2015 Winners

Inyoung “Summer” Choi is changing the culture at her high school. Choi noticed that students were not openly opposing bullying they witnessed at school. To raise awareness and address this problem, Choi founded the Choose Kindness Organization. To begin the discussion about bullying at Centennial High School, Choi produced a nine-minute documentary. The documentary was shown in all of the English classes, and teachers led a class activity that Choi developed. Students were then asked to sign an electronic pledge. To continue the momentum and encourage students to create a welcoming environment, the organization started a photo campaign. Students were asked to post a picture of them either wearing orange or displaying a sign with a positive message and posting the picture to Instagram. The Choose Kindness Organization is expanding its reach, with chapters at Edison Middle School and the Champaign Park District. From an article by Angelica LaVito.

While taking physics and chemistry his junior year, Gentile realized that many of his classmates were struggling with the material. Gentile was already a tutor in the school’s math program, and asked his physics teacher Jeffrey Downing to sign him up for the science program. When he was told that a science peer tutoring program didn’t exist, Gentile created one. Students looking to receive help can now register using Google Forum or by going to the tutoring classroom. In the first quarter the program was offered, 49 tutors volunteered and approximately 100 students received help. The program is now in its fourth quarter and is continuing to benefit students at Maine South High School. From an article by Angelica LaVito.

With the lack of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) resources in his community, Thaddeus Hughes focuses on getting youth to explore their interests through self-discovery and mentoring. With over 300 hours of volunteering, mentoring and sharing his expertise, he was able to directly impact over 200 youth in his community. He has also been a mentor for the FIRST Lego League and Illinois State Robotics Competition for the past four years. In this 12-week program, Thaddeus helped middle school students with the technologies used to construct the robots and also with demonstrating the engineering process. Thaddeus also designed the curriculum for a 14-week afterschool mentoring program called “Spinning Robots.” He wanted to help fill the void that these students had from the lack of resources involving the STEM fields. And, Thaddeus created his own version of cloud file storage, which he named “Uberbox.” He was able to successfully complete his work on this invention in two months. From an article by Teryn Payne.

In 2010, Keaton Keller set out to make a YouTube channel about technology that would be the kind of channel he’d like to watch. Since then, his creation, TechSmartt, has grown to a successful enterprise with over 350,000 subscribers that Keaton is proud to call his own. Over time, as his self-hosted channel came up with new ideas for videos to educate viewers on new technology like smart phones and other mobile devices, it gained viewers as well as national recognition, being featured on websites such as Yahoo and The Huffington Post. To keep things new, he said he tries to change up his content and establish his own voice. One unique aspect of his channel is the “drop tests,” where he films the resistance of phones and devices to being dropped. Keaton said he believes TechSmartt has been innovative because he talks to a younger audience in a way they can easily understand. “I think it’s a different way to communicate to a different generation,” he said. From an article by Emily Scott.

Prospector Now, school newspaper of Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Illinois, got a digital facelift thanks to Jack McDermott. The high school senior joined the Prospector Now staff his sophomore year and has since rebuilt the newspaper’s site from the ground up. Now, McDermott is the paper’s first online managing editor. McDermott’s journalism teacher, Jason Block, said the title of online managing editor was created for McDermott because of the pride he took in the website. Block said McDermott has especially been a leader when it comes to multimedia pieces. “He just shot some video, got some B-roll, and did interviews. As the other kids were writing their traditional stories, there was Jack editing up his video and getting the perfect B-roll lined up,” said Block. The other kids respect Jack and realize that what he’s doing is the future of journalism. Block said, “He is definitely an innovator on our staff.” From an article by Zoë Kaler.

La’Clesha Moore lives and breathes poetry, and it is reflected in her work. Her poetry is so vivid, with the words painting clear depictions of the situation, and her stories are so chilling, but so clearly painted that one cannot deny the truth in her words. La’Clesha attributes her talent for spoken work to an enrichment class taught by her mentor, Jocelyn Hathaway. Ms. Hathaway encouraged La’Clesha to join her class, Writer’s Block, which focused on poetry writing, and later entered her in a citywide poetry slam called Louder Than a Bomb with the Noble Street slam team. This is the largest youth poetry slam in the country, with 140 teams and 1,300 poets competing in this year’s slam. The team finished in the top 8, and La’Clesha finished in the top four. From an article by Tristin Marshall. 

Having dabbled in film, documentaries, narratives, public service announcements and commercials, Pratt has truly etched her way as one of the youngest participants in the filming industry. She is acknowledged for producing a Glenbrook Morning Announcement show, and has received first place awards from the 5th Annual Northbrook Youth Film Festival and the 20th Chicagoland High School Video Festival, along with three silver awards from the 21st Chicagoland High School Video Festival. As of today, Pratt has made six documentaries, six narratives, four music videos, three public service announcements, three interview shows, and five feature stories. Her many accomplishments include working as a documentarian for the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Julie and Michael Tracy Family Foundation, Forever Digital Memories and Varsity Views. From an article by Hana Hong.

