Science Research Winner

Ashley Stagnari Wins First Place for Climate Change Study

One hot sunny day last June, Ashley Stagnari, a senior at John Jay High School, spent hours in Jamaica Bay’s salt marshes, shoveling mud from specific sites into gallon bags. She’d chosen the urban estuary specifically because of the sewer overflows that regularly pour in from parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau counties, and was wearing waders borrowed from her environmental science classroom for that reason. 

The next day, Ashley drove the soil samples to a lab at Cornell University. There, alongside graduate assistants and in collaboration with Dr. Todd Walter, professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, she analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions of the wetlands polluted by carbon and nitrogen. The data suggests that in the face of increased pollution, wetlands have the potential to become greenhouse gas sources rather than sinks.

Ashley’s original research won first place in the Earth and Environmental Science category of the Westchester-Rockland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), held at John Jay High School on February 8, 2020. She will present her research at the Upstate JSHS on March 25 and 26, competing for a spot to go to the National JSHS.

"Ashley's work is so relevant and she has worked so hard," said Ann Marie Lipinsky, director of John Jay High School's science research program. "Congratulations, Ashley, we could not be more proud!"

The power of mentors

Looking at wetlands’ role in climate change is part of Ashley’s broad interests in environmental issues. As a middle school student, she started a petition to halt the Canadian government-led action to euthanize wolves. Ashley now interns with Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center. She’s also a member of the high school sustainability club led by Steven Zoeller and pitched an idea to repurpose plastic at Bedford2020’s Greenlight Awards.

She credits much of the success of her science research project to her mentor at Cornell University. “Dr. Walter was so willing to talk and connect me with other scientists. He also helped me specify my interests into a tangible study,” said Ashley. She analyzed the soil samples in Cornell’s lab with the help of a graduate assistant. Throughout the summer they did the data analysis and reviewed the results with Dr. Walter. “It was amazing to have a professor at his level to be so supportive of a high school student.”

In her own words ...

Additional Awards at the WR-JSHS and an opportunity to give back

Jack Mango placed 3rd in the Astronomy category with a programming initiative to better detect gravitational waves using data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). He is an alternate to go to Upstate JSHS and present a poster.

Andrew Boies won second place in the poster/neurology category for his work on using Trans-cranial Magnetic Stimulation to test the effects on cognition in rats with a model of multiple sclerosis. He conducted his research under the guidance of Dr. Isaac Túnez at his lab at IMIBIC, in Córdoba, Spain.

All science research students are encouraged to volunteer as “visiting scientists” at the district elementary school’s science fairs. You'll find Ashley, Jack, Andrew and their classmates in white lab coats speaking to students about their interests and projects at Increase Miller, Katonah and Meadow Pond Elementary School's upcoming science fairs.