Jericho High School senior Bill Crugnola won honors in the National Siemens Competition this past November—a towering accomplishment that somehow left the student wanting more.
“I had mixed emotions at first. Since my goal was to win first place, I was a little disappointed initially,” he said. “I was also relieved that I’d made it through the competition. Most importantly however, I was proud to have accomplished such an amazing feat.”
Crugnola, along with his partner on the project Katie Mazalkova from Valley Stream Central High School, shared in the prize; a $30,000 scholarship they won in team competition. More than $500,000 scholarships were awarded to 20 national winners in the 2014 Siemens Competition at George Washington in Washington D.C. Crugnola was named a national finalist in late November for his research looking at heart disease and investigating the formation of the disease.
Through research obstacles and all, the Jericho senior said he and his team ultimately enjoyed their time in the lab—even when their initial results proved to be the opposite of what they had previously hypothesized.
“There was actually a road bump early in the project, when our results were the exact opposite of our expectations,” said Crugnola. “These unexpected results ended up turning into the focus of our study, which resulted in a novel finding that served as the major selling point of our project. We were able to turn a negative into a positive by being flexible. Instead of dismissing the unexpected results as a failure, we made it our goal to make the results work to our advantage.”
It’s been a big few months for the Jericho-Syosset school districts. On Jan. 8, three Jericho students were named semifinalists in the Intel Science Competition, while students from both districts netted Siemens honors in October.
In their award-winning project Crugnola and his partner studied atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, which causes cardiovascular disease—one of the leading causes of death around the world, especially in developed countries like the U.S. Crugnola and his partner studied role of aortic mesenchymal stem cells in fostering this deadly buildup of plaque. They discovered the connection and thus established a fundamental mechanism that can be targeted for drug blocking as a superior treatment method for atherosclerosis.
Crugnola said this could not be done alone. Aside from his project partner, Crugnola was also guided by his research teacher Dr. Serena McCalla, as well as his mentor Jodi Evans. With their help, Crugnola learned that teamwork was necessary in tackling a major project such as this.
“[Dr. Serena McCalla] put in almost as much work as I did into the competition. She helped me read the paper, review the board, critique our presentation and find valuable literature. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have even made it through nationals if it weren’t for her help,” said Crugnola. “Additionally, my mentor [Dr. Jodi Evans] has been amazing. Her patience and guidance throughout the entire process greatly contributed to the quality of our project. She was the person who taught us to look for the positives in all the results one finds, regardless of whether or not the positives are apparent.”
After winning the award, Crugnola said he had to tell his parents the news twice because his father wasn’t sure if he heard it correctly. Crugnola’s parents told him the accolades were well deserved and that he should proud of the accomplishment. It was a surprising accomplishment to be sure; Crugnola said that as a child he didn’t really have very great aspirations and he certainly didn’t expect to have the opportunity to do research.
“I didn’t think I could be a national finalist until I was actually named a national finalist,” he said. “I always thought that even if I worked hard, there was a limit to what I could accomplish. After winning his award however, I firmly believe that hard work can take a person places they would never have thought possible.”
The Siemens Competition taught Crugnola to think differently about himself and what he was capable doing. He learned the importance of having passion in one’s field of work—this passion, he said, will translate into success beyond expectations.
“Siemens is a long process, especially if a student makes it to nationals. You need to outwork the competition if you expect to beat them, and that takes consistent dedication,” he said. “Enjoy the experience. The people I met at Siemens, both students and professors, were some of the brightest people in the entire country. The chance to meet people like that, and share your research is a one in a life time opportunity. It may be hard while at the competition, but students should really try to enjoy themselves.”