Science students score big in Bremerton

Ashiyah Cays-Vesterby, who brought home the top prize from the 2008 Washington State Science and Engineering Fair, has a simple explanation for her passion for science, “I like to know everything about everything,” she said. “Science helps me do that.”

Cays-Vesterby, who won the gold medal Grand Prize in the senior division, is one of nine fourth through 11th graders from Sequim Middle School and Sequim High School who traveled to Bremerton on April 4 to compete — and collect awards — at the fair. Their science project topics ranged from studying cricket behavior to variations in Alaska yellow cedar, but each took home a prize.

Thanks to Sequim Middle School science teacher Debra Beckett, who advises both the middle and high school students, Sequim students are the only ones on the peninsula who compete in the fair.

“She does this because she really loves it,” parent Bob Hammond said of Beckett. “With a little bit of interest on her part, she’s just getting these kids fired up about science.”

Beckett, with the help of her husband, Ron Tognazzini, former president of the Los Angeles County science fairs, and former Oregon science teacher Mary Omberg, gathers the group in her classroom every Tuesday after school to work on their individual projects. The trio’s mentoring doesn’t stop in the classroom — the teachers often work with the students after hours and Omberg drove sophomore Marley Iredale to Oregon to use special lab equipment for her project.

It is that sort of dedication from both mentors and students that has earned Sequim students a pile of ribbons. According to Beckett, every year for the past three years, each student who entered a science project in the state science and engineering fair won an award.

Beckett formed the club when she relocated to the

Sequim area a handful of years ago and found there was no formal science fair. She began traveling to Bremerton to attend meetings held by the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair and decided to encourage Sequim students to participate.

“We wanted to help kids who wanted to do science projects,” she said. “There wasn’t a huge outlet on the peninsula.”

For Cays-Vesterby, who also took home the grand prize in 2007, Beckett’s encouragement has provided a host of new experiences. The budding scientist traveled to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year and will be heading there once more, presenting her project at the competition in Atlanta this May and competing against students from 48 different countries.

According to Hammond, whose son Johnny won two awards at the science and engineering fair, Beckett and the others are embedding a love for science into Sequim students.

“It’s really interesting that little bitty Sequim just aces against all these huge districts throughout the state,” he said. “These students are really doing a great job.”

The winners are…

• Hoebie Iredale, second place in the fourth-grade category for “The Effects of Photoperiod on the Feeding Habits of Sunflower Stars.”

• Johnny Hammond, first place and best of categories in the sixth-grade category for “Allelopathic Effects on Seed Germination.”

• Peter LaJambe, third place in the seventh-grade category for “Females or Food? Variables Affecting Male Cricket Behavior.”

• Zack Hovis, honorable mention for “Stream Bugs Count, Water Parameters Affecting Benthic Macro Invertebrates.”

• Rachael Stroebel, first place in eighth grade for “Comparing the Flammability of Native and Non-Native Evergreen Shrubs.”

• Kevin Li, ninth grade, second place in the math category for “Measuring Objects in Photographs.”

• Lucas Shores-McKinney, ninth grade, first place in physics category for “A Theoretical Change in the Orbital Radius between Ganymede and Jupiter.”

• Marley Iredale, 10th grade, first place in plant science category for “Variation in Disjunct Populations of Alaska Yellow Cedar.”

• Ashiyah Cays-Veserby, 11th grade, first place in energy and transportation category and gold medal Grand Prize in senior division for “The Use of Antenna Pigments from Marine Algae for Sensitization of Photovoltaic Cells.”

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