The Texas Master Naturalist Conservation award is presented each year in the junior and senior division.
A team of Texas Master Naturalists from all over Texas came to Texas A&M University, College Station on Saturday, March 25, 2023 to choose our Texas Master Naturalist Conservation Awards from the talented young scientists at the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair for 2023. Mike Stecher (Brazos Valley Chapter) and Art Siebert (South Texas Chapter) helped with narrowing down the almost 200 projects to our final selections for the interview process. They were then recruited to work on the category judging of the fair. Betty Vermeire, Bruce Neville, and Amanda Chau (Brazos Valley Chapter) interviewed the finalists for the senior category. Tiffany Herring, Leslie Cusick-Fernandes (Rolling Plains Chapter), Susan Conaty (Cradle of Texas Chapter), and Anne Blount (Heartwood Chapter) interviewed the junior finalists. Lynn Seman (Rolling Plains Chapter) organized the judging and assisted with interviews. A special thanks also, to Mary Pearl Meuth for guidance in our selection process!
After interviewing many exceptional projects, the committee of TMN judges is pleased to announce our award recipients for this year, which both appropriately involved one of our greatest Texas resources – water. The Senior Winner received a plaque and a $500 scholarship check. Junior Winner received a plaque and a $250 scholarship check. Both award winners have been invited to attend the 2023 TMN Annual Meeting in McAllen, TX as our guests for the Saturday luncheon. Congratulations to our award recipients!
Junior Division – TMN Conservation Award 2023
Aditi Pinnenti – 7th Grader from Keystone Middle School, San Antonio, TX
Aditi’s project was designed to see the effects of urbanization on the water quality of the San Antonio River. She tested water quality in three locations on the river to see how the results changed as it passed through the city. Aditi demonstrated the skills and passion of a community scientist and shows a great concern for the water resources of Texas.
Senior Division – TMN Conservation Award 2023
Katherine Lee – 11th Grader from Plano West Senior High School, Plano, TX
Katherine’s project tested an accessible, environmentally friendly method to remove heavy metal pollution from industry and agrichemicals from water in the treatment process. She did extensive research and tested her method to improve the current chemical coagulation process and replace it with a natural process using a plant-based solution. Katherine designed an environmentally safer solution to help protect the valuable resource of water.
Elisabeth Cruce-Roberts from Lubbock, Texas, worked on a project titled “Wild Wildflowers Part 2”. She did extensive research on the stratification process of germinating wildflowers. Using native wildflowers in her project, Elisabeth scientifically investigated the best method to get wildflowers to grow, so all nature lovers can enjoy their beauty.
Nathan Elias from Austin, Texas, conducted a project titled “A Novel Method for Automated Identification and Prediction of Invasive Species Using Deep Learning.” Realizing that invasive species can cause significant losses for biodiversity across the globe, Nathan developed and automated an early detection and prediction system for the expansion of invasives using machine-learning-based classification and geospatial prediction models.
Check out the InvasiveAI website to learn how you can participate!
Congratulations to Nathan on his selection as a 2023 Regeneron STS Scholar! Read more about the Science Talent Search contest on the Society for Science’s page.
The Texas Master Naturalist Program has sponsored a special award for the past four years at the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair. Texas 6th – 12th grade students compete in regional science and engineering fairs across the state during January, February, and March to advance to the state fair. The fair includes 20+ categories spanning engineering, biological sciences, and physical sciences. Winning high school entries advance to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
This year’s event was held virtually, and a group of Texas Master Naturalist volunteers from chapters across the state gathered to judge and award two students’ projects that dealt with the conservation of Texas natural resources.
