Mia Girela
Category: 2023 High School Winner

Mia Girela

I’ve gone to the same school since sixth grade, with the same teachers, friends, and academic routine. In middle school, science fair was a mandatory project to complete throughout the year, and I took this competition very seriously, but to no avail, I was never able to advance as a middle schooler.

At the end of eighth grade, my science teacher, Ms. Harris, slipped me a note which read, “Meet me after school to go over your science fair.” Wild ideas of what awaited me after school began spinning in my head. Had I missed something? Was the whole project somehow invalidated? My worries were put to rest when Ms. Harris sat me down with two copies of my research plan – one for each of us to look over. We sat there reviewing for a few minutes until the silence was broken by her laughter, she found my timid demeanor funny! After she had been revising for about 25 minutes – I couldn’t believe my eyes, red marks were everywhere! We stayed in the same room, uninterrupted for two hours, going over each and every correction. My project going over the accumulation of bacteria using different meat preservation techniques wasn’t a bad topic for an eighth grader, the problem was the lack of significant statistical and background information to support my hypothesis.

That one meeting with Ms. Harris permanently shifted my priorities. My homework still got done, clubs were still managed, but now, the desire to push myself to do better in science fair was a fire lit in my heart by Ms. Harris. This mindset stuck with me all throughout high school. I was more flexible with my course load, while still prioritizing my experimental development for each year of competition within the fields of zoology and translational medicine – areas of study that I have always managed to find something new to research in.

I attribute my willingness to continue within the field of scientific research to my first mentor, Ms. Harris. Failing at science fair for three years in a row is an experience that would typically deter most people from continuing with something that they are “bad at,” but for me, I just lacked a proper educational foundation to support my complex research topics – an issue resolved through my academic progression throughout high school. In high school, it is normal to see science fair participation numbers dwindle down after the mandatory middle school years, but I kept with it, with the goal of reaching the point of success that Ms. Harris envisioned for me. Late nights until 11 pm surviving off of nothing but Little Caesars Pizza and root beer, delegating what to do with my time after school, and networking with more knowledgeable researchers was the dedication that got me to the state science fair during each year of competition. This potential would have otherwise remained untapped if Ms. Harris didn’t push me to want to strive for something better!