Nicholas Neil isn't your your typical rising high school senior. The St. Vincent-St. Mary student has spent two years working with University of Akron polymer engineering professor Abraham Joy, designing a wound applicant (a high-tech bandage with antimicrobial properties) to present at the 2012 Northeastern Ohio Science and Engineering Fair.
"My favorite classes were chemistry and biology," Neill says. "I wanted to see what the real-world application of those courses were."
The work netted him the fair's grand prize, which qualified him for the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He is the first St. Vincent-St. Mary student in the school's history to win the distinction.
Neill was matched with Joy at the University of Akron by Mary Jo Chionchio, the project director of Partners in Progress and the UA/STEM Research Experience, which brings together Akron science professors with juniors and seniors at the school. Students apply through an interview, an essay and their academic record. The program began three years ago, but Chionchio says science curriculum is a focus throughout St. Vincent-St. Mary.
"All students — basic, college prep, honors, AP — complete a 5- to 7-monthlong individual science inquiry project," she says.
About 20 students participate in UA/STEM each year, and the number is growing. Students such as Neill who have taken part in it have won a combined total of $370,000 in scholarships by way of science competitions.
Neill spent his summer working in the surgical pathology lab at the Cleveland Clinic. He hopes to pursue a career in either biochemical or polymer engineering.
"It was such a great opportunity to work with an awesome professor and work in a real-life situation," he says of collaborating with the University of Akron's Joy. "I'm helping to create something that could better the lives of millions of people."