Picture of Aircraft at the Air Zoo in Michigan

Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards (SIHOF)

Join us for an inspiring night at the  

2021 Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards! 

Honoring the past. Celebrating the present. Inspiring what will be.  

The Air Zoo is excited to announce that the 8th annual Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards is taking place on October 9, 2021 at 7pm!  Combined with the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, this festive and interactive event recognizes and encourages Southwest Michigan high school students, K-12 level educators, and local organizations and individuals who have innovated and excelled within, or shown exceptional support of, education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). 

We invite YOU to be a part of this amazing event! Tickets coming SOON. 

Event Date & Time: October 9, 2021 @ 7pm EST
Contact Keith Crowell, Director of Development via email or at 269.350.2812 with questions.  Sponsorships still available for 2021.

2021 Science Innovation Hall of Fame Award Winners Announced


Tyler Bowers
Portage Northern High School

Emerson Wesselhoff
Loy Norrix High School
Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center

Alyssa Park
Portage Central High School
Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center

Matthew Salinas
Kalamazoo Central High School
Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center


Derek Stoneman
Godwin Heights High School, Grand Rapids

Scott Hanson
Battle Creek Area and Mathematics Science Center, Battle Creek

What are the Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards all about?

Air Zoo Science Innovation Hall of Fame Award TrophiesCombined with the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, this festive and interactive event recognizes West Michigan high school students, K-12 level educators, and local organizations and individuals who have innovated and excelled within, or shown exceptional support of, education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). In order to remain competitive in today’s global economy, it is critical for our youth to excel in these vital disciplines. With over ninety innovative educational programs, including classes, camps, field trips, and off-site outreach, the Air Zoo is spearheading STEAM initiatives in our region and highlighting local careers available in these important fields. Our hope is that the Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards play a major role in encouraging local students and educators to embrace STEAM education, ultimately helping to ensure a thriving local economy for years to come.  

All SIHOF award recipients receive a cash scholarship.  

Award Descriptions:

 Student Excellence Award - $500 Financial Award

The Student Excellence Award honors high school students who excel in the studies of science while also seeking to expand their knowledge and leadership skills outside of the classroom.

Student Art & Science Award - $500 Financial Award

The Student Art & Science Award recognizes a high school student who exemplifies the special harmony between arts and sciences.

Educator Excellence Award - $750 Financial Award

The Educator Excellence Award recognizes excellence and innovation in the teaching of STEAM subjects, the fostering of deep and meaningful student learning, and generation of exceptional student achievement.

What is the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame enshrinement all about? 

The Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame was established in 1987 to recognize men and women who have made significant contributions to aviation. Each year, the Air Zoo is proud to induct a new class of enshrines, who take their place in the Hall of Fame exhibit located inside the Air Zoo. Learn more at airzoo.org/michigan-aviation-hall-of-fame.  

For questions about nominating someone for the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, contact Christy Kincaid via email or at 269.350.2819 today.  

View the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinees through 2020

Sponsorship Opportunities Available!

Show your support for our region's best and brightest Educators, Students, and Innovators! Download a sponsorship application.  You or your company can play a major role in supporting Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math education in our area!

Interested? Learn more about SIHOF and MAHOF please contact Maria Newhouse,  Air Zoo Donor Relations & Grants Manager via email or at 269.350.2813.

Committed? Complete your sponsorshihp online today!

A Special Thanks to our 2020 Event and Award Sponsors:
Barbara and Jerry James * Bowers Aluminum * Clifford J. Mulder Retirement and Investment Planning of Raymond James *  Dar & Mary Wellington * DeMent & Marquardt PLC * Donna Ward * Eaton Cummins Automated Transmission Technologies * Eric Dougal (HUB International) *  Esper Electric * First National Bank of Michigan  *  Kalamazoo Community Foundation * Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport * KSS Enterprises *  Miller Canfield *  Pete and Barbara Parish * Plante Moran * Quality Air * Schupan * The Tyler Little Family Foundation *  WowToyz, Inc. * Zoetis

2020 SIHOF Awards 

Please take a moment to honor our 2020 MAHOF enshrinees and celebrate our SIHOF educators and students. Congratulations to all!


Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinees

Lieutenant Colonel Kelvin W.A. Bailey, USMC | 1920-2004

Lt. Col. Kelvin Bailey was born on December 29, 1920 in Canada. His family soon moved to Dearborn, Michigan, where Bailey would graduate from Dearborn High School in 1941. During High School, Bailey made his first solo flight in 1939. 

Immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kelvin Bailey joined the United States Marine Corps, hoping to be a Marine aviator. He completed boot camp and was assigned to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot Property Office. He applied for flight training and was accepted into the Navy’s Flight Training Program. Bailey received his Naval Aviator Wings and was commissioned a Marine Corps 2nd Lt. in October 1943. He was assigned to the south Pacific flying the SBD Dauntless. During World War II, Bailey flew 116 combat missions. He was awarded three Asiatic/Pacific Battle Stars, the Presidential Unit Citation, Distinguished Flying Cross, and several Air Medals.  

After World War II, Bailey flew for the Marine Corps Reserve and as a pilot for Air California Airlines. During the Korean War, he was ordered to active duty and deployed to Korea, earning two Battle Stars on his Korean Service Ribbon. After the Korean War, Bailey was selected as the staff pilot for Medal of Honor recipient Major General Christian Schilt. He flew as an Agency Pilot at Washington National Airport, where he transported presidential candidates. 

While in Washington DC, Bailey was asked if he would consider moving to California to fly as Walt Disney’s pilot. Walt Disney stated that he wanted “only the best” pilot. Bailey spent 13 years as Chief Pilot for Walt Disney Productions. After flying over 32,000 accident-free hours in 33 different types of aircraft, Bailey’s flying career ended suddenly after a car accident. Kelvin Bailey passed away at the age of 84 in his Burbank, California home, on April 19, 2004.  

For his long and distinguished flying service to his nation, and for his enduring legacy as one of our state’s most distinguished civilian pilots, Lt. Col. Kelvin W.A. Bailey is inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 15, 2020. 


Professor Harm Buning (Ret.) | 1922- 2006

Professor Harm Buning was born in The Hague, Netherlands, on July 31, 1922. He grew up in Holland and came to the United States in 1945, sponsored by his uncle, renowned physicist and teacher, George Uhlenbeck. Arriving in Ann Arbor in December of 1945, Harm received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan (U-M) in 1949 and 1951. After a three-year teaching position at Oregon State, he returned to his alma mater as an assistant professor, rose to professor in 1963. 

Harm’s early interest was in aerodynamics and aircraft performance, but as the Space Race began, he realized the importance of astrodynamics and became an expert in mission analysis and spacecraft design. It is estimated that Professor Buning taught nearly all the U-M Aerospace Engineering’s 2,600 graduates during his 40 years of teaching. Some of his students include, Gemini IV astronauts Jim McDivitt and Ed White, Apollo 15 astronauts Dave Scott, Jim Irwin, and Al Worden, and Skylab 2 astronaut Jack Lousma.  

Ed White invited Harm to the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas to teach orbital mechanics to the first two groups of astronauts. Professor Buning would make many trips to Houston to teach astronauts orbital rendezvous and docking: skills that would prove crucial for success of the manned lunar landings and space station programs. Professor Buning’s students at Houston included those he taught at the U-M, as well as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and many others.  

Harm Buning was awarded the Thurnau Award for teaching excellence in 1988. Professor Buning retired from U-M in 1992. Harm Buning passed away on May 12, 2006. He has a graduate teaching award and scholarship fund named in his honor.  

For his dedication and contributions to education, aerospace, and spaceflight, and his legacy as a professor and mentor to many of our nation’s spaceflight pioneers, Harm Buning was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 15, 2020.

