I recently had the honor to speak with a group of young people that are both inspiring and inspired. They where attending the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Los Angeles from May 14-19, 2017. I was invited to meet the students by one of their mentors Ken Lyons. Ken, who is a physicist, has been involved in Science fairs both in New Jersey and Nationally for over 25 years. He was kind enough to spend the morning with me, introducing me these incredible students and sharing with me the path they took to arrive at this prestigious event.

Each year, more than 7 million high school students around the globe develop original research projects and present their work at local science competitions with the hope of making it to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a program of Society for Science & the Public. Approximately 1,700 winners of local, regional, state, and national competitions—are invited to participate in this week-long celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math. At the event, these young innovators share ideas, showcase cutting-edge research, and compete for more than USD 4 million in awards and scholarships.

The Exhibit Hall for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF)

The first student finalist I met was the brilliant Catherine Chen, a junior from Somerset County VoTech High School in Bridgewater Township, in Somerset County, New Jersey The school is part of the Somerset County Vocational and Technical School District.

Catherine participates in a special program at SCVTHS called “The Academy for Health and Medical Sciences”. The program operates as a partnership between the high school and Raritan Valley Community College. In this program, students can earn up to 64 college credits from the college, graduating with a high school diploma from SCVTHS as well as an associate’s degree from the college.

Before coming to ISEF, students will have won in Local and Regional Science Fairs.  Before coming to ISEF,  Catherine participated and was awarded a grand prize in the category of Animal Science for her project entitled, “The Effects of Heart-Specific Downregulation of Histone Deacetylase, Rpd3, on Longevity” at the Nokia Bell Labs North Jersey Regional Science Fair at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Catherine shined again by taking 3rd place in her category. Certainly an incredible achievement when you look at the strong talent pool that ISEF saw presenting this year.  I had the pleasure of speaking to Catherine about the road of discovery her project led her on and what the ISEF and her mentors have meant to her.

Her project was one of five to be selected at The Nokia Bell Labs NJRSF for an all-expense paid trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles In addition to the trip and opportunity to present at ISEF.  Catherine was also awarded the Human Genetics Award from the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey.

Sorting fruit flies at the molecular biology lab at Rutgers -New Jersey Medical School

About Catherine…
Catherine Chen is a junior at Somerset County VoTech High School.  She is a member of the Math League, New Jersey Science League, Science Bowl Team, Humanitarian Club, SkillsUSA and the Watchung Hills Varsity Ultimate Frisbee team. Catherine is also involved in volunteering at the Murray Hill Chinese School, Robert Wood Johnson Somerset Hospital and several nursing homes. Furthermore, she plays violin in the New Jersey Youth Symphony, where she has performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the NJEA Teacher’s Convention in Atlantic City.

Some of Catherine’s accolades include being accepted into the regional and all-state orchestra, National Spanish Exam gold medalist, SkillsUSA gold medalist, Principal’s Honor Roll, Silver Award in Scholastic Writing, placing in the top 10% of test takers for the New Jersey Science League, and playing on the Ultimate Frisbee team representing the Northeast Region at the National Youth Club Championships.  At the time of this writing Catherine is also taking an EMT course.

About The Nokia Bell Labs NJRSF
This is is a high school student science competition in which students, individually or in groups, present a wide variety of projects. Most of the projects are investigative in nature, posing and attempting to answer some question or problem, either through experimentation and design or in a theoretical sense. All areas of science, math, and engineering are included. The fair accepts entries from ten counties of northern New Jersey: Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren. The navbar (above) gives useful navigation links for this website.

About The Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School (SCVTHS)
This is a fully accredited, four-year vocational public high school located on an 80-acre (320,000 m2) campus in Bridgewater Township, in Somerset County, New Jersey, United States. The school is part of the Somerset County Vocational and Technical School District, which serves students in ninth through twelfth grades from all of Somerset County. The school offers over 20 different programs, on both a full-time and part-time basis, that combine training in occupational and academic skills.

Full-time students earn both a high school diploma and a vocational certificate in their specific specialty area. Part-time students earn a certificate from SCVTHS in their specialty area, and receive an academic education at their home district. Starting with the 2009-10 school year, full-time students have a college track option for their academic classes.

Gifted and Talented Performing Arts Program  – Somerset Vo-Tech offers a rigorous performing arts program that divides into two branches; Acting and Acting with Vocal Music. All Theater Arts Majors at SCVTHS are taught by the guidelines of Stanford Meisner. The program is very competitive as it is known to only hold about 50 students (grades 9-12) total. The Theater department produces two main-stage productions (one musical and one drama) and a few showcases throughout the school year. Selected students are granted a chance to perform in a showcase for talent representatives at the end of the year. Almost all students after finishing the program intend to carry out with this passion through college and then as a career of being a dedicated performer.

Academy for Health and Medical Sciences – The Academy for Health and Medical Sciences is a program offered as a “school within a school” as a partnership between the high school and Raritan Valley Community College. In this program, students earn up to 64 college credits from the college, graduating with a high school diploma from SCVTHS as well as an associate’s degree from the college.

About Raritan Valley Community College
(RVCC) is an accredited, coeducational, two-year, public, community college located in North Branch (within Branchburg Township), New Jersey. RVCC offers Associate’s degree programs leading to an Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.), Associate of Fine Art (A.F.A) or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.), as well as certificate programs and continuing education courses.

The college was founded in late 1965 as “Somerset County College” and opened to its first class of students in the fall of 1968. It was given its present name in 1987, when it became the county college for Hunterdon County as well as its home of Somerset County. It was the first community college in New Jersey to be sponsored by two different counties. Raritan Valley’s “University Center” offers degree completion programs from a number of schools and university partners including Rutgers, The State University of NJ.

About The Academy for Health and Medical Sciences
This is a “school” within a school and is located at Somerset County Vocational Technical High School. This school program began in the 2006-2007 school year with 31 students in grade 9. Students enter the ninth grade year as a cohort and progress through an intensive four year course of study sequence. The Academy for Health and Medical Sciences, in conjunction with Raritan Valley Community College, provides students with the opportunity to earn a New Jersey high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree in General Science.

In the fall of their 8th grade year, students in both Somerset and Hunterdon County may apply to the Academy for Health and Medical Sciences. Students are accepted into the Academy based on the following admissions criteria: 7th and 8th grade GPAs, 7th grade standardized test scores, admissions testing for mathematics, language arts, science and personal interview. Only students who meet the minimum amount of points are eligible for admission.

In order to remain in the Academy, students must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher in all classes, including the high school and college courses, at the end of each quarter on their high school transcript. The Academy student must also obtain a GPA of a 3.0 or higher at the end of each semester on their college transcript.