Hunter Student is Finalist in National Science and Talent Search

NYC high schools boast 16 “scholars” in prestigious Regeneron science and math contest

| 26 Jan 2022 | 12:11

The Regeneron Society for Science announced in mid-January the names of the 40 finalists in the national Regeneron Science and Talent Search. One of the finalists, Victoria Li, is an NYC native and current senior at Hunter College High School.

The Science and Talent Search is the country’s oldest science and math contest of its kind. Scholars named in the Science and Talent Search, previously under the auspices of Intel and Westinghouse, have gone on to achieve great success in STEM. Past program alumni include recipients of 11 Nobel Prizes, 11 National Medals of Science, and 22 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships.

Previously on January 6, the Science and Talent Search named as “scholars” its top 300 entries from among 1,804 applicants; the 40 finalists were then chosen from these 300. Sixteen of the scholars are New York City residents, Victoria among them; the other 15 NYC scholars are Anthony Wong, Eric Cao, Aliya Fisher, Richard Gu, Samuel Ishakov, Enrique Labre, Kathryn Le, Genevieve Morange, Samuel Rossberg, Arnav Shah, Eiki Shido, Nina Shin, Lucas Sosnick, Jay Vogel, and Yuqiao Zou. Each has been awarded $2,000 in prize money, along with $2,000 in funding for their respective high schools.

Regeneron representative Potoula Stavropoulos says that the large number of successful NYC students is “typical,” stating “We’ve always seen a large contingent of SGS scholars from the NY area, including the city and Long Island.” Stavropoulos adds, however, that the contest has representation from all 50 states.

A week-long competition in March will determine the ultimate winners. The finalists are each awarded at least $25,000, and the top 10 awards range from $40,000 to $250,000.

The 16 scholars are current seniors at six high-caliber NYC high schools. Finalist Victoria Li attends Hunter College High School, one of the city’s best public schools and a top feeder school to competitive colleges. The Bronx High School of Science is also particularly well-represented; 10 of the 16 hail from the prestigious STEM-focused public school. The other four schools represented are Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, Stuyvesant High School and Collegiate School.

Deep-learning Algorithm

In her research, Li has designed a deep-learning algorithm that “outperformed existing prediction tools for CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing outcomes,” according to the Regeneron Society for Science.

“I did research starting in 9th grade, and I got interested in the applications of gene-editing theory in a clinical setting,” says Li.

The scholars’ projects span a wide variety of disciplines within STEM. Scholar and Bronx Science student Genevieve Morange focused on the social sciences with her research, which examines how symptoms of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders affect disclosure rates to both formal and informal support services among college students. Her project is titled “An Examination Into the Relationship Between Eating Disorder Symptoms and Sexual Assault Disclosure among College Students: A National Study.”

“I’m definitely interested in the idea of a research career in the social sciences, and I’m also interested in studying public policy so that I can learn how to translate social science research into tangible, actionable change,” says Morange.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an obstacle to many of the competitors in this year’s talent search, but the scholars persevered nonetheless.

For Li, the pandemic affected some aspects of her research plans. She had been working on a previous project that required lab work, which became impossible to continue during COVID; this propelled her to shift directions toward the deep-learning project she ultimately focused on.

“[The pandemic-related limitations] really pushed me towards a computational-based project, which is not necessarily a bad thing in my research career,” says Li.

“Global Impact of Science”

However, the pandemic also showed her just how important the real-world applications of scientific research are. “The pandemic also really showed me the global impact of science ... the vaccine and new tech that is being developed show the huge impact of scientific research.”

Several of the scholars express a desire to give back to the community after experiencing success.

“I’d like to see [Bronx Science’s] share of the money be used for STEM-related community outreach programs,” says Morange. “As one of the directors of Science for Bronx, a student-run tutoring initiative designed to eliminate barriers to education by providing free SHSAT tutoring to local Bronx middle schools, I think it’s important to use the talent and resources at Bronx Science to help cultivate the talent of other students in the community.”

Li says she wants to pay it forward by assisting with a Hunter class that helped her get her project across the finish line: “I’m right now interning for the class, helping them develop research [and] paying it back.”

“Amid an unprecedented and ongoing global health crisis, we are incredibly inspired to see such an extraordinary group of young leaders who are using the power of STEM to solve the world’s most intractable challenges,” says Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science, Publisher of Science News and a 1985 Science Talent Search alum. “The ingenuity and creativity that each one of these scholars possesses has shown just how much intellectual curiosity and passion can thrive, even in difficult times.”