Capt. Ralph "Randy" Hotton | 1943-Present

Ralph “Randy” Hotton was born on September 8, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. The son of a tool and die maker at Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run Bomber Plant, Randy, recalls many trips to the Willow Run Airport as a child. Those early days began Randy’s lifelong relationship with Willow Run and aviation.  

His father’s company owned a Lockheed 12A, in which Randy often occupied the right seat, next to company pilot, Bill Haddock. Bill taught Randy how to communicate with Air Traffic Controllers on the aircraft radios.  

After graduating from Troy High School in 1961, Randy studied Secondary Education at Michigan State University. Randy also has a master’s degree in Business Administration and Management from Central Michigan University. In 1965, Randy pursued his dream of becoming a pilot by responding to a U.S. Navy pilot recruiting advertisement. Randy passed the preliminary tests with flying colors and began taking flight lessons from Bill Haddock, accomplishing his first solo flight on May 8, 1965. 

In 1966, Hotton began Aviation Officer Candidate School, where graduated with top honors as best in his class in 1968. Volunteering to fly the Lockheed P-3 Orion, his unit served in southeast Asia, where he was awarded the Air Medal. Randy progressed to Patrol Plane Commander and a P-3 Instructor Pilot. Randy reported to the Naval Recruiting District Detroit in 1977. After three years as a Navy Recruiter, he received orders to the USS Enterprise, where he flew the Carrier On-Board Delivery and served as Officer of the Deck.  

Randy joined the Navy Reserve, where he was assigned to Selfridge Air National Guard Base, as a P-3 Instructor Pilot, eventually taking command. Follow-on assignments included the Armed Forces Staff College and a billet on the Commander Naval Forces Europe Reserve Staff. Randy retired after 26 years of military service. Hotton now works for USA Jet Airlines at Willow Run Airport. Randy has served as Interim Executive Director, as well as Treasurer, of the Yankee Air Museum. In 2016, Randy published a history of Willow Run, titled Willow Run (Images of Aviation). 

For his service to our nation and for his dedication and contributions to preserving Michigan’s aviation history, Ralph “Randy” Hotton is inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 15, 2020. 

Col. James W. Smolka (Ret.) | 1950-Present

Colonel James W. Smolka, born on July 31, 1950 in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, received his Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1972. He is a 1978 graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, served on active duty until 1983, and subsequently served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1999. Among the aircraft he flew in the Air Force were the T-38, A-7D, OV-10A, A-37, A-10A, and F-15B. Smolka retired from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel in 1999 after 27 years of active and reserve service. Smolka received Master of Science degrees in 1980 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in 1994. In 2011, he received a Master's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Washington. 

Smolka was an F-16 experimental test pilot with General Dynamics Corporation for two years at Edwards. As a research pilot at NASA Dryden (now Armstrong), he flew the NF-15B research aircraft, and the Gulfstream/NASA F-15. He was co-project pilot on the F-16XL and the F-18. 

Smolka served chief engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, in charge of the Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board that determines and provides the appropriate level of independent technical review for each project prior to flight. 

In 2012, Smolka became the Director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. He was responsible for the Center's fleet of highly modified manned and unmanned aircraft that are flown on worldwide science, astronomy, and aeronautical flight research missions, as well as the flight and ground crews that fly and maintain them. Smolka retired from NASA in 2016 as the Director of Safety and Mission Assurance. 

Smolka was inducted as a Fellow at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots 2012 Symposium. Smolka has authored several technical publications and taught several courses in the aerospace field. He has accumulated more than 9,000 hours of flight time during his flying career. 

For his service to our nation and for his dedication and contributions to innovative aeronautical advances, James W. Smolka was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 15, 2020. 

