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Taking the ‘geek’ out of ‘science geek’

Two MPH juniors are regional science fair winners

Manlius Pebble Hill juniors Olivia Sheppard, of Skaneateles, and Emerson Czerwinski Burkard, of Jamesville, beat out around 200 other Central New York students to take the top prizes at the Central New York Science and Engineering Fair on March 30. They’ll both be heading to Los Angeles in May to compete against students from around the world at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Manlius Pebble Hill juniors Olivia Sheppard, of Skaneateles, and Emerson Czerwinski Burkard, of Jamesville, beat out around 200 other Central New York students to take the top prizes at the Central New York Science and Engineering Fair on March 30. They’ll both be heading to Los Angeles in May to compete against students from around the world at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Allie Wenner

— For many people, the mention of a science fair grand prize winner may be associated with the glasses-wearing, pimple-faced protagonists from “Revenge of the Nerds” or “The Big Bang Theory.”

But Manlius Pebble Hill students Olivia Sheppard, 16, of Skaneateles, and 17-year-old Emerson Czerwinski Burkard, of Jamesville, are breaking the stereotype.

Both are passionate about science and excel at it, but don’t be intimidated by their project titles from this year’s Central New York Science and Engineering Fair (CNYSEF), where they beat out around 200 other local students to win the grand prize: “Reduction of Circulating Tumor Cells by Induction of Apoptosis” and “Improvement in Crosswind Landing by use of Intelligent Holonomic Landing Gear,” respectively. They’re both well-spoken young adults with a variety of interests.

“I’m used to talking to people,” Sheppard said. “I think being in science fairs has made it easier for me to talk with adults, and that’s also carried over to my life and I feel more comfortable talking in front of groups.”

In fact, Sheppard already has experience in public speaking: she was asked to be a guest lecturer last month at the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse for the Technology Alliance of Central New York’s Junior Café Scientifique, where she spoke to local middle-school students about how she became interested and passionate about science.

“I’m hoping to show this talk around to various middle schools and inspire middle school students to become interested or at least look into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) field,” she said.

Awareness at an early age

Sheppard’s interest in science began in the same place she just recently gave a lecture to inspire others: the MOST. When she was in third grade, Sheppard watched an IMAX movie about coral reefs and how they’re being affected by climate change. She immediately wanted to know more, and did her first science fair project on the topic of climate change.

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