DoDEA scholars at Lester Middle School make history through science

DoDEA scholars at Lester Middle School make history through science

by Charles Hoff
DODEA Pacific

OWINAWA, Japan — Lester Middle School eighth-grade student Chris Elliott’s essay “Reducing Heat-Related Illnesses” earned runner-up national honors for the junior division in the 2015 DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition.

The DuPont essay contest requires students to develop creative solutions that address growing global demand for food, safety, and clean energy. Essay submissions are judged for mechanics and conventions; ideas and content; organization; style and creativity; and voice.

In addition to Elliott’s second-place finish, three other Lester MS eighth-grade students earned honorable mention awards for their essays: Kristina Cala for “Testing Food for Allergens,” Arron Chavez for “Wearable Mini-Maps Worn On The Wrist,” and Brian Lawler for “Chemical Packets and Fire Prevention.”

All four students were sponsored in the competition by their Integrated Science Teacher Maryanne Tirinnanzi.

“In order for students to be college and career ready, they need to learn how to not only use the scientific method, but how to communicate their ideas in an effective manner,” said Tirinnanzi, “The DuPont Challenge Science Essay competition is a terrific venue for middle school and high school students to take science inquiry skills out of the classroom and combine them with the necessary writing skills our future STEM leaders need.”

This is the first time in the nearly thirty-year history of DuPont’s science essay competition that a Department of Defense Education Activity student has finished at such a high level. Equally impressive, this is the first time four students from the same school and sponsored by the same teacher have been recognized as award winners in the national competition.

“The DuPont Challenge was the perfect opportunity to get involved in a project that had real world benefits,” said Elliott in describing how Tirinnanzi motivated him to join the competition, “I was excited about the mission of the project and was eager to give it a try.”

To complement his essay, Elliott drew on his life experiences with athletics and the unique challenges of living in the South Pacific to invent a device that extracts sterile water from a humidity-rich environment for personal hydration and disaster zone relief. Elliott hopes to secure a patent for his invention and transform his idea into reality.

Tirinnanzi explained that Elliott’s ingenuity and can-do attitude gave him an edge in the competition, “As a United States Marine Corps dependent, Chris knows first-hand the importance of being able to adapt and overcome hardships. I feel that this background as a ‘military brat’ lends to the creativity that was a necessary part of the DuPont Challenge.”

Each year, approximately 9,000 students in grades 6-12 compete in the DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition for $100,000 in U.S. savings bonds, travel, and other science-related prizes such as e-books and mobile apps from Britannica. Grades 6-8 comprise the junior division and grades 9-12 comprise the senior division.

Only first through third place finishers in each division earn an all-expense paid trip to Walt Disney World Resort’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando, Fla. for themselves, one of their parents, and their sponsoring teacher. Winners also receive a private, hands-on tour and formal recognition at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kennedy Space Center.

Sponsoring teachers of the winners receive school supplies, online reference material subscriptions, and grants for classroom activities. The Lester MS students all won U.S. savings bonds valued at $3,000 for Elliott and $200 each for Chavez, Cala and Lawler.

For Elliott, the best prize of all may be the memories, “The resort was incredible and full of a real life, up-close safari animals. NASA was the highlight of the trip though, and gave me a new perspective on my future. The people we were with also made a huge impression; the other winners were incredibly smart and fun to be around.”

Back at Lester MS in Okinawa, Tirinnanzi plans to continue encouraging her students to pursue real-world learning opportunities, “I believe that using project-based science competitions that address community and global issues will increase my students’ desire to study these science fields in college.”

For his part, Elliott will enter high school in the fall and has some advice for rising middle school students with an interest in scientific writing, “I would recommend the DuPont Challenge to other students because it is a real opportunity to make an impact on the world, and your own life. It’s fairly simple, but takes plenty of thought, originality, and creativity. It definitely was a life changing experience.”

About the DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition:

The DuPont Challenge has been the nation's premier science writing program for more than a quarter of a century and counting. Several thousand students from the United States and Canada participate each year. 2014 marked the expansion of the essay competition to grades 6-12, and the addition of an Elementary Division (grades K-5).


About DoDEA Pacific:

The first organized schools for the children of U.S. military personnel serving in the Pacific were established in 1946 during post-World War II reconstruction. Throughout the decades, DoD schools evolved to become a comprehensive and high-performing K-12 school system solely dedicated to educating the children of America’s heroes. Today, DoDEA Pacific’s 49 schools serve more than 23,000 children of U.S. military and eligible DoD civilian personnel families stationed throughout the Pacific theater. The DoDEA Pacific teaching, administrative and school support team includes more than 3,100 full-time professionals. The schools are geographically organized into four districts: Guam, Japan, Okinawa and South Korea.

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