Col. Robert F. Staake, US Army (Ret.) | 1951-Present

Robert “Bob” Staake was born in Camden, New Jersey, on May 17, 1951. He and his family moved to Michigan in 1954 where he would graduate from Allen Park High School in 1969. Volunteering for the draft in 1970, Staake was trained in helicopter repair and served one year in Vietnam as a UH-1H helicopter crew chief and door gunner, earning eight air medals. After Korea, he joined the Army Reserve. Using the GI Bill, he completed training as a commercial pilot and a certified flight instructor. Staake taught pilot ground school classes at Henry Ford Community College and worked as a Flight Instructor at Grosse Ille and Detroit Metro airports.  

In 1980, Staake joined the Michigan Army National Guard. He graduated from Army Officer Candidate School, then completed Helicopter Flight School. Assigned as a scout helicopter pilot in Air Cavalry, flying single-pilot OH-59 Kiowa helicopters, he held several leadership positions throughout the years.   

In 1981, Staake was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration. Staake graduated from the FAA Air Traffic Control Academy in 1984 and achieved Air Traffic Controller certification at Detroit Willow Run Tower. In 1987, he transferred to the FAA Flight Inspection Office in Battle Creek, where he worked as an Airspace System Inspection Pilot, designing instrument approach procedures, flight inspections, and certifying the national airspace system. 

Staake retired from the Army in 2008 as a full Colonel, with over 31 years of military service and from the FAA in 2010. He achieved a Bachelor of Science degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embrey-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Master Degrees from the American Military University and the United States Army War College. Staake has accumulated over 12,000 pilot hours and is a certified Remote (Drone) Pilot. His awards include the United States Army Legion of Merit, Vietnam Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with two oak leaf clusters), Air Medal (with seven oak leaf clusters), Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry (with palm), Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, and the State of Michigan Distinguished Service Medal.  

For his dedication and service to our country and his contributions to Federal Flight Inspection and Air Traffic Control, Col. Robert F Staake is inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 15, 2020. 

Educator & Student Excellence Award Winners:

Grace Boersma | Godwin Heights Senior High School | 10-12th Grade Teacher

During the early 1920's, young girls were hired to paint watches using Radium, as the element gave a slight glow that could be seen in the dark. These workers were directed to lick the paint brush to a point before grabbing more paint. They had been told the Radium was not harmful, but a miracle drug. Many years later, when their jaws began falling off, they sued the watch companies and won, helping to start the occupational hazard law. This fascinating story of the Radium Girls allowed me to create a successful unit, quickly capturing student interest. 

I believe that students are born scientists. Human beings are curious, and I want to ensure curiosity is used in my classroom. I allow students to struggle with concepts, which gives them opportunities to ask questions. I am always amazed by my students when their models or definitions are completely outside of the box and many times, their ideas are better than anything I could have imagined. Withholding answers at times allows students to feel confident in their own answers without the stigma of 'being wrong.' Instead of giving out answers, I make sure to always question student responses to get my students to provide even more evidence to what they are saying. 

Prior to this school year, I felt that student engagement in class was low. Students were ritually compliant, but their learning didn't move past the basic expectations. This year, students are talking about their questions outside of class and inquiring with teachers for more information! Working in a Title I district, it can be challenging to get students engaged in scientific topics like states of matter or periodic trends. Now, students are exploring topics on their own and using evidence to support their ideas. 

Mark Mattox | Allegan Alternative High School | 9-12th Grade Teacher

According to students and colleagues, Mark Mattox has breathed new life into the science curriculum at Allegan Alternative High School by introducing students to code.org coding and app-building, mini innovative vehicle design, underwater remotely-operated vehicles, LEGO robotics, sun sprint solar cars, applied battery science, food science, hydroponics, aquaponics and much more. To fund the costly projects, competition fees and professional development that go along with his innovative curriculum, Mark has fostered relationships with a passionate community member, who has provided funding to support student learning.  

Mark’s love of gardening has become contagious for students at Allegan Alternative High School, with three classrooms playing host to “ever-growing indoor gardens” that the students take great pride in tending. Utilizing grow stations that the students constructed themselves, the goal of this project is to grow food in quantities large enough to serve in school lunches.  

A recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship from WMU, Marks’ passion for science education and teaching at-risk youth shines through. As one student, Breanna, shared: “I enjoy every minute of being in Mark’s classroom. When he brought up a hands-on engineering class, I wanted to sign up that minute. I had to be part of it.”  

Mary Phillips | North Shore Elementary | 3rd-5th Grade Teacher

Design thinking underpins everything we do in the iCreate lab. During our stop motion animation unit, students work in studios to conceptualize, film, and produce a scene for our collaborative stop motion film: North Shore After Dark . Students are challenged to imagine what happens at our elementary school when the last person leaves the building. The story is reminiscent of Pixar’s Toy Story and as a result, pencils change answers on homework, computer mice race around the room, and markers leave uplifting graffiti to be discovered the next morning. 

I am a maker. When I am making, I am happy and I love being able to show something for my work. It is a process that is intrinsically rewarding and therapeutic, but also capable of producing innovative solutions to problems. This duality means that teaching students the creative process can help them maintain fulfilling lives while also contributing to society as productive, active citizens. Ultimately, students want to enjoy the work they do in class, be proud of their product, and feel like their time was valued. I create a workflow that is as authentic as possible. I value my students’ insights, feedback, and time. We find solutions to roadblocks that let us work smarter, not harder. We take time to play with new materials and ideas. We laugh, explore, and learn from each other. We build strong relationships. We are a community of makers. 

North Shore Elementary serves a diverse population of students. By intentionally deploying equitable practices in my classroom, I have been able to make a positive impact on student achievement in STEAM fields. My stop motion animation unit data reflects that. Based on pre- and post-tests, 93% of female students demonstrated significant growth last year. A discussion- and language-rich environment helped 92% of English Language Learners in my classes demonstrate significant growth. More than 85% of our students of color demonstrated significant learning on the same assessment. In reflections, students note the importance of working collaboratively. One student says, “Nobody can always be right and nobody can …be wrong all the time. It’s not just about one person, it’s about everyone in the group.”  

Thea Vaughn | Lake Center Elementary | Kindergarten Teacher

During my 25 years of teaching Kindergarten, I have been passionate about teaching young children through play, investigation, and curiosity. I believe that children learn best by doing and that learning is a process, not a product. Over the past three years of teaching Kindergarten, I have embarked on a year-long project that integrates science, technology, art and math. Beginning in the year 2017-18, my Kindergarten classes have been learning about and tracking the daily weather. While making weather observations had been a part of my curriculum and routines in past years, I wanted to begin integrating other areas of STEAM to make our weather observations more impactful, insightful, and artistic.  

My students engaged in daily weather observations that included noting the sky conditions and temperature. My students learned how to read numbers to 100 and learned about ranges. The sky conditions were represented through fabrics that looked like sunny, rainy, snowy, or cloudy patterns. The students helped me sew these daily blocks together when they took on the job of the weather forecaster for the week; they announced their weather observations, and entered the data into a weather graph on our Chromebooks to see a line graph of the temperature fluctuations for each month and the whole year. After the quilt was machine quilted and bound it was displayed at our school for the following year, until the next class finished their weather quilt.   

The entire process of making this quilt integrates the core concepts of STEAM. It is an artistic design focused on the scientific study of weather patterns and the mathematical representation of scientific data that incorporates the use of technology. My teaching approach is effective because it includes and values all learners.  All students have multiple turns as the weather forecaster throughout the year. They look forward to their responsibilities of announcing the weather, entering data, and sewing with me at the end of the week. Sewing together is special, allowing me to connect with each student through an activity many students have never experienced before. We treasure this experience because we can learn more about each other during the process.   


