Three Hamlin Park students head to the White House

Jan 12, 2016

A winning Spaceflight Experiment created by three Buffalo Public School students has caught the attention of the White House. WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley says three Hamlin Park students will be in Washington Wednesday.

Shaniylah Welch, Gabriella Melendez & Toriana Cornwell, Hamlin Park students were the winners of a national STEM project. They visit the White House Wednesday to be recognized.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Hamlin Park School Seventh grader Gabriella Melendez was the principal investigator of the project created with her classmates.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Seventh grader Gabriella Melendez could not hold back her emotions as she discussed the winning project at a news conference at Hamlin Park School.

Melendz was the principal investigator of the project created with her classmates, eight graders Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch.  

The students were winners of a national competition for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Their STEM project is 'Spud Launchers'. The International Space Station will test their experiment to see if potatoes can grow in outer space this June - all from a Buffalo classroom.  

“Many of us have been following the story of these local students, who recently won a competition through the Students Spaceflight Experiments program,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. The federal lawmaker appeared with the young women explaining how his office wrote to the White House about the project and received an unexpected response.

U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins talks with Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash & WNY STEM Hub's Jim Guido.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“That these Hamlin Park students have been invited to the 4th annual State of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math Address hosted by the White House on January 13th,” announced Congressman Higgins.
         
Higgins points out that women hold only 24-of stem jobs in the U-S.  He said offering STEM access to students is critical to help fill future jobs.

“Three young students that let us all know that everyday our young people are very, very bright, smart talented and they can do whatever they want to and achieve at the very highest level,” said Dr. Kriner Cash, Buffalo Schools Superintendent.

Cash appeared in support of the city students.

Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash shakes hands with the parents of the students.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We know that here in Western New York, and Buffalo in particular, over the next ten years there’s going to be over a 160,000 jobs, part of the new and emerging economy here, and most of those jobs, if not all, will require some kind of preparation and background in math, science, technology and engineering,” noted Dr. Cash.

WNY STEM Hub has played an integral role in sponsoring these programs for area students. Jim Guido    is with the organization. He says the students were among more than 300-others who participated from ten-area schools in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

“The most important part of this program is that the students’ experiment will go to the Space Station and take place,” explained Giudo.

Hamlin Park Principal Elizabeth Giangreco, at podium, along with Hamlin Teacher Andrew Franz.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Hamlin Park Principal Elizabeth Giangreco is very proud of her students. She noted that they will create a moment in history while they are at White House on behalf of all Buffalo school children. 

"Spud Launchers! Go Spud Launchers. And as I said, this STEM – WNY STEM initiative needs to grow and it needs to grow rapidly,” Giangreco said.
                
Buffalo School Board members Sharon Belton Cottman and Barbara Seals Nevergold joined the news briefing praising the young women for their scientific work and capturing national attention, showing off success of an urban student.

“To understand that there is nothing wrong with urban children. They are as brilliant as any other group of children. All they need is the exposure and opportunity,” Cottman stated.

“You had the perseverance, you had the tenacity, you had the interest, you continued on,” said Seals Nevergold.

Hamlin Park Teacher Andrew Franz guided the students as their advisor on this space project. Franz never expected they would visit the White House.

“They’re doing something that no one has ever done before. A lot people have grown crops on the International Space State, but nobody has tried to continue that growth on earth. That has huge implications for the scientific community,” said Franz.

Hamlin Park students are excited to head to the White House.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Students are expected to meet First Lady Michele Obama on their visit. Welch is very excited.

“I’ve seen all these videos about Miss Michele. She seems so awesome. I will be so happy and excited,” said Welch.
 
Melendez tells WBFO she will be feeling wonderful when she arrives at the White House.

“I feel overwhelmed, but excited and nervous – all mixed into one. Feeling a bit emotional,” Melendez explained.
 
Cornwell is feeling very proud to be a positive role model for other city students.

“I think it is good, because most people wouldn’t send their kids here because it’s in Buffalo, but they know something good happened, so maybe they like would say ‘the teachers are very good here, maybe we should send our kids here, I want to see my kid at the White House’,” responded Cornwell.