Many thanks to Lynn Seman, Rolling Plains TMN volunteer, for once again leading this effort and the volunteer judges. Amanda Fowler – Goodwater Chapter, Art Siebert – South Texas Chapter, Bryon Clark – Bluestem Chapter, Carl Brown – Rolling Plains Chapter, Ken English – Gideon Lincecum Chapter, Steve Ellerbe – Lower Trinity Basin Chapter, Margaret Avard – Bluestem Chapter, Mary Jane Brown – Llano Estacado Chapter, Tina Davies – Heartwood Chapter, Gail and Bruce Bradshaw – Prairie Oaks Chapter, Lisa Taylor – Rolling Plains Chapter, and Lynn Seman – Rolling Plains Chapter.
Save the Turtles: A Study in Microplastics
by Mabry Miller, Isbill Junior High, McGregor, TX
From the TMN Judges: This young lady had a lot of enthusiasm about conducting her research and hopefully will benefit by knowing that we support her efforts in making people aware of microplastics on the beaches.
An Analysis of Dreissena polymorpha Downstream of Canyon Lake
by Riley Ames, John Jay High School, San Antonio, TX
From the TMN Judges: This young researcher went out into the field to conduct her work like a master naturalist. She hopefully will benefit from connecting with others who can give her direction in where to go next with her project.
Gail and Bruce Bradshaw judged the junior division and selected an awesome project by Calvin Carpenter from Slaton, Tx that involved a four-year research project on White Nose Syndrome in Bats here in Texas. The young man’s name is Calvin Carpenter (from Slaton, TX). He conducted a four-year study.
Leslie Cusick-Fernandes and Lynn Seman judged the senior division and awarded the prize to Jack Delli-Santi who did his research on Zebra Mussels. Delli-Santi obtained permits from Texas Parks and Wildlife for his project (which we know took quite a bit!) He also won a grand award at the fair.
The Texas Science and Engineering Fair was held on March 24 at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio. Eight Texas Master Naturalists gathered this year to judge projects for the Texas Master Naturalist Conservation Special Awards. The TMN volunteers interviewed almost 200 students with their projects that involved Texas natural resources, such as water, energy, plants, and animals. Out of these projects, the judges narrowed the group down to six senior high and six junior high projects that fit the criteria set for our award – definitely not an easy task! There were many unique projects to choose from, and the students did an excellent job explaining their research and results!
Tina Davis (Heartwood Chapter), Gary Buckwalter (Gideon Lincecum Chapter), Coco Brennan (Lindheimer Chapter), and Carol Heinrichs (Brazos Chapter) worked together to judge the senior high category. They chose projects that dealt with one of our precious resources, water. Some of the winning projects researched ways to collect water, clean water, desalinate water, and conserve water in our state. One senior project involved studying the Monarch butterflies and their host plants, milkweed, and another studied how introduced aquatic plants can affect the environment.
The top senior division winner was Alondra Gonzalez, a senior at Veterans Memorial High School in Brownsville, TX. Her project was “Bio Water: The Process of Using Cactus Mucilage to Purify Water from Toxins, Sediments, and Foreign Objects.” This amazing young lady received a $500 scholarship and a plaque from our organization. She demonstrated a passion for conservation and put in hours of research and investigation.
Lynn Seman (Rolling Plains Chapter), Leslie Cusick-Fernandes (Rolling Plains Chapter), Josie Gonzales (Alamo Chapter), and Dawn Hatch (Alamo Chapter) judged the projects in the junior division. These projects included researching the fungus affecting bats in Texas, ingenious designs in solar energy tracking and reducing carbon emissions, preventing coral bleaching, and monitoring water for safety.
The top project in this category was a young lady named Emma Maltos from Rudder Middle School in San Antonio, who conducted a 3-year study entitled “Human Impact on the Water Sources at Guadalupe River State Park.” This quote from her abstract demonstrates her passion for the conservation of Texas’ natural resources.
“It is important that we understand the stress that we are putting on the environment daily in order to uphold our few natural areas that we have left.”
Her study compared the water quality and biodiversity of Guadalupe River State Park to Honey Creek Natural Area with data collection from both areas over three years.
After visiting with the students about their projects, the judges left a sticker with our master naturalist logo with each student and a thank you for sharing their projects. We hope these students will continue pursuing research to help our natural resources.