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Independent Research Students Excel at Virtual Symposium, Fair
From February 23-26, Newton Country Day held its first Science and Engineering Virtual Symposium. Eleven Upper School Independent Research students presented their projects, over Zoom, to a panel of judges from the scientific community, including NCDS parents, past parents, and alumnae. Additionally, NCDS will have its largest representation at the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair in school history with all 11 Independent Research students advancing to the virtual competition

Forty-seven people served as either interviewing judges, meeting one-on-one with students over Zoom, or as general judges, asynchronously reviewing student video presentations and papers. Judges submitted feedback on the projects through a Google Form located on a dedicated project webpage. All Newton Country Day parents were given access to view the students’ projects, adding to the community feel of the symposium. A benefit of the event being completely virtual was the opportunity for students to engage with alumnae who are not local to Newton.

"It is so important for our young researchers to meet women in STEM careers who have literally walked through the same hallways as them,” said Science Department Chair Dr. Rebecca Sen. “Conversing with our alumnae judges allows our students to see the broad scope of opportunities ahead of them in STEM fields.”

"It was just an incredible experience and opportunity,” commented symposium judge Rochelle Williams-Belizaire ’00. “Thank you for your amazing support of these young, female, driven scholars. I am very impressed."

For their projects, participants were required to submit a paper, a Google slide deck, and a 5-10 minute video. Each student researcher engaged in two Zoom interviews, lasting between 15-20 minutes, to discuss her project.

“Independent research, while a long process, is overall a fabulous and educational experience,” noted G. Hernandez ’24. “Highlights from my research include studying the deep sea in great depth and analysing existing data on the impacts of deep sea mining. The opportunity to study a subject you are passionate about, with some guidance, is remarkable. The virtual interviews were extremely helpful. To have heard from professionals about a topic they are interested and informed in was an incredible opportunity. While I already had a passion for marine biology, this project made me consider the specific aspects I’m interested in and helped to deepen my love of the ocean and the science surrounding it.”

“My favorite part about the research process was being able to take something I was curious about outside of school and dive into it with the support of my faculty mentor and the entire Science Department,” said M. Heeney ’21, whose project was titled “Factors Contributing to Spartina alterniflora Recession in Tidal Salt Marsh Areas.” “Being able to connect with parents and alumnae was such a rewarding experience. Not only did they offer great feedback on my project, but they also gave incredible insight into their journey with science and the endless paths I could go down in the future.”

"I studied combination therapies to treat Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer,” explained E. Addona ’22, who participated in Independent Research for the third year in a row. “Through my research, I learned that it is an understudied medical field that has many emerging and novel chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments still in early clinical trial testing. Studying combination therapies has really interested me because lung cancer accounts for about 25% of all cancer cases, and still can be considered an understudied aspect of medicine. I plan to continue this project next year and analyze how some of the combination treatments I studied this year affect patients.”

“What I enjoyed most was receiving data from participants,” explained N. Grimes ’24, when referring to her project “Blinded by the Light” about the effects of screen time as it relates to computer-vision syndrome. “I constructed a survey that relied on human participants for the data. Every time I looked at the number of people who participated in my survey it was greater than the time before and made me excited. Both of my judges did something completely different within the field of science and it made me think about another route I could take in the future for a project.”

Following the symposium, students submitted their projects to the Massachusetts Region V Science and Engineering Fair. The regional fair was an asynchronous, virtual event. At the conclusion, eight NCDS projects were recognized.

Project Category
First Place

E. Lesher ’22

Third Place
E. Addona ’22

Honorable Mention
I. Adarme ’24
N. Grimes ’24
M. Heeney ’21
G. Hernandez ’24
A. Reddy ’24

Proposal Category
Honorable Mention
M. Hickey ’24

All 11 of Newton’s Independent Research students will advance to the virtual Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair on April 29-30.

We are so grateful to our judges, who provided thoughtful, supportive, and constructive feedback to our students,” said Dr. Sarah Webster, Director of the Independent Research program. “The students made revisions to their presentations before submitting them to the Regional Science and Engineering Fair. All 11 projects advancing to the State Fair, the most we have sent in at least 13 years, is a remarkable achievement in any year, but amazing in the midst of a year filled with the challenges of a pandemic.”

"The various restrictions caused by the ongoing public health crisis certainly presented numerous challenges for our students researchers,” Sen concluded. “In the face of these obstacles, these young women have remained ignited by the prospect of scientific discovery, they have persisted through these difficult circumstances, and they have learned a tremendous amount about their topic of interest. Needless to say we are extremely proud of these impressive young women."