Friday, May 25, 2012

Interview with Award-Winning TMA Student Stewart Gray

Thurgood Marshall Academy sophomore Stewart Gray recently placed 5th in the nation in the National EnvironMentors Fair, a competition put on by EnvironMentors, a national environmental science program that matches students interested in science with mentors from community organizations, science laboratories, and local colleges and universities. Students and mentors meet off campus to engage in science laboratory experiments and rigorous research projects throughout the year. 

The Other 17 Hours sat down with Stewart to talk about his experience with EnvironMentors, his interest in science, and his winning Science Fair project!

Stewart presenting his project at the National Science Fair.

The Other 17 Hours: Stewart, could you tell us a little bit about EnvironMentors?

SG: The EnvironMentors program is a hands-on 8 month educational opportunity where you get to explore many areas of environmental science, including visits to the National Institute of Health and the Smithsonian. You also are paired with a mentor who helps you construct a project for the National Science Fair.

The Other 17 Hours: Who were your mentors this year, and what project did you work on?

SG: My mentors were Ayana Johnson, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a Knauss Fellow and Jennifer Ridell, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency as a AAAS Fellow. Our project was on the air quality of metro stations. We originally wanted to get a sense of how clean the air is in urban areas, but we couldn’t measure all of the air quality everywhere in the city, so we chose to measure the air quality of metro stations using a photo ionization detector. We took measurements both in the stations themselves and in the metro trains.

The Other 17 Hours: What were the results of your project?

SG: We were looking for specific kinds of pollutants in our study, and we found that the air quality was much better than I’d expected, which surprised me, because I thought that metro stations were pretty dirty.

The Other 17 Hours: Can you tell us about the Science Fair?

SG: I’d presented projects before, but never to the entire nation, so I was a little bit nervous about that. We set up our presentation and talked to the people attending the fair, giving them an overview of our research and our findings. When the judges came around to ask us questions, a lot of them said they liked the project idea.

The Other 17 Hours: Do you have any advice for students interested in EnvironMentors?

SG: Environmentors is a big commitment, but it’s worth it. I’d tell students to be sure that they’re dedicated enough to finish the year and they should try and build a relationship with their mentors. You don’t have to be an expert in environmental science, just willing to work together. It’s a great program because it’s really hands on—you get knowledge about the environment and how the entire community affects it, without having to use textbooks or learn in a classroom. You’re really learning by doing, under the supervision of teachers, scientists, and mentors.

Fifth in the Nation! Congrats, Stewart! 

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