Onufrey Becomes Wantagh’s 1st National Science Contest Semifinalist in 58 Years

Onufrey Becomes Wantagh’s 1st National Science Contest Semifinalist in 58 Years

Dan Parker, Editor in chief

In 1942, the Society for Science and the Public began the Westinghouse Science Talent Search competition, since sponsored by Intel and renamed the Intel Science Talent Search. In 1955, Wantagh High School opened its doors. And in those 58 years, not one Wantagh student was able to become a semifinalist in this competition. Until now.

Jaclyn Onufrey, a Wantagh High School senior, becomes the first Wantaghian chosen along with 300 students nationally (51 from Long Island) as a semifinalist in Intel’s prestigious competition, it was announced January 8. It makes sense that nobody has been able to do this before; it’s an incredibly difficult task. However, a task that Onufrey was up for.

Onufrey’s project was to study Asian crabs that are invasive in the United States. Onufrey started working on her project for the competition over one year ago. This past summer, she spent several hours nearly every day in the field and in the lab. Judging by the amount of work she had, she couldn’t have started any later and been able to reach this achievement.

“I collected samples from the north and south shores of Long Island,” Onufrey said. “I compared the population abundance of invasive crabs and mud crabs, extracted DNA from invasive crab tissue in a lab, and compared them to the native Asian crabs.”

As bright as Onufrey is, she needed the assistance of two outstanding teachers. “I worked with the assistant professor of biology at C.W. Post, Dr. April Blakeslee,” Onufrey said. She also worked closely with Mrs. Kerry McGratty-White of the Wantagh School District, her first science research teacher, who is currently on leave.

In addition to her scientific report, Onufrey had to submit personal essays, grades, activities, and letters of recommendation. Aside from prestige, Onufrey received $1,000 for placing as a semifinalist.

“It is with great pride that we join the Wantagh community in congratulating Jackie for her award,” faculty member and environmental science teacher Odysseas Svolos said. “Being recognized as one of the semifinalists is an amazing accomplishment. She dedicated her time to achieving this status.”

The morning that the semifinalists’ names were posted on the Intel website, Onufrey confessed that she had so much other work, she actually forgot to look at the website. It was Jaclyn’s mom who notified her via text message that she did in fact place as a semifinalist.

“Seeing Jackie’s reaction as she read her mom’s text was an amazing moment in my career,” Svolos said. “I was so excited for her.”

“We are proud that Jaclyn has embarked upon this program, representing herself as one of the country’s best and brightest young scientists,” said Carolyn Brievogel, principal of Wantagh High School. “Having Jaclyn’s hard work recognized on the semifinalist level is a great day for the Wantagh School District.”

Onufrey’s expertise is not solely in science. She also was awarded Honorable Mention for poetry in the annual state-wide Empire State Scholastic Press Association contest for literary magazines, sponsored by Syracuse University, this past fall.

Hard work and success seem to be an Onufrey family trait. Onufrey’s brother, Andrew, a 2011 Wantagh graduate and current Penn State junior, studied abroad this past semester in Ghana, West Africa, where he helped build fresh water systems for poor villagers. Her mother led a fundraising drive four years ago when the Wantagh golf team was dropped by the board of education. Along with other families impacted by this decision, she helped raise the $15,000 needed to reinstate the team in six weeks.

As for her college plans for next year, Onufrey was accepted to Notre Dame University early action and also applied to several other top universities. She has not made a decision on which university she will attend.

Unfortunately, she did not move on to become a finalist in the competition. However, she accomplished something that no Wantagh student ever had, and students, teachers and community members couldn’t be more proud of her.

When asked how she feels about being the first Wantagh Intel semifinalist, Onufrey said, “I’m glad that I’ve set a precedent for younger kids to see it is possible to accomplish something like this, and I’m glad that I can represent the school in such a positive way.”