Shelby Alexander | Comstock STEM Academy & KAMSC | Graduating Senior

Extracurricular Activities: Ultimaker Gumball Challenge with Comstock Schools, CyberPatriot Competition, Governor's Cyber Challenge, picoCTF, & Girls Go CyberStart, FIRST robotics on 2767 Stryke Force, Head of Story Design, Sound Effects Designer, founder at NIO Studios, National Honors Society, Science Olympiad, Theatre Kalamazoo New PlayFest , First Congregational Church Choir, MYLead Conference 

In first grade, I was jealous of the other class because they got to learn about science, and we didn’t. The other class learned about the orbit of the planets, the creation of tornadoes, and made baking soda volcanoes. My class didn’t…I was so infuriated by this ‘unfairness’ that I went to a science summer camp to learn just those things. The shade of green I wore my entire first grade experience nudged me into the STEAM direction.  

Nowadays, my fuel for my passion of science comes from that same competitiveness to challenge myself to be the best that I can possibly be. Last summer, I was designing video games. Beyond the craft of making a video game, I produced a story-game project named Mystere. I had the opportunity to lead people in not just science and technology, but in art and creative computing, as well.  

I express my passion for STEAM on my website, GitHub, and in the classroom. On my website, I post weekly poems written in various programming languages, such as Java, C++, and HTML. My GitHub is always up-to-date with what I’m programming for class, competitions, my robotics team, or my website. In the classroom, I actively grab every opportunity that pops up. I have always been the only theatre kid, the only artsy type in school, and I am very grateful that I get to bring the ‘A’ to STEM schools. 

John Dirkse | Hudsonville High School | 2020 Graduate

Extracurricular Activities : Vex Robotics Worlds, varsity water polo, swim team, Junior Olympics, Engineering Scholars Program at Michigan Tech  

Improvement and curiosity fuel my passion for science. When it comes to new forms of engineering and technological advancements, I am curious about the effect that improvements in those fields will have, therefore I have a passion for anything that furthers scientific advancement. One such thing that checks all these boxes is getting youth involved in STEAM fields early on. For me, I found something I loved doing when I started robotics in 7th grade. 

There were no programs in our school district at the time, so I begged my parents to help me start one, which they finally agreed to. I was an odd 7th grader, very passionate about engineering, and so I started designing a robot and building it with the help of 2 other pioneers of our program. Through my parents help, and me recruiting more friends to join up and grow the program, our robotics program now has 8 high school teams, 7 middle school teams, and 3 VEX IQ teams.  

We want students to go out and be prepared to contribute to all fields of STEAM in the future. This is because STEAM is the future. I, and other STEAM oriented students I know, are ready to use our passion to make the world a better place. The time is now to start STEAMing our way toward a better future. 

Meegan Heerlyn | Vicksburg High School | 2020 Graduate

Extracurricular Activities:  WMU Innovation Expo, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Photography Contest, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center Car Show  

In a world so diverse and intricate, and at the same time thrilling, humans have been given the opportunity to…explore its wonders, ourselves included. As living organisms, we experience life through senses which we capture in schemas to further develop our thinking and our way of living. It so happens that even though we are all the same, we are all different and unique. In this small world, an individual is even smaller, but it’s an individual’s choice whether or not to use their differences to make an immense impact on the world in some way, shape, or form.  

Life itself fuels my passion for science, a curiosity to understand it, and a burning desire to improve it. In 2018…I unfortunately dealt with discrimination. I was the only female in [Principles of Education] and many of the males didn’t like the fact that I was there, ruining a class that could have been entirely boys. Every day, I faced discriminatory comments and was told that I am worthless just because I’m simply a female. [D]uring this time, I was a leader working in a team with two other students on a project for Western Michigan University’s innovation EXPO 2018. I decided that that was a perfect opportunity to show my worth and [demonstrate] that females are capable of doing the same thing as males.  

My teammates and I designed improvements to a simple flashlight, transforming it into a double reflecting flashlight where light shines both forward and towards the ground so that you can see the path in front of you and where you are walking at the same time. On the day of the EXPO…[w]e won first place and the popular vote…proving to my class that just because I'm female, it doesn’t mean that I'm not smart. Even though my partners and I won, none of my other classmates congratulated me. Instead, they were mad at me, they told me that I shouldn’t have won, and that they could have come up with my team’s innovation by finding a broken flashlight in a dumpster. I was not bothered by that because I was and still am ecstatic about my team’s win and the amount of fun I had throughout the entire project. That project ignited a spark that drives me toward my passion of becoming a female engineer. 

