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Pawling Science Research Students Chosen For Texas Competition

Pawling High School students Dawn Kershaw and Matthew Badia, both seniors, have been chosen to present projects at the International Sustainable World Engineering Energy Environment Project conference in Houston this May.
Pawling High School students Dawn Kershaw and Matthew Badia, both seniors, have been chosen to present projects at the International Sustainable World Engineering Energy Environment Project conference in Houston this May. Photo Credit: Contributed

PAWLING, N.Y. -- Two budding scientists at Pawling High School have been chosen to participate in an international competition in Texas this May.

Matthew Badia and Dawn Kershaw, seniors in the school's Science Research Program, will make presentations at the International Sustainable World Engineering Energy Environment Project (ISWEEEP) conference in Houston.

The annual four-day competition draws the brightest STEM-focused students in the world together and challenges them to solve engineering, energy, and environmental problems. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.)

About 5,000 students from more than 60 countries apply, but only 500 are chosen.

Their presentations will explore topics such as renewable energy, sustainable development, and medical breakthroughs.

Badia and Kershaw are two of 44 competitors from New York.

Their science teacher, Gillian Rinaldo, said Wednesday that she is "beyond thrilled" at the invites.

Badia, she said, is “an outstanding scholar” who wants to continue to work in research after college. The 17-year-old plans to go to Marist College in Poughkeepsie next year where his mentor, Dr. Zofia Gagnon, teaches.

Kershaw, who is still deciding on colleges, is being mentored by Dr. Lawrence Pratt, a professor at CUNY Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Badia said Wednesday that he was a curious child who always wanted to know everything about everything, but his interest in science didn’t really take flight until he was accepted into Rinaldo’s 3-year program. The program allows students to conduct independent research and earn college credits.

He credited both his high school teacher and Dr. Gagnon for nurturing that interest.

Badia plans to major in chemistry and physics and hopes to get master’s degrees in both disciplines and, eventually, a doctoral degree.

He said Rinaldo encouraged him to enter any competition he could, but was skeptical he could get into ISWEEEP because of the sheer number of students who applied.

He got the good news that he was in via email last Friday.

“We had a two-hour delay because it was snowing,” Badia said. “Needless to say, after getting the email, I was very excited to get to school.”

Kershaw said Wednesday that she has always been very interested in environmental issues, including climate change.

Global warming has the potential to “kill all of us ... and the environment,” she said.

Moving away from fossil fuels and using renewable materials such as food waste is one way to fight back, she said.

Kershaw said she never thought she would get into an international competition, but now that she has, she can’t wait to get there.

“It feels great,” she said.

Rinaldo said both Badia and Kershaw “worked very, very hard” on their projects.

Badia studied the effects of chemicals found in personal care products and other synthetic materials on aquatic life in the Hudson River, focusing on Fluoxetine, S-Amphetamine, and Triclosan.

The plant and animal models Badia studied included Peltandra virginica, an aquatic plant, and a crayfish species native to the Hudson.

Kershaw’s project involved extracting ethanol -- a volatile, colorless liquid -- from food waste so it can be used as an alternative fuel.

Kershaw’s biofuels study has been recognized by the prestigious Siemens competition, where she was named a national semifinalist.

The ISWEEEP Grand Prize is $1,500. The winner of the “gold” gets $750; of the “silver,” $400; and the “bronze,” $150. Certificates are given to those that rate an honorable mention.

“I’m so proud of them. It’s just an honor to be able to present with people from all over the world,” Rinaldo said.

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