ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - A graduating class of 52 students from Aberdeen High School's Science and Mathematics Academy displayed and presented their senior capstone projects to peers, mentors and teachers during a gallery walk May 17. The seniors graduate June 5.

The SMA is a magnet school that provides academically talented students with rigorous coursework which integrates science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and emphasizes research and real-world application. During their senior year, SMA students work with a mentor who is a STEM professional. Generally, students choose a project in a field of study that they want to pursue in college.

This year, 27 SMA students worked with Aberdeen Proving Ground mentors. During the event, students displayed posters and explained their research in a gallery-type forum. SMA Program Specialist Sarah Voskul said without mentors the capstone project would not be possible.

"It is working with mentors that enable our students to get real-world experience working on high level STEM projects. Our partnerships with mentors are a vital part of what makes the SMA the school it is," Voskul said, adding that she advises new and potential students to take on new challenges.

"Continue to work hard through the difficult classes and assignments because the experiences you will gain over four years will set you apart and more than prepare you to take on the challenges of college," she said.

Senior Alison Sansone worked with mentor Ellen Stromdahl from the U.S. Army Public Health Command to analyze the location of three tick species that currently thrive in Harford County - deer ticks, lone star ticks and dog ticks. Sansone said only deer ticks carry Lyme disease, lone star ticks and dog ticks carry other diseases. To conduct the study, Sansone collected tick samples through 17 different sites throughout the southern and central regions of the county. She used her findings to predict the expansion of the three tick species based on the soil and land-cover types where they are currently found.

Sansone plans to attend Clemson University to major in biological sciences. Her goal is to become a pediatrician.

"I have watched her love for science grow," said Sansone's mother, Beth Hendrix. "She is confident and totally prepared for college."

Senior Benjamin Hubbard worked with Dr. Ken Collins and Zachary Zandar from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and Terry Roop from the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command. His project was titled "Chemical immersion effects on selected engineering polymers."

Hubbard said over the course of the 20th century, the role of chemical attacks shifted from targeting people to targeting equipment. During his project he examined several common engineering polymers for their susceptibility to chemical attack. For his study, Hubbard used nylon 6, PEEK (polyether ether keytone), and PPS (polyphenylene sulfide) because they are advertised to be the most stable and chemically inert polymers. He submerged the polymers in a variety of reactive chemicals for varying time periods and found that each polymer showed susceptibility to at least one chemical.

"This information lays a foundation that researchers can refer to when degrading tools or machinery comprised of these polymers," Hubbard said.

The highlight of his senior year, he added, was visiting an ECBC lab to complete his research.

"This project was the most fun I ever had in school," he said. "Working with professionals broadened my perspective [and] opened up new pathways."

Hubbard plans to attend the University of Maryland College Park and major in chemistry.

Michael Padovani, a meteorologist from the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command's Aberdeen Test Center, said he has mentored SMA students for the past five years. He said the role of the mentor is to provide expertise as well as guidance and encouragement.

"Having a mentor is extremely important to help students focus, stay on track," Padovani said. "I have enjoyed serving as a mentor throughout my career."

After the gallery walk, a program celebrating the Class of 2014 was held in the school auditorium. Dr. Douglas Cerasoli from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense was the guest speaker. Cerasoli told the students they have been given the tools to succeed in the "real world."

"High school is over. It is time to pack up those tools and go out into the world and make it a better place," he said.

This year, SMA students received approximately $8 million in college scholarships.

For more information about the academic program, visit the Science and Mathematics Academy website at www.scienceandmathacademy.com.

Page last updated Tue June 10th, 2014 at 15:45