Far more than just another science fair

After winning two prestigious awards, CHS student is invited to present her project at a symposium

It’s not every day that a high school sophomore is asked to present her research project at a professional-level science symposium.

But that’s exactly what happened to Camas High School student Sophie Shoemaker after her work on sustainable agriculture garnered prizes at regional and state science fairs.

She received an invitation in June to present her project at the Washington State Academy of Sciences symposium. At the time, school was ending and her focus wasn’t on research.

“Then after school began, Mr. (Ron) Wright asked me if I understood how big a deal this was,” she said. “I didn’t. Once I learned, I was a little nervous. But I’m a kid, they’re not there to judge me. It was a fun thing to do.”

The Washington State Academy of Sciences is a group of college professors, administrators, and business people who meet to network and present research. It includes such names as Boeing, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Seattle City Light, as well as private and public colleges and universities.

The group’s focus this year is on water quality. They met on Sept. 20 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Shoemaker said the invitation to the event was random, but Wright, her magnet program teacher, sees it differently.

“Given their focus for this business meeting, and her two Stockholm water prizes, Sophie was invited to present,” he said. “She was one of only four student presenters from around the state.

“These kinds of activities provide unexpected opportunities for kids that cannot possibly be had anywhere else.”

Shoemaker’s specific research focus was on aquaponics, a combination of agriculture and hydroponics, where nutrients from the fish and plants benefit each other. The goal of her project was to create a functioning aquaponic system using recycled materials. The project took most of her freshman year to complete.

Shoemaker had 30 minutes to present her findings at the symposium, and then fielded questions afterward.

“I really enjoyed getting to meet people who were actual scientists,” she said. “It was great listening to the guest speakers from various universities and businesses. The focus was on water, but they talked a lot about global warming and how the water quality is impacting that.”

Although designing a functional aquaponic system was a slow and sometimes frustrating process, Shoemaker is glad she didn’t give up.

“I learned that if you work hard and set your mind to something, good things will happen,” she said. “If you keep it together and keep working, you can meet amazing people. I’m really thankful for my experience and all the support for this project.”

Wright said it is the first time any CHS student has represented the school at the symposium.

“Sophie did a great job, and it was a wonderful opportunity for her to be there,” he said. “She was the only sophomore, and the rest were juniors and seniors. The people who were there, it was a retreat of faculty and business folks from upper management levels. It’s an experience that few college kids get, let alone in high school.”