ASHG Announces 2014 Winners of National DNA Day Essay Contest

Media Contact:
Nalini Padmanabhan
ASHG Communications Manager

For Immediate Release
Friday, April 25, 2014
12:00 pm U.S. Eastern Time (UTC-05:00)

Annual Contest Invites High School Students to Examine Important Concepts in Genetics

BETHESDA, MD – In commemoration of National DNA Day, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) hosted its 9th Annual DNA Day Essay Contest to encourage high school students and teachers to learn about human genetics. This year, ASHG awarded first place to Rachel Gleyzer, a sophomore at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, N.J. Adesuwa Ero, a senior at Ashbury College in Ottawa, Canada, won second place in the contest, and Cameron Springer, a senior at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, Va., won third place.

“The students submitting the best essays really outdid themselves this year,” said Michael Dougherty, PhD, Director of Education for ASHG. “We continue to be impressed by the quality of their writing and their ability to master some pretty complicated science.”

National DNA Day, celebrated annually on April 25, commemorates the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure and the completion of the Human Genome Project, two key milestones in the field of genetics. Each year since 2006, ASHG has run a DNA Day Essay Contest to challenge students to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in human genetics by writing an original essay. Winning essays use well-reasoned arguments to show an understanding of topics that are not always well-covered in high school science courses.

This year, the contest invited students to consider complex genetic traits – traits that are the combined result of multiple genes and the environment, such as heart disease, height, or autism – and the interplay between the various factors that cause them. Although the high school science curriculum usually includes material on traits primarily influenced by a single gene, Dr. Dougherty explained, content on more complex traits is usually absent.

Students from 39 states and 20 countries submitted 769 essays to the contest this year. Genetics specialists belonging to ASHG and its leadership read and evaluated entries for their scientific accuracy, creativity, and overall writing quality.

“ASHG’s annual DNA Day essay contest brings high school students and their teachers together, indirectly, with some of the world’s top geneticists,” said Joseph D. McInerney, MS, Executive Vice President of ASHG. “Through this contest and other ASHG educational initiatives, we hope to promote students’ and teachers’ awareness of and interest in human genetics, and to encourage young people to enter genetics-related careers.”

ASHG will award monetary prizes to winning students as well as their teachers. Gleyzer – whose essay described how heredity, musical training during early childhood, and exposure to tonal languages interact to produce absolute pitch (perfect pitch) – will receive a $1000 prize. Her science teacher, Carol Zepatos, will receive a $1000 grant from ASHG to purchase new genetics laboratory equipment for the biology classrooms at Bergen County Academies. Ero, whose essay described how genes that regulate eye growth and time spent in natural light affect nearsightedness, will receive a $600 prize, and her science teacher, Susan Wall, will receive a $600 grant for genetics materials. Springer, whose essay described how genes coding for cell-killing proteins as well as exposure to certain foods and chemicals lead to various forms of Parkinson’s disease, will receive a $400 prize, and his science teacher, Carol Stapanowich, will receive a $400 grant for genetics materials.

Honorable mentions were awarded to ten students, each of whom will receive a $100 monetary prize. The recipients of honorable mentions, listed alphabetically, are:

  • Arwa Abdelhamid, a sophomore at Staten Island Technical High School in Staten Island, N.Y.
  • Samantha Burns, a senior at Lely High School in Naples, Fla.
  • Vivien Chen, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md.
  • Hussein Elghazaly, a junior at El Alsson British International School in Haraniya, Giza, Egypt
  • Lucas Lin, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.
  • Sangho Myung, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md.
  • Rosie (Alexandra) Nagele, a senior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Allison Rerick, a sophomore at Staten Island Technical High School in Staten Island, N.Y.
  • Karl Tayeb, a junior at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, N.J.
  • Eytan Weinstein, a sophomore at Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim in Jerusalem, Israel

The European Society of Human Genetics, which partners with ASHG on several initiatives, and the Human Genetics Society of Australasia ran similar essay contests this year, which were also aimed at high school students and shared the focus on complex genetic traits.

For details on the 2014 contest winners, including photos and excerpts from winning essays, see:

About the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)

Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit:


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