Meet Our 2017 Grant Winners!

After spending nine days working with National Geographic grantees at MIT or the University of Colorado Boulder, these students developed proposals for projects based on the skills they learned during their experience on campus. They were given funding from National Geographic to implement these projects back home, and will be working on them throughout the coming year!

Omar Kammourieh

Capstone Project: Building an Air Pollution Detector
In 2015, Omar witnessed an environmental crisis in Lebanon and realized how important it was for everyday people to be able to access data about pollution in their region. With his capstone funding, he will build an air pollutionsensor and share the data with his community. He will prototype a couple of versions of the sensor to experiment and determine which sensors work best.

How did you develop the idea for your grant project?

I was thinking about the different events that have marked my life ore caused problems for my community. The Lebanese Trash Crisis in 2015 was one of them– I remembered the terrible effects trash burning had on the air pollution. From there, I transitioned into thinking about my community in the country I currently live in: Kuwait. I wanted to create something that was small but could cause a butterfly effect. And that’s what I’m planning to do through my project: to start collecting data on air pollution so that people realize the importance of air quality and start taking action.

How did participating in the MIT program impact the way you see the world?

After participating in the MIT program, my view of the world has changed in a positive way. When I read articles or see posts about different inventions and advancements happening in the world, I now start to think about how the project is being executed, what technology is required, and how much time and funding it needs. Before the program, I would have simply thought that it was a nice idea and moved on, but now I have a more analytical and curious view. The MIT program helped spark a sense of curiosity in me.

Where do you hope to be in the future?

I hope to be studying at a top institute of technology, preferably MIT, in an engineering field. After that, I’m not sure yet, but hopefully leading my own path.

Anica Zulch

Capstone Project: Solar Car Workshop at Monument Crisis Center
Anica volunteers at a crisis center in her community, and knows that many of the youth there have not been exposed to engineering and technology. During their annual summer camp, she plans to hold a workshop where students can build their own solar-powered car, while learning the basics of engineering, problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. She hopes that they’ll leave the workshop with more confidence, and see technology-driven careers as fun and achievable.

How did you develop the idea for your service work with the Boys and Girls Club?

In 8th grade, I took a robotics and engineering class. Because it was an introductory class, we were taught the basic principles and thought processes of engineering through challenges and projects, without needing a background in math and physics. I drew inspiration from this method because I want the kids that I will be teaching at the Crisis Center to be introduced to technology in a fun way, without making it seem like another class in school. I was also very inspired by my time at MIT this summer. At MIT OpenAg lab with Nat Geo expert Caleb Harper, we learned to do rapid prototyping which taught us to work together, and plan quickly and efficiently. The OpenAg lab also taught me critical thinking skills and how to efficiently complete a design challenge. I want to share these skills with the students I’ll be teaching. At the FabLab in South Boston, I was inspired by their motto: “Learn to teach, teach to learn” and I’ve also incorporated parts of their student mentor policy into my project.

How did participating in the MIT program impact the way you see the world?

The program at MIT opened my eyes to all the different types of engineering and careers that are possible. I listened to stories of how people turned failures into successes, and I now see how science and technology can solve problems. It can have such a huge impact on our world, whether it’s helping someone to walk again or growing food in a country where farming isn’t an option.

Why do you think it’s important for high school students to give back to their communities?

As high schoolers, we must be grateful of all the opportunities and things we’re given. You should give back to your community because of the rewarding feeling you get, not because of how it looks on college applications. You cannot teach yourself how to be a good person in school, but you can learn through giving back to your community. I have found that the most fulfilling feeling is knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life.

Austin Nash

Capstone Project: Natural History and Native Planting in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy
When he was in third grade, Austin participated in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy environmental education program, learning about the natural history of the region. He applied for funding to further develop the program, offering a field trip where young students can hike through the landscape they have learned about and to help plant native species. Austin is excited to offer kids the opportunity to feel connected to the land around them, and to take pride in their ability to to help preserve outdoor spaces.

How did you develop the idea for your grant project?

I began to think about the activities and organizations that first began to interest and inspire me in the natural world. I immediately thought of the third grade naturalist program that I attended through the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. This day of environmental education created a sense of connection and responsibility for the natural spaces around me. Being able to expand on this experience for others would be a perfect way to end my high school career with the Conservancy, and give back to an organization that helped me find my life passion.

How did participating in the Boulder program impact the way you see the world?

The Boulder program allowed me to connect with people in various disciplines making a difference in conservation and natural science. Having dialogues with researchers in the field that I intend to study provided me with an unprecedented opportunity to see what life in that career path looked like. Second, I was surprised by the environmental passion in my fellow students from all over the country and world. This widespread appreciation for the natural world was uplifting.

Where do you hope to be in the future?

I hope to get my BA/MA degree in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology from CU Boulder and to begin a job as a National Park Service Biologist. I would like to work as a federal biologist for a few years before beginning my Ph.D program, and eventually becoming a professor. This is my first grant, but will definitely not be my last!

Liam Weiss

Capstone Project: Engineering Workshop for Middle Schoolers
Excited that his high school now offers engineering classes, Liam proposed to create a workshop so that younger students in his hometown could start building STEM skills in middle school. He’ll work with other high school students to conduct engineering workshops where kids can build their own LED displays. Liam hopes to, “inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers by directly demonstrating how to tackle a large scale problem to create something of beauty AND utility.”

How did you develop the idea for your grant project?

While in middle school, I wasn’t exposed to engineering or any of its applications. This sparked my grant idea, and I wanted to come up with a project that would educate middle schoolers about engineering in a fun and engaging way. I wanted to inspire middle schoolers in a hands- on environment. To do this, I adapted my junior year engineering project- an LED display that reacted to music- into a smaller version that middle school students could take home with them and enjoy.

How did participating in the MIT program impact the way you see the world?

The experience at MIT taught me about the myriad ways in which engineering and science influences our daily lives. I learned about applications of technology that I knew nothing about, and it inspired me to pursue science and engineering as my major courses of study in college. I had not realized that science and technology held the solutions to the largest problems facing humanity.

Why do you think it’s important for high school students to give back to their communities?

All change ultimately happens at the local level. I want to build momentum by instilling enthusiasm about science and technology in my school district. I plan to pass the project off to another high school student when I graduate, as to extend the legacy. That way, middle schoolers will be continually exposed to the potential of science and technology.