Students present innovative research at the Connecticut STEM Fair

Sacred+Heart+Greenwich+students+gain+esteem+at+the+2022+Connecticut+STEM+Fair.+

Claire Moore '22

Sacred Heart Greenwich students gain esteem at the 2022 Connecticut STEM Fair.

Sacred Heart Greenwich Science Research students submitted to the annual Connecticut Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fair February 5.  Under the instruction of Ms. Joan Fei, Upper School Science Research Teacher, eight participants garnered accolades for their academic achievements February 24.  Both the Sacred Heart Science Research Program and the Connecticut STEM Fair seek to equip students for the ever-changing career landscape of the twenty-first century.  Seniors Gabby Lauria and Caroline Hisler and junior Isabella Leao offered insight into their award-winning research. 

STEM professionals comprise 23 percent of the total United States (US) labor force, according to ncses.gov.  The field currently accounts for 69 percent of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to eos.orgAs STEM jobs become more prominent in the economy, the Connecticut STEM Fair prepares young adults for future career prospects.  Opportunities such as presenting original research, interacting with similarly-minded individuals, and networking with STEM mentors allow students to gain a foundation of knowledge, according to ctstemfoundation.org

Ms. Fei prioritizes student-focused curricula in her Science Research classes.  She noted how an independent learning and research process allows students to develop valuable skillsets.

“Students gain research skills, presentation skills, and the opportunity to showcase their hard work,” Ms. Fei said.  “In order to put together a complete project or a proposal, students conducted research on their topic of interest, reading peer-reviewed articles from scientific journals.  They learned about research methods that are common in their field of study and reached out to scientists for feedback and advice on refining their questions and methodology.  Generating a compelling question or identifying a problem to solve is often the hardest part of this process.  Students must be able to identify gaps in the research that they are reading to ultimately come up with a project that is both original and important for society.”

Seniors Gabby and Caroline engage in research on head trauma. Claire Moore ’22

Under coronavirus safety procedures, judges virtually evaluated Connecticut STEM Fair entries.  This is the second year the competition has been fully asynchronous.  Students submitted digital posters and video recordings of their projects, according to ctstemfoundation.org.  The virtual format precluded participants from engaging in a question and answer period with judges.  A judicial committee assessed submissions from February 6 to February 11. 

Students in the Sacred Heart Science Research Program prepare to present their research each year at the Connecticut STEM Fair.  Ms. Fei offered insight into the peer review research process in her classes.

“Throughout the year, we hold formal one-on-one meetings in which students set their own goals in order to reach certain milestones for project completion,” Ms. Fei said.  “Project milestones include presenting a literature review to the class.  After they set their goals, I help students identify how to reach their goals by giving them guidance on how to conduct a literature review, ask questions, and narrow down their topic of interest.  I also provide feedback on how to design an experiment to test their question.  Students then practice presenting their work with the class before the fair.”

The Connecticut STEM Fair allows attendees to represent Goals Two and Three of the Sacred Heart Goals and Criteria, a deep respect for intellectual values, and a social awareness which impels to action, respectively.  To train for the yearly competition, the Science Research Program fosters a collaborative environment of research where students engage in interdisciplinary learning opportunities and further skills such as public speaking and critical thinking.    

Ms. Fei commented on the lasting positive impact of the Science Research Program and Connecticut STEM Fair.  She hopes students will utilize these intellectual skills in and beyond collegiate academics.

“Science Research is the ultimate student-centered curriculum,” Ms. Fei said.  “Students have agency over every aspect of their projects, which means that they learn two important habits: how to be self-reliant problem solvers and how to work with others. No one can do science alone, and being able to collaborate and seek and provide feedback is essential for academic and career success.  Science Research helps equip our students with the necessary habits of mind to be able to confront the unique questions and challenges of the future.”

From 2019 to 2021, Sacred Heart has accumulated a total of 33 recognitions in the Connecticut STEM Fair.  In 2022, juniors Jenny Di Capua, Isabella Leao, Kate Nemec, and Josie Orr along with seniors Sarah Augustine, Caroline Hisler, Gabby Lauria, Caroline Nemec, and Gigi Pasal received awards for their Research Proposals.  The students placed in the Behavioral, Environmental, Health and Medical, and Team categories.  

Junior Isabella compiles data on medical treatment for breast cancer.  Claire Moore ’22

Isabella placed first in the Health and Medical category for her research proposal entitled “Assessing the Effect of Simvastatin on BT20 cells.”  The proposal examines how BT20 cells, which originate from Triple Negative Breast Cancer, respond to treatment from a cholesterol-lowering drug.  Isabella described the scientific procedure behind her research proposal.

“I chose to study this topic because I have always been interested in the development of cancer and how it affects different parts of the body,” Isabella said.  “Specifically, I am interested in breast cancer and I wanted to look into a possible treatment for it.  I have been researching this information since sophomore year and was able to combine what I learned from the articles I read into a research proposal with my own ideas.  I also reached out to the authors of the articles and asked for their insight as well as any more information they could provide me with.  With this, I hypothesized that a cell from Triple Negative Breast Cancer exposed to Simvastatin, which is a drug that treats high cholesterol, can help control the spread of breast cancer.”

Caroline and Gabby placed third in the Team category for research surrounding chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in relation to high school football.  The pair devised an app that will help medical professionals analyze game footage to observe early symptoms of CTE.  Gabby shared one highlight of the research process.

“One aspect of my research that I thought was really cool was that a professor shared with me his research that has not been released to the public yet to help me with my project,” Gabby said.

In addition to commendation from the Connecticut STEM Foundation, Ms. Fei hopes Science Research students will gain confidence, ingenuity, and an appreciation for scientific methodology.  She especially remarked on the importance of empowering women from all backgrounds to pursue STEM vocations.

“Because the STEM field is fueled by creativity, it is important for the field to include people from diverse backgrounds that can bring in new questions, perspectives, and ideas,” Ms. Fei said.  “Women, especially women of color, continue to be underrepresented in certain STEM fields.  According to research, interest, and self-concept can both play roles in students’ career choices.  I am therefore thrilled that I can help my students both discover their passion in a science topic and experience success in science.  My students also serve as role models for younger students at Sacred Heart that are thinking about engaging in scientific research or engineering.  It is important to provide ample opportunities for female high school students to experience success and joy in STEM so that they understand that if they are doing science, they are scientists.”

Featured Image by Claire Moore ’22