Shock. Surprise. You could see both written on the faces of all three award-winning Blaine High School science students.
“Well, the thing is, we didn’t even know we were nominated,” said Rodney Williams, a BHS senior. “It was a pretty big shock to win an award you didn’t even know you were in the running for.”
Three BHS students have been named recipients of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Donaldson Science Award this year. The award goes to students of color who have demonstrated outstanding skills in science. Freshman Isabel Buganski, junior Xaitheng Yang, and Williams each won a Donaldson Science Award.
Having a trio of award winners from Blaine was a shock for staff, too, according to Jenny Birkmeier, the curriculum integration coordinator for the Center for Engineering, Math and Science program at BHS.
Tens of thousands of students from all over Minnesota were nominated for the awards, Birkmeier said. From that pool, 22 students were selected as finalists, and just four award winners were selected.
“It’s unbelievable and fabulous news,” Birkmeier said. “It’s particularly impressive because (at BHS) we are working so hard to close the achievement gap, and we’re really seeing results. This is more evidence of that.”
Williams received his award at this year’s Science Fusion African Americans in Science event at the Science Museum. Buganski received her award at the ¡Amantes de la Ciencia! (lovers of science) celebration, and Yang won his at the Asian Americans in Science event. The Science Fusion series at the museum and the Donaldson Foundation Awards are designed to stimulate youth interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.
All three BHS students were nominated for Donaldson awards without their knowledge by CEMS staff for their STEM accomplishments, Birkmeier said. In addition to being recognized at the various awards events, each student also received a $500 check, as well as a free one-year household membership to the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Williams said the award has served as a motivator as he prepares for college at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“I’ve been trying to excel and achieve,” he said. “This, and teachers like (Birkmeier) – they’re keeping me motivated. They’re always trying to make students like me successful.”
For Yang, winning was a bit overwhelming, he said. “Both of my parents are college graduates who came from Laos,” he said. “They hold me to a really high standard. They’re from the third world – they were poor and had fewer opportunities, so they expect a lot from me. But this – this is validating. I’m working hard and my parents and I are really proud.”
Yang’s CEMS accomplishments come in the form of information technology and computer science. He really loves his mobile apps class where he gets to create mobile device applications.
“It’s right in my wheelhouse,” Yang said. “I’d love to do it as a career.”
Williams, meanwhile, loves science, especially physics. “I’ve always been a science guy,” he said. But, he’ll most likely be studying computer science at Stout.
Buganski, the youngest of the winners, said she’s excited for all that BHS’s CEMS program has to offer.
“I want to be an architect or an interior designer. I love thinking about that stuff and doing it,” she said. “I also know the CEMS program here is really going to help me.”
So, too, might representatives from the Donaldson Foundation.
“I got to talking to some of the people at the Donaldson awards, and one was in architecture,” Buganski said. “They want to catch up with me when I get down that road. They want to see what I do.”
All three were thankful for the awards. “It’s a great foundation, and it’s awesome that they give awards to students to help them pursue what they want to do,” Williams said. “They give us the tools to contact them later if ever we have questions or need advice.”
“The award, it’s going to open doors for me and that excites me,” Yang said. “And the $500 won’t go to waste on my education, that’s for sure. And it’s all thanks to them.”