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Verona Area School District

VAHS seniors, teacher win STEM awards

Students present on biomedical topics; teacher wins $500 grant

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Verona Area High School students place in STEM competition

Bottom row, from left, Verona Area High School students Abigail Chase, Jaden Quinn and King Williams, who all placed in a Junior Science and Humanities Symposium competition on Jan. 23, participate in teacher Hope Mikkelson’s capstone class.

Three Verona Area High School students and their teacher won awards at a regional STEM competition on January 23.

At the regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, seniors King Williams, Abby Chase and Jaden Quinn placed in the top three for their poster presentations on biomedical topics. Their teacher, Hope Mikkelson, won a $500 grant to continue encouraging students to get involved in STEM.

Mikkelson, who teaches a biomedical capstone course and is a science club advisor, has been getting VAHS students involved in JSHS--a Department of Defense-sponsored STEM program--for about a decade now.

The program involves two components--research and presentation--where students can receive money and recognition for their work. It is a great way for students to practice skills that go beyond the classroom, like how to conduct and present research, Mikkelson told the Press.

“It opened up their eyes and my eyes to what could be done at the high school level for scientific research,” Mikkelson said.

For Mikkelson, finding new opportunities for students to follow their passions and get excited about science is her ultimate goal. The three winning students, all of whom are in Mikkelson’s capstone course, explained that her hard work and commitment to students is why they nominated her for the 2021 Teacher Award.

“She’s basically encouraged me to be a more confident student and to take on more challenges, because I wouldn’t have done JSHS if it wasn’t for her,” Chase said.

Mikkelson will use the $500 grant to look for new ways to get students excited about various areas of STEM, whether that is through her classes or the various science clubs she mentors at VAHS.

The five competing VAHS students began their projects in late November, giving them about eight weeks to compile existing research, come to a conclusion and create a poster to present. Students would typically have twice as much time and work with mentors in a lab to conduct experiments, Mikkelson said. Because of COVID-19, students were unable to do in-person research.

Despite these restrictions, the students were still able to present their posters at the regional level and win some money for their projects, Mikkelson said.

While the students wished they could’ve run experiments or worked with a mentor, they said that JSHS was rewarding and they are proud of themselves. Quinn said that just being able to hear what kids from other schools were researching was a good learning experience.

Mikkelson said programs like JSHS can be beneficial to show students how much they can accomplish.

“I think that the biggest thing is just showing these kids and showing my students that even though you’re young, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have really great ideas, and that those ideas are just unrealized goals,” Mikkelson said.

Studying sleep

King Williams, a senior from Fitchburg, did his project on the relationship between sleep and GPA by surveying his classmates about sleep quality, duration, grades and how well they felt they could focus on school throughout the day. He found that the longer students sleep, the higher their GPA is.

Williams said he chose this topic because he wondered if students were benefiting from starting virtual school at 10 a.m., as opposed to when students had to be in the building, ready for school at 8:30 a.m.

Williams placed first in the poster competition and won $150.

Though he is not entirely sure where, Williams said he is attending college next year and plans on studying in the medical field.

“The competition was just cool in general and just being able to present my work to other people,” Williams said. “And then, obviously winning was pretty fun as well.”

A personal connection

Abby Chase, also a senior from Fitchburg, chose to look at multiple sclerosis and how nerves can be repaired. The topic has interested her since her mom was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago.

“I’ve basically been exposed to every side of multiple sclerosis since then,” Chase said. “I’ve immersed myself in the clinical study of it, and I also have seen the patient aspect.”

She was able to work with Ian Duncan, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher, and compiled other research on MS, too.

“As someone who wants to go into a more research-driven STEM field, I think it’s absolutely vital that I understand how research presentations usually go,” Chase said.

Chase placed second and won $100.

She will be attending Dartmouth University next year and plans to study biomedical engineering.

Inspired by broken bones

Jaden Quinn, a senior from Verona, did her project on bones and ways to accelerate the healing times of fractures and breaks.

Quinn was inspired after reading a study that found stem cell transplants could speed healing time in broken bones. After breaking her elbow as a competitive gymnast, Quinn was interested to see if there are ways to keep people from ending up in a cast for three months like she was.

She said her experience with JSHS and with Mrs. Mikkelson over the years has been eye-opening.

“You can research anything you want with science, whether that be with plants, or the body, anything like that,” she said. “I feel like there’s just an endless amount of opportunity and research.”

She placed third and won $50.

Quinn will be attending the University of Colorado-Boulder and hopes to study biology or take a pre-physician assistant track.