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SODA student is top 30 finalist in national STEM competition

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LOS LUNAS—School of Dreams Academy ninth-grade student Gianna Nilvo has made it to the top 30 finalists in the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS, a prestigious national STEM competition for middle school students.

The Los Lunas resident qualified in the top 300 last year and applied to the competition again this year.

Gianna Nilvo

Gianna Nilvo, a student at SODA, will compete in the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS competition in Washington, D.C.

Nilvo’s project was completed last year when she was a seventh-grader. She has been reclassified and has moved up to ninth grade this year.

“It’s not just a science fair, we do a lot of hands-on, group activities,” Nilvo said.

“We’re placed in a team and the judges are looking for how you are as a leader, how do you cooperate with other kids your age who also have the same interests in science,” she said. “So it’s not just about your project, it’s more of you as a person and who you are.”

Nilvo’s project centered around the question of if veterinary prescribed digestive enzymes helped a cat’s digestion and, in turn, give a cat for a longer, healthier life. Her inspiration came from her own cats’ struggles with digestive issues.

She replicated a cat’s digestive tract using beakers and followed the scientific method to come to the conclusion that the added enzymes only had an 8 percent increase compared to regular cat food.

“You want to see big increases for pets because 8 percent isn’t very much at all,” Nilvo said.

“I’d like to try to build my own digestive enzyme and find the right combination of enzymes so that we get a 50 percent increase.”

Competing in the top 30 grants the finalists a $500 cash award and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the competition, starting the week of Oct. 25.

According a press release from Society for Science and the Public, the top 30 finalists for the first time are 60 percent female. The finalists are from 28 different schools across 13 states.

Nilvo had support from her family, especially her mom, Jennifer Nilvo, who has a master’s degree in biology and is a teacher at SODA.

“This is kind of the elite of the elite science fair for middle school,” said Jennifer. “Because of my background, I wanted to make sure she knew how to follow the scientific method and do things right.”

There are large cash prizes for first and second places and a few other awards granted.

Nilvo is also taking part in the National FFA Agriscience Fair in Indianapolis from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2.

Nilvo began at the SODA chapter of the FFA Agriscience Fair and moved her way up to the state and national levels.

“I made the top 10 and will be going to D.C. and then Indiana for the FFA science fair for two weeks,” Nilvo said.

Planning to become a veterinarian, Nilvo said working with animals is her passion and she hopes to help make an impact, just like these programs had an impact on her.

“Science fair is a life changing experience,” Nilvo said. “I started off with this sixth grade science fair project. Now I get to have so much fun collaborating with other students who share the same passion of science and getting to solve worldwide problems that impact people.”

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