By Bridget Bonanni
The Byram Hills High School symposium recognizing the work of its science research program students is often the defining moment for those who participate in the school’s acclaimed course of study.
This year the 31st annual Dr. Robert Pavlica Authentic Science Research Symposium will take place Wednesday at 7 p.m., but for the first time will be held virtually through a live-stream.
Byram Hills Principal Christopher Walsh said the event is an important milestone for the students.
“When kids get through the program, they form a strong connection with it,” Walsh said.
Students who have enrolled in the program have made scientific breakthroughs, including the discovery of exoplanets outside of solar systems and human cells living through photosynthesis, Walsh said.
Usually a local scientist or notable alumnus is the keynote speaker. This year Stephanie Greenwald, the program’s director, has stepped up to deliver a virtual keynote address.
“It’s the underclassmen celebrating the seniors, they’re throwing the best party they can for them as well as giving all of the students an opportunity to showcase their work,” Greenwald said.
The symposium is completely student run. Five committees are headed by a handful of juniors called the “fab five.” This year’s fab five are the first to plan a virtual symposium – and handling the special challenges with grace.
Luke Briody, who heads the Press and Publicity Committee, said he created a poster that has been placed throughout the community to generate public attention for the event.
“It has (an) HR code attached to it, so that we can see how many people come to the event based on just seeing the poster,” Broidy said.
Publicity this year is more important than ever because of the lack of accessibility, which is why so many alumni of the program are able to get involved.
Olivia Canter, who leads the History and Invitations Committee, has sent out 750 e-vites to the students’ mentors, parents and special guests, such as representatives from the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which holds a nationwide competition that many of the Byram Hills science students enter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and even former President Barack Obama.
“There are silver linings in making a virtual symposium,” Canter said. “A lot of the alumni have been giving very positive responses and are planning on attending.”
As head of the Tech Committee, Bailey Goldstein’s job would be to ensure that the technology is running smoothly for the event.
“Now, I have taken on the role of essentially putting the whole live-stream together,” Goldstein said. “It has been challenging. I’ve had to track kids down for their presentations since now I’m in charge of making sure all of the videos needed have been pre-recorded.”
Lizzie Manowitz’s responsibilities have shifted due to the symposium becoming virtual. She led the Food and Decoration Committee, but since that is no longer needed, Manowitz now heads the Website Committee. Her main task was to design the website where the symposium will be seen. The committee developed different pages for each grade.
“Every student has a space on the page where they have their photo, a little description about their topic and then their presentation video,” Manowitz said.
Brian Melso, the district’s communications strategist, has been key in organizing the event.
“The website is very easy to use and self-explanatory; I can’t take much credit for it as I didn’t have to help at all. To build it how she did is really impressive,” said Melso.
Mia Dittrich’s job hasn’t changed much, but it still comes with plenty of obstacles. She heads the Program Committee, which produces the roughly 150-page program for the event every year.
This year an e-book version of the program will be included on the website.
“Since we don’t have access to the school computers, I’ve had to figure out how to create it on a Mac,” Dittrich said. “I think it’s good for future years, so that students can learn how to create the program on their own computers.”
Dittrich will be sending the final program to printers for the seniors. It serves as “a memento that students keep with them to remind them of their journey through science research,” she said.
“I think in general, what we’re doing right now is really special, in terms of bringing the community together…despite the difficult circumstances,” Cantor said. “I know a lot of us have discussed how important it is during this time to promote scientific understanding throughout the community and promote science.”
For more information, visit the symposium’s website at https://www.byramhills.org/academics/academic-departments/science/science-research.