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May 28, 2024

WISE Words: STEM Flourishes at AHA

In early 2023, the Academy of the Holy Angels Middle School made a WISE choice. Dean Traci Koval and science teacher Linda Payonzeck forged a partnership with Dr. Jessica Riccio of Columbia’s Teachers College. Together, they established a chapter of Women in Science and Engineering for Angels in Grades 6-8, and eagerly began to mentor the next generation of women scientists.

Two Angels discuss their peers’ scientific findings.


WISE, a national organization that promotes science education for young women, quickly became a magnet for young Angels. Middle schoolers soon began participating in after school lessons with Riccio and Payonzeck. Ultimately, the girls developed, researched, and crafted projects they presented at Columbia University’s 2023 STEAM Fair held on the International Day of the Woman.


This year, AHA hosted two WISE sessions, which allowed even more young scientists to get involved in the action. Both the winter and spring sessions focused on climate change.


Nine groups took part in this year’s program, which officially ended May 21 with a presentation in the AHA Learning Commons. Students’ scientific notebooks and posters were displayed with pride. Spectators were invited to write words of encouragement on sticky notes and affix them to each poster.

Dr. Jessica Riccio and some of this year’s WISE participants conduct a peer review.


Student mentors were key to the success of this year’s program, According to Riccio. Student leaders included those who were involved with WISE last year and student STEM enthusiasts from AHA Upper School. Angel mentors included Anjolie Castro, Mona Lee, Hollie Melia, Allison Riccio, Natalia Ruíz, Victoria Velasco, and Raegan Hynes. Twin sisters Hannah and Lizbeth George, two middle school students who completed the winter session, stepped up to help their peers this spring.


WISE students at work on an experiment.

Dr. Riccio emphasized the need for female mentors in science, technology, engineering, and math. She held AHA up as an example of an all-female STEM opportunity, and highlighted the importance of collaboration, rather than competition.


“All of these (scientific) notebooks were thought up by the women in this room,” Riccio observed, as families and members of the AHA community reviewed the students’ projects. Angels delved into aspects of climate, including the effects of climate change on human migration and animal life, and more.


Riccio added that the students kept proper scientific journals as they responded to prompts.


“They were given a question, and they had to come up with the protocols,” Riccio explained. Students worked in teams, making group decisions, conducting research and experiments, and creating engaging graphics as they developed solutions to various problems.


She also made an exciting announcement. Riccio revealed that the middle school scientists had been working from “The Inquiry Hub,” an interdisciplinary high school level chemistry protocol.


“We met and exceeded those guidelines,” she added.


WISE mentors and participants at the informal pinning ceremony.

First place ribbons were awarded to Allison Chong, Charlotte Saglimbene, Isabella Tomeo, Rhea Dhillon, Maria Petrou, Fiona Voorhis, Ava Jung, Madison Perkins, and Lily San Roman.


Second place winners included Kiera Burke, Alba Jackson, Emma Dahl, Ahreum Kang, Lara Bivetto, Hannah George, Mona Lee, Ellie Son, Seoah Choi, Marya Metaj, and Jillian Sheridan.


Third place ribbons went to Paris Hall, Ava Cutri, Victoire Lambert, Ruby Clark, Avery Chang, Emma Castillo, Emma Kottke, Reina Mercado, Harlow Pomygalski, and Charlotte Conover.


Students who earned honorable mentions included Isabel Raymond, Ashley Choi, Chloe Zaladonis, Brielle Raymond, Brianna Raymond, Hannah George, Lizbeth George, Maeve Colford, Amy Zalewski, Mia Zalewski, Camila Martinez, Brooke Greco, Valentina Mendoza, Elizabeth McCann, and Tessa Martinko.


WISE mentors nominated the Collaborative Team Member Award winners, who include Madison, Avery, Reina, Fiona, Ellie, Charlotte, Isabella, Alba, Tessa, and Elizabeth.

Linda Payonzeck, Dean Traci Koval, and Dr. Jessica Riccio.


Awards also included “Earth” pins that represent global climate, and angel statues for the senior mentors.


“These angels are a reminder to always bring the other women along,” Riccio concluded.