Science Honor Society encourages Seneca Valley students

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Kelly Weston said she thinks that, for many young people, there is a stigma with science.

“Lots of people think science is for nerds. Students who are interested in science often do not get enough recognition,” said Weston, an advanced placement chemistry teacher at Seneca Valley Senior High School.

Weston last year started the Seneca Valley Science Honor Society, an organization that aims to advance knowledge of science, get students to communicate with the scientific community and encourages students to participate in community service related to science.

Seneca Valley is one of 805 schools with a chapter of the society, which is based in Houston. The school inducted 25 high school students into the society on Oct. 23.

The program's most prominent feature are lectures where students can meet anyone from a spider expert to people working in regenerative medicine; pharmacy students to a chemical engineer who tests smokestacks for emissions.

“The Pittsburgh area really is a bug hub for scientific and engineering companies like Westinghouse and PPG. It has famous universities. There are all kinds of people who could help students decide what kind of career might interest them,” Weston said.

Alex Keffalas, a chemical engineer and general manager of Lemos Labs in Export, tests smokestacks to see if they comply with environmental regulations. He recently spoke to members of the society.

“I thought it went well. I'm not a polished speaker. But it's a great program for the students,” said Keffalas, a graduate of Butler High School and Penn State University.

Keffalas told the students about the work he does now and about how he became an engineer. “I told the students to find a mentor in the field they want to go into,” he said.

Students in the program are required to have 3.5 grade point average and must spend some time volunteering. They also have to complete a project.

Many of the projects are funded by the Seneca Valley Foundation, Weston said. The nonprofit foundation raises money on behalf of the district to help finance construction projects, school programs and student scholarships.

Alissa Hill, a senior from Cranberry, volunteered last year at Rowan Elementary School, where she gave students tips for their science fair.

“It's a great program to have. It is grouping the kids who like science together,” Hill said.

Hill wants to major in chemistry in college and plans to become a cancer researcher. This year, she hopes to volunteer at UPMC's Hillman Cancer Center.

Robert Kunkel of Cranberry, a senior at the school, plans to study engineering. He says some of the most interesting parts of the program involve other scientific or medical disciplines.

“They were great quality speakers. They all had something new and interesting. I thought one of the most interesting was about stem cell research,” Kunkel said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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