ASHG announces 2016 winners of National DNA Day essay contest
BETHESDA, MD – In commemoration of National DNA Day, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) hosted the 2016 DNA Day Essay Contest to encourage high school students and teachers to learn about human genetics concepts beyond the standard curriculum. This year, ASHG awarded first place to Stella Ma, a junior at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wis. Jillian Pesce, a junior at Smithtown High School East in St. James, N.Y., won second place in the contest. Dhruv Sharma, a junior at the United World College of South East Asia, Dover Campus, in Singapore, Republic of Singapore, and Alexis Schneider, a junior at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa., tied for third place.
"As human genetics continues to grow as a science, its clinical and societal implications are expanding," said Michael Dougherty, PhD, Director of Education for ASHG. "We were pleased by how comprehensively this year's essays described the latest genetic tests and by students' thoughtful consideration of the issues surrounding them."
National DNA Day, celebrated annually on April 25, commemorates the discovery of DNA's double helix structure and the completion of the Human Genome Project, two key milestones in the field of genetics. Each year since 2006, ASHG has run a DNA Day Essay Contest to challenge students to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in human genetics by writing an original essay. Winning essays use well-reasoned arguments to show a grasp of topics that are not always well-covered in high school biology courses.
This year, the contest invited students to describe a currently available genetic test for a condition or disease that does not cause symptoms until adulthood. Entrants were then asked to defend or refute a recommendation from ASHG's 2015 position statement on pediatric genetic testing, which urged adolescents to defer genetic testing for adult-onset conditions until adulthood because of the potential impact of receiving this complex information during a formative life stage.
Students from 44 U.S. states and 23 non-U.S. countries submitted essays to the contest this year. Human genetics specialists belonging to ASHG and its leadership read and evaluated entries for their scientific accuracy, creativity, and overall writing quality. "We received a record number of essay submissions this year, which speaks to a growing public interest in human genetics and the questions it raises," said Joseph D. McInerney, MS, Executive Vice President of ASHG. "Through this contest and the Teen Genes Video Challenge, we hope to encourage young people to explore genetics and express their unique perspectives on its impact."
ASHG will award monetary prizes to winning students as well as their teachers. In addition, the contest sponsor, Embi Tec, will award MiniOne Systems for classroom electrophoresis to the teachers. Ma, whose essay described testing for hereditary breast cancer, will receive a $1000 prize. Her science teacher, Ms. Cindy Kellor, will receive a $1000 grant from ASHG to purchase new genetics laboratory equipment for the biology classrooms at James Madison Memorial High School, as well as five MiniOne Systems. Pesce, whose essay described testing for Huntington disease, will receive a $600 prize. Her science teacher, Ms. Maria Zeitlin, will receive a $600 grant for genetics materials and three MiniOne Systems. Sharma, whose essay also described testing for hereditary breast cancer, and Schneider, whose essay also described testing for Huntington disease, will each receive a $400 prize. Their science teachers, Ms. Pippa Haley and Mrs. Megan Gallagher, respectively, will each receive a $400 grant for genetics materials and one MiniOne System.
Honorable mentions were awarded to ten students, each of whom will receive a $100 monetary prize. The recipients of honorable mentions, listed alphabetically, are:
- Ilan Bocain, a freshman at YULA-Boys School in Los Angeles, Calif.
- Zanzan Brink, a junior in the Oregon Health & Sciences University Partnership for Scientific Inquiry program in Portland, Ore.
- Sanjana Eranki, a junior at Smithtown High School East in St. James, N.Y.
- Norah Gordon, a sophomore at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, N.J.
- Zoe Klein, a junior at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario
- Stacy Okin, a junior at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck, N.Y.
- Elizabeth Phelan, a junior at The Davidson Academy of Nevada in Reno, Nev.
- Sarah Sachar, a junior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md.
- Arjun Somayazulu, a sophomore in the Oregon Health & Sciences University Partnership for Scientific Inquiry program in Portland, Ore.
- Ruojia Sun, a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York, N.Y.
The European Society of Human Genetics, which partners with ASHG on several initiatives, ran a similar essay contest this year, also aimed at high school students.
For details on the 2016 contest winners, including photos and excerpts from winning essays, see: http://www.ashg.org/education/dnaday_winners_2016.shtml.