Five students. Kennedy High School were named Regeneron Science Talent Search semifinalists on Jan. 7.
Callie Burns, Tara Fusillo, Danielle Kacaj, Jordyn Krinsky and Julia Levine are among 300 students nationwide to receive this designation.
This year marks the first time five female students were selected from a Bellmore-Merrick School and that acknowledgement was not lost on these young women.
"We were so excited for the representation,” added Burns. “It’s an amazing opportunity that all of us got to perform this amazing research. It was a bonding experience for all of us to spend so much time together working on this and now it has all paid off for all of us.”
• Callie Burns’ project, “Student Discipline in Nassau County High Schools: Comparing Distinct Layers of Law Enforcement and Disparity in Student Punishment”
• Tara Fusillo’s project, “Predicting Health Disparities in Regions at Risk of Severe Illness to Inform Healthcare Resource Allocations during Pandemics: Observational Study”
• Jordyn Krinsky’s project, “The Combinatorial Effects of Diet and Caffeine Mitigate Parkinson’s Disease in a Drosophila melanogaster System”
• Danielle Kacaj’s project, “Retinal Ganglion Cell Dysfunction is Associated with Macular Microvascular Abnormalities in Pre-Perimetric Glaucoma”
• Julia Levine’s project, “Reduced Fasciclin 2 Expression in Drosophila melanogaster Leads to Impaired Locomotor Function and Abnormal Stress Response Following Dietary Alterations of Carbohydrates in a Celiac Disease Model”
The students each ran into their own challenges on their research projects including having to adjust to the sudden school shut down in March 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Fusillo, her project’s inspiration was actually COVID-19 and how socio-economic factors affected the mortality rates of more vulnerable communities.
“I wanted to see how health resources could further be allocated to those specific communities during pandemics,” she added.
Krinsky and Levine had to immediately come up with a contingency plan as their fruit fly source in Indiana became temporarily unavailable.
“We both created labs inside of our homes; mine being my dining room,” Krinsky explained. “I had a CO2 tank attached to my table in order to put our flies under anesthesia.”
Levine, her mother and sister all live with celiac disease, the driving force behind her research.
“I specifically focused on different dietary treatments on fruit flies, since there is no real cure for celiac, it’s all dietary,” she added.
Kacaj’s project was a clinical trial at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital that was put on pause, so she had to perform research from home.
“It wasn’t as ideal or the experience that I wanted,” she added. Nevertheless, she made the most of the experience and was rewarded in the end.
Whereas, Burns’ research involved statistical analyzing nationally record data, so being given the gift of time was very beneficial.
“I completed more than I originally planned and that I decided to add an experimental component to my research,” she added.
Burns taught herself how to use survey software, creating a survey that was sent out more than 4,000 Nassau County teachers.
“The tools that they got out of the Regeneron process are far beyond research skills,” adviser Barbi Frank.
Burns mentioned a heightened work ethic, increased perseverance, as well as time management skills.
“Once the pandemic hit, the 12 seniors [who submitted projects] rose to the occasion,” Frank added. “We set up buddy systems for them to become models to the underclassmen. It wasn’t a matter of if we’re going to do this, it was how are we going to do this and be successful.”
The seven other seniors who submitted projects included Liam Boyle, Matt Cohn, Josh Farber, Eric Giannaris, Seth Gorelik, Jacob Kamler and Arjun Maystry.
Principal Gerard Owenburg said he has been “fortunate enough to have a front row seat, watching the advanced science research seniors navigate the pandemic while competing their research.
“At Kennedy, we talk a lot about the importance of resiliency and adaptability,” he added. “I can’t think of any other group of individuals who have demonstrated these traits better than our Class of 2021 Regeneron Scholars. The fact that these students were even able to complete and submit their research was one of the most emotional moments of this school year. I could not be prouder.”
The Regeneron STS is the nation's most prestigious pre-college science competition. Each scholar, selected from 1,760 entrants, receives a $2,000 award with an additional $2,000 going to his or her respective school. On Jan. 21, 40 students will be named finalists and then from March 10-17, the finalists will then compete for more than $1.8 million in awards.