My STEM Story: Krishna Parikh

Krishna Parikh analyzed DNA sequences for her Congressional Award Personal Development goal.

While striving to achieve The Congressional Award Gold Medal, I tapped into my interest in genetic engineering, research, and science in general.

As part of the Authentic Science Research class at my high school, I was able to participate in hands-on laboratory work. We correlated with the Waksman Student Scholars Program at Rutgers, following their procedures and techniques.

The current project is to focus on the DNA sequences of the duckweed plant Landoltia punctata and to further analyze the genes they are associated with. Duckweed is of interest because of its use in bioremediation and its potential in being a biofuel. Through this project, it is hoped that the genes compare to those found in other species.

Each of the students, including me, participate by isolating and sequencing genes from a cDNA library. These sequences have not been determined yet, so if a student successfully analyzes one, it will be published in GenBank. By comparing these sequences to similar ones of other eukaryotes, we are able to understand the evolutionary relationship between the two. This was accomplished through multiple lab days and through multiple hours sequencing on the DNA Sequencing Analysis Program (DSAP).

To increase these newly acquired skills, I attended a meeting at GenSpace in Brooklyn, New York. The meeting pertained to Optogenetics, which is a genetic tool that makes cells responsive to light.

Through the various experimentation, the end goal is to perfect an optogenetic system in which different colors of light shine onto a petri dish and cause the bacteria to respond. This response can lead to bacteria photographs with high resolution and the control of gene expression and useful enzymes, such as Taq Polymerase, in 2D.

By spending time with professionals and learning in the lab, I perfected my pipetting skills and better understood proper lab technique. I also learned how to transfer bacteria, making it anti-resistant to antibiotics such as ampicillin and kanamycin.

The most unfamiliar concept I worked with, regarding the optogenetic systems, was the on-off ratios. This ratio determines the resolution of a bacterial photograph produced by comparing the parts of the petri dish where light was directed to the parts where it was not. It is measured in Miller Units and requires the usage of a spectrometer that tells us the wavelengths of the produced light.

As the youngest in this class, it is difficult to fully understand what is going on at all times. This allows me to challenge myself and forces me to think beyond my comfort zone. I still attend these classes monthly, and I cannot wait to see the developments made.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Juan Aleman

2019 Gold Medalist Juan Aleman uses STEM skills to educate others and grow personally

While working towards my Congressional Award Gold Medal, I dedicated 385 hours as the head programmer, lead robot driver, and co-captain of the 4-H robotics team G-FORCE. My team works out of Accident, MD, but we also participate in numerous Community Outreach events globally.

SuGO, a game with sumo wrestling robots, is one of the most popular STEM activities and the reason I became interested in STEM. Utilizing SuGO, virtual reality, rockets, WeDO, and many other STEM activities, I volunteered at the West Virginia Children’s Hospital, Maryland State Fair, Mineral State Stem Festival, and 4-H Volunteer Forum.

I have had the opportunity to be the referee and robot and field inspector at FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Qualifiers and State Championships in three different states. All of these activities are free STEM activities available to the public.


The most memorable STEM events were the military activities, the largest of which was the Air Force STEM initiative. Team G-FORCE was given a budget of $250,000 to buy, package, and ship STEM products to over 52 Air Force bases. We live streamed webinars taught by the team members on how to use the STEM kits. The team also hosted two one-week residential Navy STEM camps where forty 4-Hers from bases abroad (Japan, Bahrain, and Italy) and domestic (Georgia) were taught lessons on hardware and software by me and my fellow mentors.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the USA Science & Engineering Festival where I volunteered at three booths: FIRST, 4-H, and Maker Space. While there, I demonstrated the robotics competition, lead the Junk Drawer Robotics, and ran the software that cut vinyl stickers, adding additional creativity to the patrons’ work.

Following this year’s festival, I joined my 4-H robotics coach in a special project where we learned a new programming language together. We were tasked by the Oakland Lions Club to create a belt sander race for their jubilee that they could use for years.

Last year my FIRST Tech Challenge team had a very intuitive program for our robot. It was able to make decisions about which claw to open and close and how high to raise its arm, based on simple choices made by me and my co-pilot. This year we plan to make the robot even smarter. As head programmer, I have already moved on from using pre-programmed vision software, to creating a custom image processing pipeline.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Othoniel Batista Sinclair

Othoniel of Silver Spring, Maryland applies his love for STEM towards his Congressional Award goals.

I began participating in STEM three years ago with an Air Force camp at Joint Base Andrews. There they taught us how to create music beats, build 3D images, and write programs.

Then I joined Maryland Metro Warriors, a STEM oriented program affiliated to the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Through this program I participated in scrimmages and several robotics competitions at the state and national level. Our High School team competed  at the NSBE National Convention in Pittsburgh last year placed 5th.


I am currently the Vice-President of the NSBE Junior Chapter “The Dynamic Mathematical Visionaries,” out of Howard University. Here I am involved with Vex Robotics team. Our chapter participated in the 2018 Fall Regional Conference (FRC) and was able to compete with the Howard University Math Competition Team!

My passion is building robots and I look forward to attending an engineering university where I can build robots that can help us improve our environment and save our planet. I have learned to work as a team with others and join ideas to come up with great projects. Teamwork and respect has been critical to the success of our team.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.