After the top 10 sophomore projects were presented to a panel of judges on April 15-16, the winners were announced on April 17.
Elijah Azar finished first for his report on phage therapy and the superbug crisis. Second was Ming Zhu (the evolution of jazz), and third was Anna Fluetsch (LGBT representation in film and how it affects the youth community).
Azar said he chose his topic “because I happened to come upon a video by Kurzgesagt (a YouTube animation channel) on bacteriophages, and I am very interested in the sciences associated with medicine,” Azar said.
What Azar found most interesting is how bacteriophages hunt, infect and kill their target bacteria.
“This ability of phages is precisely what makes them so very interesting to us from a medical standpoint,” Azar said. “Now we can use phages to clinically treat superbug bacterial infections.”
Winning was not Azar’s only goal.
“My main goal was to present my topic in a way that was easily understandable and engaging,” Azar said.
Zhu, meanwhile, has a strong background in music.
“I play the clarinet and play a lot of classical music, and I always wanted to learn about jazz and get some insight to how it’s played and how it evolved,” he said.
Zhu had a few technical difficulties during his presentation. The music in the background didn’t play at the appropriate times, and he had issues hooking up his speakers to his computers. However, he fixed the audio.
“At the beginning, I was quite nervous after having technical difficulties, but once I was able to figure out the problems, I became much less nervous,” he said.
While researching his topic, Zhu was struck by an old news article.
“In the 1920s, a doctor with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University said jazz was a disease that caused people to shake and dance in an insane manner,” Zhu said. “I was very amazed that Johns Hopkins had graduates like this doctor.”
Fluetsch selected her topic after watching a YouTube video about LGBT character coding.
“The video was about the stereotypical mannerisms of the community being given to characters so that people assume that they are gay,” she said.
“This led me to grow curious in the other ways that characters are made LGBT, and it resulted in me wanting to research the topic. (Choosing to talk about the effects) it has on youth stemmed from me realizing that I like to talk to my friends about how I’m sure my favorite character in a show is gay and how that isn’t unique to me. Someone wanting to relate to a character in that way is common, and with the lack of and negative representation of the community, I wondered how other people my age reacted to the situation.”
Fluetsch said she was fascinated by how mainstreaming certain ideas and stereotypes affects minority groups.
“The more you see something, the more you believe it and carry the message of it onto the real world,” Fluetsch said. “The way that allows stereotypes of people, especially in the LGBT community, to prevail and to then be even more commonplace is fascinating.”
Fluetsch said she appreciated the opportunity to interview teens and see how the representation affected them.
Fluetsch added that she was surprised she did so well in the competition.
“The rest of my class, and especially the other top 10, did fantastically,” she said. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to help teach people about something I’m really passionate about.”
Judging the competition were English teacher Jane Bauman and history teacher Sue Nellis, as well as seniors Allison Zhang and Joe Zales, who won first and second place, respectively, in 2017 and juniors Larkin Barnard-Bahn, Spencer Scott and Jackson Margolis, who won first, second and third place, respectively, last year.
“The projects were very well focused,” Bauman said. “The students all did a great job of delivering their messages and putting together their slideshows.”
Bauman said the judges focused on content, delivery and slides.
“We don’t look for just one thing in particular, but we do want to see excellence in the presentations,” Bauman said. “We look for how the student takes the requirements and puts them together in a way to express their message.”
Passion and inventiveness are also important, Bauman said.
“A few years ago, Kevin Huang, ’17, created a visual display of Nelson Mandela’s diet while he was in prison,” Bauman said. “He used his ingenuity, and that creativity added to his project.”
Nellis called all the presentations “very professional.”
“Some of the students also added some humor to their presentations, and the slides were great,” she said.
Nellis added that when a few students experienced technical difficulties, they handled them well.
“Having technical problems can be very upsetting and jarring when your computer isn’t working properly, but the students kept their composure and were able to push through,” Nellis said.
The projects have improved through the years, Nellis said.
“In recent years, the eighth grade has started to do more presentations, and when I started teaching the ninth grade, I started to do presentations as well,” Nellis said. “So I think that it has improved because the students have gotten more practice. Over the years, the project has really shown great growth and interest by the students.”
Margolis said the top 10 presenters “were fabulous. They did a really good job and worked hard. I also saw a lot of critical thinking, which impressed me.”
—By Miles Morrow