Hung Quoc Huynh | Portage Northern High School & KAMSC | 2020 Graduate

Extracurricular Activities: World Food Prize Global Challenge, Bourlag Scholar, KAMSC Research Team, StrykeForce Robotics, Forefront Founder, CyberPatriot Competition, USA Computing Olympiad 

“Be not a hero, but an instrument of change.” Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the 2017 World Food Prize (WFP) Laureate, imparted me this at the 2019 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. Congregated in this colossal ballroom with 10 represented countries and the ex-President of Congo, I’m humbled by its diversity and ambitions to fight human adversity. Discussing my research on resolving India’s water crisis to international experts taught me that we need interdisciplinary AND international collaboration in order to solve global issues. 

Inspired by the WFP International Symposium, I founded Forefront to understand the connections between global issues and their human impact, embodied in our project Operation Outlook as we map the complex world perspective using an innovative 3D super mind map software. Beyond Forefront, I’m leading [the 2019-20] KAMSC Astronomical Research Balloon (KARB) team to study the atmospheric impacts of pollution. Concurrently, I’m researching artificial synapses under Dr. Damon Miller at WMU, an interest that started through the online Pioneer Academics Summer 2019 Research Program. Under Rose-Hulman Professor Maarij Syed, I explored nanotechnology and wrote my 53-page 12,000-word thesis on the interdisciplinary topic of artificial synaptic nanotechnology.  

As much as I like exploring science in robotics and programming, I also love sharing my knowledge and curiosity with others. I’ve volunteered hundreds of my summer hours as the TA for KAMSC’s Sizzlin' Summer Program…to inspire younger children to discover the world of science that I'd discovered. These are opportunities I never had back in Vietnam before our family immigrated here. From once living alongside Vietnam’s flea market aluminum shacks to now conducting cutting edge research, my journey is no doubt an uncommon one.  

Ranya Liu | Portage Central High School & KAMSC | 2020 Graduate

Extracurricular Activities: WMU Student Researcher, StrykeForce Robotics, Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra, Portage Central School Chamber Orchestra Concertmaster, KAMSC CS Team, Congressional Art Competition Winner, Kalamazoo Institute of Art volunteer 

Research, as I discovered, is a fantastic creative outlet. Brainstorming ways to solve a problem, especially one that had yet to be solved, pushes a certain type of passion within me to reveal itself. Typically, my zeal for a particular activity is derived from myself entirely, but when conducting research, this effect is coupled with a purpose rooted in a hopeful possibility of bettering people’s lives, if only slightly. 

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is one of the main members of a greater family of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and these PFAS cause many adverse health effects like growth inhibition and an increased risk of cancer. These substances infiltrated the lives of millions through the excessive use and production of plastics, and their effects were already being felt in communities across the United States, especially in my home state of Michigan. In an effort to combat this emerging threat, I began the process of investigating more efficient and cost-effective ways of detecting PFOA (and ultimately other PFAS) through the more economical method of chemiluminescence, as most PFAS testing is done using expensive instrumentation such as mass spectrometers and can take weeks to process results. 

In order to achieve this goal, a battle with PFOA was initiated every time I stepped into the lab. Eventually, the tactics utilizing cesium-lead bromide and chloride perovskites were what finally did PFOA in. I had won the nearly year long war with PFOA, and my reward was in the form of troves of precious data—enough to construct a research manuscript and begin the process of publishing it in a journal. Should this become a reality, I hope to be able to reach a larger audience with my findings. Although this was a momentous victory for me, I realize that this research of mine advances the scientific community mere centimeters in the face of the many lightyears there are yet to travel. However, in the future, I am determined to gain more ground, and I know that these few centimeters are just the beginning of the great distances I will trek. 

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