Armed with only a sewing machine and an interminable appetite for fashion, up-and-coming fashion designer Alina Srichinda is already making major waves on the runway. Alina strives to empower women with her style and raise awareness on innovative designing as a whole. Srichinda pursued her fashion exploits through fashion courses offered at school and was able to participate in three school fashion shows with three different collections. Her many fashion escapades include studying abroad in France, participating in the Chicago Fashion Fest and working with a group on an avant-garde dress for the Ebony Fashion Fair. It was there at the Ebony Fashion Fair that the idea of the “Drop Dress” was born. The Drop Dress, merging convenience and individuality, plays on the notion of one outfit containing two ensembles. Always beginning with a shorter dress, the upper halves have endless opportunities. The skirt length then doubles in length with easy fastens, and drops down into an entirely new look. The hours of hard handsewn work certainly paid off. The dress received first place at the Ebony Fashion Fair and was showcased in the Chicago History Museum. From an article by Hana Hong.

Tanner Van De Veer found interest in most of his classes, but felt his art and engineering classes were the most enjoyable and interesting. From there, he realized that he wanted to find a way to incorporate both of his interests, and look for ways to explore art through technology. “I wanted to push the boundaries of art and engineering so I started focusing on 3D printing,” said Tanner. So far, Tanner has created two major pieces through 3D printing that have won awards in local art shows. He does his work with 3D software that stays in a digital form, but he prefers it when his designs are printed. One piece is a robotic hand, that has the potential capabilities of moving, with strings attaching the fingers to a half sphere coming from the center of the hand. This sculpture is a representation of humans and our interaction with the Earth. Tanner’s other invention is a piece of artwork that will be featured in an art show on the University of Illinois campus. This piece is a model of a utopian city with a functioning handle and gear attached. Tanner’s art pieces are so innovative, he is one of the first to enter 3D printed pieces into art shows, and sometimes the judges have a hard time evaluating his work. From an article by Teryn Payne.

Kelly’s ecology teacher, Paul Ritter, had told her class about a cemetery in nearby Odell where soldiers from the Civil War were buried. Some of the tombstones for the soldiers had become illegible due to the effects of acid rain, which the class just so happened to be learning about. The goal was to go to the cemetery and see if they could figure out who was buried beneath the damaged tombstones. Once they had collected all the information they could, the class went back to school and began researching. After sifting through countless records and hitting many dead ends, Kelly was able to find the name of one of the soldiers. Through her own research, Kelly was able to figure out more information on the soldiers such as where they were from, how old they were and even their hair and eye color. Unsatisfied with simply figuring out who they were, Kelly believed that something more should be done to honor these men. “We ordered new tombstones from the federal government,” Kelly said. “We’re going to put those in and give an overview of who these people were and what they did and what their role was in the war.” Kelly and her class plan to hold a ceremony for the soldiers when they replace the old tombstones. From an article by Jason Chun.

Hartley is the president of his own home products company: Uniquely Able™ Inc. In his freshman year, Hartley took a woodworking class. During his sophomore year, his teacher told him to consider woodworking as career. “I turned [woodworking] into a business, and I help out people who have disabilities just like me,” said Hartley. Hartley was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD at age seven. Hartley and his Vice President, Kody Pollitt, go to a company called Aspire, which, like Uniquely Able™ Inc., employs the disabled. Hartley said employers can go to Aspire and give the disabled paid work. “We all have unique abilities and we all have disabilities but some of them, people just can’t look past. I think this company will help people look past that,” said Hartley. From an article by Zoë Kaler.

Kaspi has spent the past three summers working as a research intern at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, affiliated with Northwestern Hospital. In doing so, he has worked with doctors and graduate students to conduct his own research with the goal of helping children with Cerebral Palsy (CP). He has aided in a long term project to create a new classification scale to describe the movement of those with CP. Kaspi has also researched a new method under Dr. Tasos Karakostas for assessing a child’s energy expenditure. This was to allow for a greater spectrum of CP patients to have early access to corrective surgery. Kaspi has also put out three posters and an abstract detailing his work, giving him the opportunity to present at several poster sessions and symposiums. Evan has been interested in becoming a medical researcher from a very young age. That passion and curiosity has stayed with him over the years, and has turned him into quite the science enthusiast. From an article by Hana Hong.

