Archbishop Williams High School senior Margaret “Maggie” Slein of Scituate will be the first-ever student in the school’s nearly 70-year history to compete in an international science fair, the Intel ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair), which will be held May 14-19, in Los Angeles.
Slein’s selection for the fair followed her high scoring at the 59th Annual South Shore Regional Science Fair held May 11 at Bridgewater State University, where she earned a 1st Place award, a $100 cash prize, and the prestigious and highly competitive Wilma M. Shields ISEF award.
The 1st Place award allows Slein to advance to the Mass. State Science and Engineering Fair May 5-6, at the Mass. Institute of Technology; the Shields award allows her to advance directly to the Intel ISEF competition.
“I am really excited and shocked that I was chosen to move forward to the international fair,” Slein said. “There were a lot of environmental science projects, and the research I did was complex, but I think my presentation and my presentation skills gave me an overall advantage.”
The regional fair included 143 students from 24 high schools in southeastern Massachusetts and from Boston private and Catholic schools, who presented 127 individual and team research projects. The top 40 of those students advance to the Mass. state fair. Meanwhile, the regional fair committee sends two students to Intel ISEF where they will compete against approximately 1800 students from 75 countries.
Slein’s winning project, The Study of Hemigrapsus Sanguineous: Population Density and Genetic Variation, is a year-long study of Asian shore crabs - an invasive species - and their impact on native species. She collected samples from the shoreline in Scituate and Quincy, and analyzed their DNA variations with the assistance of Annie Evankow, Collections Associate of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center of New England, Northeastern University Marine Center, Nahant.
“We don't usually work with high school students, but most high school students aren't like Maggie,” Evankow said. “Maggie was willing to give up her vacation to work on an independent project she feels is important. She knew it would be challenging to complete this project before the science fair, but instead of giving up, she worked harder. Although many of the procedures were new to her, she did her best to learn as much as she could and complete as much as possible on her own. It is a pleasure to work with someone who cares so much about her project. I believe she could accomplish anything at this point, given enough time.”
Slein especially enjoys the real-life, practical application of the research. “It’s so satisfying to get first-hand experience with this level of research for the first time,” Slein said. “The crab project involves a lot of data collection because you have to document everything, their population, and even their DNA.”
The project was made possible when Slein won a highly competitive $6,000 grant from the Marjot Foundation, Woods Hole, Falmouth, Mass. The grant helps to pay for DNA testing and supplies, and is partially shared by her mentor, Archbishop Williams High School Science Department Chair Raymond Whitehouse, who works closely with Slein on all facets of the project and who made the connection to the Northeastern lab for her.
“She wrote a really good grant,” said Whitehouse. “Her project is highly relevant to today’s problems. It’s real science in real time with data that is meaningful and important to the community.”
Slein’s grant was one of only two awarded to Massachusetts students, and five awarded to students in New England. According to Dr. Ann Craig, DVM, president of the Falmouth-based foundation, the highly competitive grants are for “students engaged in independent field and or laboratory research projects focused on environmental issues” - right up Slein’s alley.
“We like kids like Maggie,” Craig said. “You can really tell it’s her passion.”
“Maggie personifies the ideal science student - full of questions, persistent, and open-minded,” Whitehouse said. “I can’t tell you how difficult this is to do, to succeed at this level.”
Slein’s environmental passion, talent and work ethic have also been recognized by the Henry David Thoreau Foundation, which announced on March 18 that because of her “academic strength, demonstrated environmental interest, and capacity as a future environmental leader,” she will be awarded a scholarship which will total up to $20,000 for four years of college. On March 24, Slein’s excellence was again recognized when her project took 3rd Place among 29 poster presentations at the prestigious Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) at Boston University. The JSHS program promotes, “original experimentation and research in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics at the high school level.”
For Slein, her science class work, especially Honors Biology, Advanced Placement (AP) Biology, and AP Environmental Science, coupled with her internships and volunteer experiences at the New England Aquarium, laid the foundation for the grant proposal.
“The idea wouldn't have existed without the Aquarium and the proposal wouldn't have been possible without the knowledge from all the classes I've taken,” Slein said. “My internships have shaped the direction I have chosen to take my life in a major way.”
Ironically, environmental science wasn’t always a major goal for Slein. “The first summer I interned at the Aquarium, I was convinced that my passion for the environment was only going to be a hobby.”
But once there, Slein knew she had found her calling, earning three separate competitive internships where she made presentations about ocean and conservation issues to audiences with as many as 300 people. She also assisted with the Aquarium’s greater Boston mobile community outreach program. In recognition of her skills, the Aquarium went beyond her internships, asking her to serve in its “live blue™” Ambassador Program, where Slein taught students to restore and preserve natural habitats at various Boston sites, including the Boston Harbor Islands.
“Through that experience, I was inspired to learn more about exactly how Asian Shore Crabs influence an ecosystem,” Slein said.
Slein was also selected to serve in the Aquarium’s competitive ClimaTeens Program, which seeks students who can engage public, and especially peer audiences, in learning about environmental issues. Topping it off, she even represented the Aquarium at the Mid-Atlantic Youth Alive Summit at Yale University.
“What a wonderful girl, a self-starter who is committed to the environment,” Whitehouse said.
"Maggie is an incredibly passionate, dedicated student,” said Archbishop Williams High School Principal Michael Volonnino. “We are so proud of her and our faculty for their pursuit of excellence in an area that will make a meaningful contribution to society. She is doing truly important work and we can't wait to show it off on the international stage."
According to its website, Intel ISEF is sponsored by the Society for Science & the Public, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, which provides the opportunity for millions of students worldwide to compete at the local, state, and at the international level. The organization “unites these top young scientific minds, showcasing their talents on an international stage, where doctoral level scientists review and judge their work.” The Society and Intel, joined by dozens of corporate, academic, government and science-focused sponsors, provide support and up to $4 million in awards at Intel ISEF.
For more information:
Walter Lucier, Publicity Assistant, AWHS: firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond Whitehouse, AWHS Science Dept. Chair: email@example.com