(courtesy photo)
St. Vincent de Paul seventh-graders Josephine (Joey) Hernandez-Mena and Miguel Herrera pose with their science teacher, Sean Sullivan, a teacher through the Alliance for Catholic Education program at University of Notre Dame, during the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair April 7. (courtesy photo)

Talk about student achievement picking up steam, literally. This year, St. Vincent de Paul’s S.T.E.A.M. efforts (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) took students well beyond the school’s annual science and art fair.

Two seventh-graders earned top honors at the diocesan science fair March 1. Miguel Herrera’s chemistry project took third while Josephine (Joey) Hernandez-Mena’s environmental sciences project took first. Both students advanced to the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair April 7 where they competed among 1,200 other young scientists in several categories.

Hernandez-Mena earned first place in the hydrology/environmental sciences category and a $75 gift certificate from the Arizona Hydrological Society. Her project examined piping materials for transporting water.

(courtesy photo)
Josephine (Joey) Hernandez-Mena, a seventh-grader at St. Vincent de Paul, took first place overall at the diocesan science fair and first place in the environmental sciences category at the state level. Her project examined piping materials for transporting water. (courtesy photo)

“I was a little intimidated seeing both the quantity and quality of the projects. I had mentally prepared myself for not winning at the State competition, so I was quite surprised to learn I had won,” Hernandez-Mena said.

She hoped to be an inspiration to other young Latino female students so that they might become interested in fields of S.T.E.A.M. Hernandez-Mena also wants the achievement to positively impact the view of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School.

Enrique Diaz, principal, aims to have the school known for its commitment to academic excellence. Sean Sullivan, the junior high science teacher, did his part by stepping up expectations for the fair since arriving at the Maryvale campus in the fall of 2014 through the Alliance for Catholic Education program. It places University of Notre Dame graduates on inner-city Catholic school campuses for their first two years as a teacher.

“He motivated our students to do their best, not only deepening their science knowledge but also honing their skills in public speaking and presentation,” Diaz said. 

(courtesy photo)
Miguel Herrera, a seventh-grader at St. Vincent de Paul, took third place at the diocesan science fair and advanced to the chemistry competition at the state level. His project tested pH levels and corrosion in iron and copper. (courtesy photo)

Teachers across other areas of academics pitched in too. Language arts teachers critiqued student research papers, math teachers taught graphing and data analysis and the computer teacher guided them in the formatting and presentation of their reports. Sullivan said It was rewarding to conclude the science fair experience at the highest attainable level.

“This is a recognition for which the whole school is proud,” agreed Diaz, the principal. “St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School has long been recognized for its strong Catholic identity. Now we are picking up S.T.E.A.M. to be known for our academic excellence as well.”

Hernandez-Mena and Herrera are both members of the National Junior Honors Society. Herrera enjoyed interacting with judges, who he described as knowledgeable.

“The best part of the state competition was meeting professionals in their fields,” Herrera said.

High school awards

Emily Wood, a junior at Xavier College Preparatory, earned the following:

  • First place in the senior division for the behavioral and social sciences category
  • Best of Fair in the senior division
  • Top High School Project from the University of Arizona
  • Achievement in Research in Psychological Science award from the American Psychological Association