Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
About 20 of New Mexico’s brightest minds gathered Monday to present how their research may shape the future. And no, these aren’t scientists from the state’s national labs.
These are students – elementary through high school – who presented their science projects to NAIOP New Mexico members and donors at the Marriott Albuquerque for the commercial real estate organization’s annual student showcase. It was NAIOP’s 16th year supporting local students, and the organization has given out $180,000 to students through member donors.
This year the organization doled out over $26,940 with the help of more than 50 donors, said NAIOP NM Executive Director Rhiannon Samuel. Students who participated in the Central New Mexico STEM Research Challenge – one of five regional science fairs in the state – were judged and awarded money by NAIOP’s science fair committee, headed by Louis Abruzzo and Mary Homan, in March.
Some students who placed in those regional fairs and also at the state science fair hosted by New Mexico Tech are eligible to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair hosted in Atlanta next month. Landon Flemming, a 17-year-old student at Explore Academy, is one student who will be heading to ISEF on May 7. Flemming created a low-cost artificial pancreas system for his science project.
“It’s just so gratifying,” Abruzzo said of seeing New Mexico’s next generation of movers and shakers present their research. “These kids are coming out of all kinds of schools.”
One of those students is 15-year-old Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science student Sebastian Stoker, who placed second in the junior division for life sciences and first in earth and environmental sciences in the Central New Mexico STEM Research Challenge in late March – the same fair where NAIOP members awarded students money. Stoker most recently also won a first place award in the state science fair hosted by New Mexico Tech.
Stoker was awarded more than $900 from donors for his project, he said, and he plans to continue with his research before possibly studying pharmaceutics.
For Aimee Linebarger, 16, a student at AIMS, her science project took inspiration from close to home. Linebarger, who has been in plays and sings often at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, said the building had flooded three times in the last three years. So she designed a project that can detect building floods using a series of Raspberry Pi computers.
Her project won second place in senior engineering at the STEM Research Challenge and she received $925 that she plans to save for college.
Salam Academy student Ryhab Jrifat, 13, focused on five specific fears for her social sciences project – posing a question about which fear resonated most with middle-and-high school students. After gathering information and averaging data out, Jrifat said her data showed that 16- to 18-year-olds were most fearful of failure. For Jrifat, who says she’s not the best at math, the recognition of her work has kept her motivated to continue on in the STEM field.
“Even if the math is hard – because the math can be complicated – just stick to it,” said Jrifat, offering words of encouragement for other students interested in the STEM field.
Path to a bright future
The math can be hard, the work put into a project can be demanding on the mind at times. But if you just stick to it, as Jrifat said, the benefits reaped can be greater than what was sowed.
Just ask Devin Roach, a recent graduate of Georgia Tech University. Roach received his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the university – but he credits his interest in science to the help of NAIOP NM when he was just a high school student at St. Pius X.
Roach, a big sports fan by his admission, said he created a science project that studied the bounce of different basketball shoes. Through his research, he discovered that Shaq basketball shoes – typically found at Walmart – had more bounce than some other, more recognizable shoes.
His project at the time awarded him $1,400 from NAIOP donors, led to him getting his doctorate, and, now, has led him back home to Albuquerque where he’s a post-doctoral scholar at Sandia National Laboratories working in additive manufacturing.
“Getting the recognition from NAIOP and getting sort of the ability to go speak in front of people, other scientists (and have) people be in to projects when I was showing my poster board – that sort of thing – really inspired me and reassured me that I was on a good path,” Roach said. “It’s just validating.”