When Daniel Rashid and Jake Knox were assigned to come up with an experiment for their advanced chemistry class at Streator Township High School, they both knew they wanted to do something unique. They wanted to do something no one had done before. Something big. Something fun. Something with fire. Rashid and Knox decided on making a Rubens’ Tube, originally invented by German physicist Heinrich Rubens in 1905. In essence, a Rubens’ Tube is a long metal pole with small holes drilled along the top of it. On one side of the tube a propane tank is hooked up to allow gas to flow through the tube and a speaker is hooked up on the opposite end. Once gas is flowing through the tube, a flame is lit over the holes on top to ignite the gas, creating a small one-inch flame that flows out of each hole. When a tone is played on the speaker from the other end, the flames flow up and down, giving a visual representation of a sound wave. Throughout the entire process, the boys were driven by their genuine enjoyment of creating something so elaborate. While most students would rather have done something that would have gotten them an easy A, Rashid and Knox weren’t afraid to take on the challenge. From an article by Jason Chun.

Puja Mittal and another student at her school created a program called eleMENT (Equipping Learning Entrepreneurs through MENTorship) that teaches students through an activity-based curriculum how to implement their ideas and gain confidence. It piloted in January 2014 as a six week long program at IMSA. In its second running, eleMENT was able to take their student participants to 1871, a startup hub in Chicago, where students worked on enhancing their entrepreneurship skills. eleMENT is all about being innovative in the way that it is activity-based and entirely student-run and developed. In addition, Puja said it has permeated the IMSA campus, inspiring other students to start their own programs. eleMENT is in itself a very unique idea compared to other school programs, and with its creation, Puja will be leaving a legacy at IMSA. From an article by Emily Scott.

“Make the world suck less”, the slogan used for the internet-based Do Something Organization, is what sparked the fire in Jackson Nannie to make his community a better place. Jackson has taken the vision of a national organization and brought it back to his hometown. Since 2013, Jackson has made a large impact on the Peoria community in more ways than anyone could imagine. With the help of Laura Clark, the executive director at the Peoria Family House, and many others, Jackson was able to “Make Peoria suck less” through his efforts in successfully organizing the First Annual Peoria Project. The community was not only able to raise $500 for the organization, but they also collected enough peanut butter to make more than three thousand peanut butter sandwiches for those in need. Jackson has also taken the initiative to create a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Club for the kids at Riverview Grade School, grades kindergarten through fourth. With help from Emily Dawson, a science and special education teacher at Riverview Grade School, Jackson has been able to conduct a program that the kids love. From an article by Tristin Marshall.

Science is more than a subject in school for Miriam Ross. Ross has Phenylketonuria (PKU), a condition in which a person does not have the ability to properly break down the amino acid phenylalanine and can pose serious problems if left untreated. Ross spends her Fridays and Saturdays at the University of Illinois with Professor Scott Silverman’s team of graduate students conducting research that could potentially provide a foundation for improved PKU treatment.
Ross is trying to find ways to use DNA as a catalyst to break down phenylalanine, and has recently made progress in identifying successful sequences. Silverman is an inspiration to Ross, as he has helped her learn the steps in developing a project and how to focus on larger research concepts. Ross said she feels very lucky to have the opportunity to work in Silverman’s lab. From an article by Angelica LaVito.

Sushil Upadhyayula and Pranav Upadhyayula are twins and have started their own
tutoring company, called The Tutoring Twins, after noticing discrepancies in the traditional adult-child tutoring system. Sushil said the idea started when the twins were in elementary school. The twins saw a market for tutors for students who wanted to advance into the enrichment or gifted programs. Pranav said they have compiled many strategies that are vital to
success and they use these strategies in their teaching. “Another part of Tutoring Twins is that we donate part of our profit to nonprofit organizations,” said Sushil. “We give back to our community because we know that our community has helped foster excellence in us. So, by donating back, helping other students, that’s something really good on our part,” said Pranav, “It’s a social cause we’re helping. We’re addressing an issue.” From an article by Zoë Kaler.

Alan Zimmerman knows what it takes to be a successful business owner. He owns and operates his own detailing service, Zimmerman Auto Detailing. When Zimmerman was a freshman, he held a part-time job as “shop kid” at Vermeer Midwest, an equipment dealership. He helped detail equipment, and his performance led one of his coworkers to ask Zimmerman to detail his vehicle. Zimmerman agreed, and once he completed the vehicle, other coworkers asked if Zimmerman could work on theirs as well. Zimmerman’s customer base grew as word spread and began to include individual accounts as well as company accounts. Zimmerman has continued to find success with his business, and today he serves customers from Bloomington-Normal to Galesburg and has three employees. His company has detailed a wide variety of cars, tractors, boats, and more. Derek Stewart, owner of Stewart Flooring, has served as Zimmerman’s business mentor in Zimmerman’s pursuit of developing his company. Stewart commends Zimmerman’s entrepreneurship and commitment. “I think that’s been a big part of his success,” Stewart said. “People have come to know and trust that if he commits to something it will be accomplished.” From an article by Angelica LaVito.

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