and leaders

By Aparna Paul

Anaiah Thomas, STS 2020 finalist
Meet Anaiah Thomas, Regeneron STS finalist and Deputy Finance Director of Zero Hour Photo courtesy of Anaiah Thomas

The last few weeks have been a mindbender, to say the least. With the coronavirus running rampant through the United States, it’s all the more important that we try to stay focused on the positive.

Here’s how 9 of this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists have been involved in improving their communities via social entrepreneurship and their leadership skills.

Amogh Bhatnagar and Jacob Yasonik

This pair founded Wisconsin Student Researcher Society, with a mission to encourage scientific inquiry in high school students from Wisconsin. Though the bulk of STEM research may seem to be reserved for college- and graduate-level students, Amogh and Jacob emphasize the importance of starting early. By building an awareness of local STEM-related events, networking opportunities, research methods and resources, high schoolers are encouraged to think beyond their syllabi and conduct independent research outside of their classrooms, attend science fairs and connect to the broader scientific community.

Cynthia Chen    

As founder and CEO of Opportunity X, Cynthia is working hard to increase diversity and representation in science research, with a special focus on students who attend underserved and underrepresented middle schools. With branches in Texas, Florida, Southern California and Utah, Opportunity X provides weekly research workshops where students learn basic science research concepts and take part in fun hands-on science experiments. The website states: “At Opportunity X, we believe that all students should have access to the resources and materials necessary to complete their own research projects, regardless of their socioeconomic background.”

Maria Fields      

Maria is the founder of a nonprofit literacy program called Generate Real Opportunities and Wonder, also known as G.R.O.W.  “During my freshman year I created this club, where high schoolers read to elementary students before school,” Maria explains. She has also been heavily involved in book drives to ensure that our nation’s children can enjoy learning as much as she does.

Anushka Jetly   

Anushka is the founder and president of Friendswood Food for Charity, an organization that recognizes that better supporting one another can help a community come together. “The mission of this club is to sell home-cooked meals in our community at a reasonable price and donate the proceeds to nonprofit organizations,” Anushka explains. The club makes regular investments using their funds to students in a hearing-impaired school in India, as well as a local home for adults with disabilities in Anushka’s hometown of Friendswood, Texas.

Helena Jiang is the founder and CEO of Opalescence LLC and President of coderGirls/Photo courtesy of Helena Jiang

Helena Jiang     

Helena is the founder and CEO of Opalescence LLC, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering K-12 students in the art of nanoscience. After experiencing the creation of a beautiful opal from her own home, Helena decided to create kits for children so they could experience growing their own opals too. She recognized the value of hands-on experiments for kids of all ages.

Additionally, Helena is working to change the face of computer science as President of coderGirls, an international nonprofit that educates and empowers girls in computer science. With 43 chapters in over 10 countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Ukraine, as well as partners with over 350 schools and 85 Girl Scout councils, Helena is truly making a difference in closing the tech gender gap around the globe. 

Alina Pollner    

Alina started Science Fair Buddies, an organization that gives middle schoolers from underserved schools mentoring and financial support to create their own science or engineering projects. Besides working to close the socioeconomic gap, Alina’s also working to close the STEM gender gap as a founder of the Society of Women Engineers Club at her high school.

Anaiah  Thomas

Anaiah is Deputy Finance Director of the youth-founded, international climate organization Zero Hour. Growing up in Jamaica, her family faced intense hurricanes, ultimately leading them to migrate to the United States. Anaiah shares: “I spent a lot of time looking into the global climate crisis and how I could help. That’s when I fell in love with climate science and asking questions such as: how can we prevent the systematic rise of global temperatures; the melting of ice caps; the advance of our waters on land; the whipping convection currents throwing our weather into constant disaster?” By the time Anaiah entered her freshman year of high school, her passion had developed into a full-blown passion for STEM, and how science could be used to solve global problems.

Brian Wu

Brian describes himself as a “spaceflight enthusiast.” After five years of building rockets from scratch with his school’s engineering club, APSIS Aero, Brian founded a startup, Apextial Innovations, to pursue his passion further. “I have continued to experiment with solid-fueled rocket motors, with plans to create novel components such as small environmentally-friendly propulsion devices for nanosatellites, and maybe even hybrid/aerospike engines designed to work efficiently in the dense lower atmosphere,” he said. Brian is also eager to ignite a passion for STEM in his peers! Similar to the Science Olympiad, Brian launched a Physics Olympiad that has reached over 80 students in the last couple of years.

These are just a handful of the Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. Head here to learn more about all of the 2020 finalists and sign up here to receive updates about the Regeneron Science Talent Search.