Mike Espy, second from the left, a sophomore at Little Snake River Valley School in Baggs, Wyo., poses in front of the  John Kennedy Painting at the White House with, from left, Cece Poole, Bobak Ferdowsi, engineer on Mars Rover for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Carolyn Hicks, Little Snake River Valley School science teacher. Espy was invited to Washington D.C. to participate in the White House Science Fair after placing second in the DuPont Challenge.

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Mike Espy, second from the left, a sophomore at Little Snake River Valley School in Baggs, Wyo., poses in front of the John Kennedy Painting at the White House with, from left, Cece Poole, Bobak Ferdowsi, engineer on Mars Rover for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Carolyn Hicks, Little Snake River Valley School science teacher. Espy was invited to Washington D.C. to participate in the White House Science Fair after placing second in the DuPont Challenge.

Little Snake River Valley student earns trip to Washington, D.C.

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Quotable...

“It was such an honor to meet them. Now, because of this experience, the shutters are open. It was such an amazing learning experience.”

Mike Espy, a sophomore at Little Snake River Valley School in Baggs, Wyo., and a 2012 finalist in the DuPont Challenge, about his trip last month to Washington, D.C., to participate in the White House Science Fair.

— Two years ago, Mike Espy had no idea he’d be able to use agricultural byproducts to punch his ticket to the White House.

Last month, Espy, 15, a sophomore at Little Snake River Valley School in Baggs, Wyo., traveled to Washington, D.C., to join 50 middle and high school students from across the country for President Barack Obama’s fourth annual White House Science Fair.

The event, hosted April 22, celebrates student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math competitions from across the country.

“If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House,” Obama said in a news release. “Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

Espy’s road to the White House began two years ago when, as an eighth-grader, he devised an experiment to test renewable fuel technologies for a school science fair project.

Espy first tested the viability of creating methane gas by using an anaerobic digester to break down cow manure, beetle-kill pine trees and hay.

Although he since has expanded his experimentations to include potato byproducts, algae from a local river, sugar and beet pellets, Espy decided last spring to enter the DuPont Challenge to outline the results of his eighth-grade study.

The DuPont Challenge is an essay-writing contest focused on four topics, including food, energy, protection and innovation.

The contest is broken up into two divisions: the junior division for students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades, and the senior division for students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

Espy submitted for the energy portion of the contest and his essay, titled “Moo-ing Energy,” won second place out of 10,000 applicants in the junior division.

Espy was recognized last year at DuPont’s awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., and that also featured a visit to the Walt Disney World Resort and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kennedy Space Center.

Upon his return from Orlando, Espy assumed his roller coaster ride had come to an end.

Then, last month while building a PowerPoint presentation of his experiment for a school assembly with his middle school science teacher Carolyn Hicks, an official from the DuPont Challenge called and extended Espy an invitation to the White House.

As Espy’s sponsor, Hicks was invited to attend, as well.

“Mike was one of 20 students selected to sit on stage with President Obama during his speech about the importance of science and math,” Hicks said. “He (Obama) really engaged with the audience and he was really gifted in his interactions with the children.”

Although Espy was not invited to present his essay, he and Hicks took full advantage of the event, which included a tour of the White House led by Marine Corps soldiers in full dress.

Espy and Hicks also received the opportunity to visit with some of NASA’s top scientists, including Charles Bolden, NASA administrator; Leland Melvin, astronaut and associate administrator for education for NASA; and Bobak Ferdowsi, engineer of the Mars Rover for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It was such an honor to meet them,” Espy said. “Now, because of this experience, the shutters are open. It was such an amazing learning experience.”

Espy said he is taking the experience in stride, but he’s also thinking about his future. Although he hasn’t created a list of potential colleges, Espy plans to dedicate his education to studying renewable energy en route to a career as an innovative scientist.

For more information about the DuPont Challenge, visit www.dupontchallenge.com.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@CraigDailyPress.com

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