Students at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science at Manahawkin work throughout the school year to design, implement, and analyze independent research projects—a requirement for freshman grades in biology and chemistry. They present their projects at the annual research exhibition MATES.
This year’s 16th Annual Expo was held virtually for the third consecutive year, co-coordinated by Research Advisors Amy Williams and Jay Kelsey and Science and Research Supervisor John Wnek.
“This project paves the way for (students’) time at MATES to think scientifically, learn to question things, and develop time management skills,” Kelsey said, along with writing and speaking in audience. Students submit an official technical paper about their project and present their research to judges who are experts and professionals in their field, he said.
For the March 16 exhibit, students prepared scholarly papers, e-journals and a slideshow, Williams said. The articles and e-journals were sent to the judges, among whom were professors and MATES alumni; university research professors and researchers like Johns Hopkins, Texas A&M and Rutgers; members of environmental organizations such as New Jersey Audubon Society, NJ Sea Grant Consortium and Save Barnegat Bay; government agencies such as NJ Fish and Wildlife; and professionals working in the field, such as ECOncrete, New Logic Marine Science Camp, and Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health.
The judges met with the students via Zoom to see and hear their slide presentations, interview them, and score them; scores were calculated to determine which students were placed in their category.
Project subject categories included aquatic ecology, zoology, microbiology, behavioral and social sciences, environmental sciences, earth and space sciences, health and medical sciences and sports science.
The purpose of research projects is to develop critical thinking and presentation skills. Research, both independent and in teams, is a key part of a MATES training, according to Wnek.
“MATES has a Research and Development Assistance Program, where senior students mentor freshmen through the research process, including developing a proposal, conducting the actual research said and the presentation of the results,” explained Wnek. Some MATES students continue their research experiences beyond their first year, depending on their performance and demonstrated ability to improve and grow.
On Saturday, March 19, 54 student projects were judged at the Jersey Shore Science Fair, held at the University of Stockton – a “competitive and intellectual venue”, as Wnek described it – where the judges circulated the room and asked the students about their poster projects and presentations. . Students who participated in the science fair can access the largest regional science fair in the Delaware Valley.
Students were selected and invited to participate in the fair based on the strength of their projects and their level of interest and dedication. Some freshmen are eligible, Wnek said, but most projects come from students in grades 10 through 12.
“Freshmen were selected based on their exhibit project,” Williams said. “Sophomores and juniors who have shown interest and promise in previous years could take a research methods course in the spring semester, which focuses on participation in science fairs and hones their skills. in research.
“A few students who were interested in research are still working completely outside of their class time to also prepare projects for the JSSF,” she added.
As Kelsey pointed out, “The hard work these students put into their projects and the determination they show over the years pays off when it comes to college applications and subsequent interviews.”
This Saturday’s in-person science fair experience was a first for Karen Tsang High School, whose project investigated “the biogeochemical properties of soil in the marsh areas of Barnegat Bay, which revealed the importance of marshy transition zone and the fragility of coastal ecosystems”. .”
“As climate change progresses,” Tsang said, “the soil quality of salt marshes will be impaired and the stability of the ecosystem is at risk. I hope my study will draw attention to the effects that the climate change is already having on our coastal communities.
Her research methods course last year focused mainly on water quality, she said, but the short unit on infiltration and soil composition piqued her curiosity and interest.
“I loved going into the field to collect my samples and learning how to use all the different instruments to measure the properties of my samples. I was terrified of choking during my presentation and the countless hours spent in the lab would be wasted, but after presenting to the judges, I was confident that I had done my best.
“I was so happy to hear that my best friend Victoria (Yakes) and I placed first in our categories and all of our hard work paid off.”
Tsang’s confidence is boosted at his next presentation, at the Delaware Valley Science Fair.
“I look forward to continuing independent research in the future, and I’m already thinking about doing another soil survey next year,” she said.
Yakes said the JSSF experience “was probably one of the most exciting things I’ve done for research.” After last year’s virtual version of the fair, “being able to talk to the judges in person was a whole new ball game,” she said. In addition to standing up for her hard work, she met other student researchers who she now considers friends.
Yakes said her research project was “extremely important” to her. His data supports the idea that a common bacteria test can lead to false positives, which could negatively affect the environment, providing practical insight into a problem labs might face.
“When I choose a subject, I always try to ask myself why? question: “Why is my research important? Ideally, the answer is “it helps the local or scientific community by providing data to better analyze a problem or solution.”
The work he and his classmates put into their projects involved “hours after school in the lab, numerous field trips, and endless emails to retrieve survey results.”
His research project, which earned him first place in the behavioral/social science category, was an analysis of the relationship between socioeconomic status and the choice of a nursing home. Schager said she chose the subject after seeing the stress her grandmother endured, due to her low-income status, when selecting a facility for her husband.
“In addition to analyzing data regarding the views of 907 individual participants in my survey, I provided each with an informational brochure that I created with facts, statistics and resources regarding the programs. financial aid in place, to encourage informed decisions.
“This research was so important to me because, in addition to honing my research skills, I was able to raise awareness and hopefully help alleviate stress during a critical decision in life.”