Nease Senior Wins First Place Award in Statewide Science Fair

By Bre Jarvis (Editor-in-Chief)

Last month, STEM students from all over Florida competed in the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair. Over the course of three days, more than 900 science projects from students in sixth through twelfth grade were presented at the fair. Among the winners is of Nease’s own students, senior Katherine Rodriguez. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Katherine about her experience.

What awards did you win at the State Science and Engineering Fair?
“I received first place in the Biomedical and Health Sciences Category, the largest and most competitive category at the fair, as well as the J.T. Malesky Award of $50 for my Outstanding Presentation of a Scientific Research Project. One person in the entire state receives this award.”

What was your project for the fair?
“My project was ‘Melatonin as an anti-proliferative agent in brain metastasis from breast cancer.’ With my research, I found that … melatonin can be implemented in clinical treatments to prolong patient survival. If a patient has stage 1 breast cancer, a high melatonin dose can be administered to the patient which can cause breast cancer cells … to elongate. When cells are elongated, they cannot form colonies; when there are no cell colonies, … cancer cannot reproduce and spread throughout the body.”

Katherine is shown here working in the Mayo Clinic SPARK Research Mentorship Program. (Photo credit: Katherine Rodriguez)

What sparked your interest in Biomedical Sciences?
“This past summer, I challenged myself and applied to a research program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, to which I was accepted. My summer research at the stem cell and brain tumor research lab … turned out to be one of the most amazing opportunities I have been blessed to
experience. … Every scientist at the lab came from diverse backgrounds outside of the United States and was eager to help me. As a Latina woman, I do not have a wealth of potential role models in the sciences, but at my lab, I found a multitude of Hispanic women, from Mexico to Spain, who mentored me … It is that experience that has solidified my ambition to study science and medicine and act as a future mentor for other minorities.”

What was the process of creating your project?
“This past summer and throughout the first semester [of school this year], I participated as a Mayo Clinic SPARK Scholar in the Mayo Clinic SPARK Research Mentorship Program. I worked seven days a week in the science lab learning about the world of scientific research and developing my research project.”

How do you feel about having won?
“I feel incredibly honored to be selected among such distinguished projects for a first place title at the state level. I am beyond grateful to receive the opportunity to share my research with others and inspire a future generation of students interested in pursuing a career in STEM.”

What advice would you give to others interested in Biomedical Science?

“[My advice for] someone interested in pursuing a career in Biomedical Science is to seek opportunities early in high school. Also, do not be afraid to try something new. You never know, you might discover an area of science you are interested in. I highly encourage students interested in Biomedical Sciences to take time during the summer and throughout the school year to involve themselves in STEM both in and out of the classroom. Whether researching in the science lab, volunteering at the hospital, or shadowing a physician, students with interest in Biomedical Science should take the initiative to explore their interests and discover their passion.”

Cover photo credit: Katherine Rodriguez