FCE's RESSt program gives students chance to shine

Network News Spring 2007, Vol. 20 No. 1

The Florica Coastal Everglades' (FCE) novel Research Experience for Secondary Students (RESSt) program, which pairs high school students in research internships with FCE scientists, is proving quite a hit with Florida students and scientists alike. In 2005 FCE's first intern, Juan Gallo, worked with Greg Juzli and placed first out of 852 students in the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida, winning over $17,000 in prizes and scholarships in the process. Since then REESt has grown rapidly and currently includes 10 high school students working with FCE scientists.

Current REESt interns, Nia Brisbane and Sebastian Diaz from Felix Varela Senior High in Miami, have been working with Dr. Colin Saunders at FCE for the last two years studying seed morphology in soil profiles along the Everglades estuarine ecotone. In February 2007, Brisbane and Diaz presented their results at the South Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair held in Miami. Brisbane's poster , Tiny seeds present the big picture in Everglades restoration, earned a superior rating and several awards: the Frey Scientific Award (worth $25); Ricoh Sustainable Development Award; Sierra Club's Outstanding Project; US Army Award; Beckman-Coulter, Inc Award; and a Runner-up for Best Biological Sciences Award ($250). She advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair that was held May 13-19, 2007, in Albuquerque, NM. Nia also competed at the 53rd State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida in April 2007 in Naples, FL.

Diaz's poster, "The use of Cladium jamaicense seeds as indicators of historical changes in the Everglades estuarine ecotone," also earned a superior rating as one of the top scoring posters in the Environmental Division at the regional fair. He also won awards for Outstanding Project from the Sierra Club and from the US Army, and advanced to the State Fair alongside Brisbane.

FCE's third-year intern, Magaly Dacosta, has been working with Dr. Jeff Wozniak and jointly presented their poster, "Isotopic values for southern Everglades marshes: C and N natural abundance study," at the 2006 FCE Annual Science Meeting. At the 2007 FCE-ASM on March 19 and 20, Dacosta read her essay, "Our Responsibility to the Natural World," for which she won First Place in Prepared Public Speaking at the Future Farmers of America (FFA) District Convention and advanced to compete at the FFA State Convention. Dacosta also led a team from her high school in winning a $500 award as the Grand Champion in Native Plant Landscape Design at the 2007 Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition.

First year intern, Ben Giraldo, has been working with Dr. Tiffany Troxler-Gann. In a joint presentation of their poster, "Bacterial diversity, enzymatic activities, and soil CO2 flux along a soil P gradient in a coastal peatland, Panama," Ben received First Place and a $100 book award at the 2007 FCE-ASM.

All 10 RESSt participants attended the 2007 FCE LTER ASM and gave short presentations of their research and interacted with other FCE researchers. In an informal presentation at the meeting, 16-year-old Oscar Marti, reflecting on his research experience with Dr. Serge Thomas, proclaimed, "Wow! Scientists are way cooler than I thought!"