Local teen wins third place in Siemens contest
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Local teen wins third place in Siemens contest

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From left, lead judge Prof. Rachelle Heller of George Washington University; Siemens Corporation’s president and CEO, Eric Spiegel; Siemens Foundation’s president, Jennifer Harper-Taylor; Joshua Meier; the College Board’s director of national recognition and scholarship programs, Diane Tsukamaki; GW’s provost, Steven Lerman, and Siemens Foundation’s CEO, David Etzwiler. The Siemens Foundation

Teaneck’s Joshua Meier is still completing his college applications, so he does not know yet where his $40,000 Siemens scholarship will be deposited next fall.

The Bergen County Academies senior earned this prize for taking third place for individual projects in the 15th annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology in Washington, D.C., on December 10.

His research on pluripotent stem cells was one of six individual entries and six group entries chosen from around the country for the finals of the top-tier contest, which is administered by the College Board and hosted at George Washington University.

“When I started to meet the other finalists and saw how genius everyone was, I thought, ‘How am I even here?’ I felt so honored just to be among them,” Josh said.

Though he did stand out from the others because of the discreet black kippah on his head, the judges clearly considered Josh to be no less “genius” than his peers.

He reports that the Siemens staff was “once again so accommodating” of his Sabbath and kashrut observance, as they were at the regionals held in November at MIT. He and his parents, Ronny and Elizabeth, were housed on a low floor of the iconic Mayflower Hotel because they do not use electricity on Shabbat. Kosher meals were supplied to the family.

Contestants arrived on Friday and formally met one another at a Saturday morning breakfast at the National Geographic Museum. Josh declined the microphone for his greetings and gratefully accepted the option to put off filming his introduction until after sundown.

Josh said he saw this situation as an opportunity to explain Jewish practices.

“The other kids asked me questions about the kosher food, and it was a good experience for them to see the culture and for me to explain it to them,” he said. “They were curious that we were essentially eating the same things but my meals were wrapped and sealed with a label. I explained that [kosher food] has to be watched and checked at all stages. Everyone responded well to the idea that just like in science, we can’t just take things on trust and have to make sure everything is certified.”

After breakfast, the other contestants were bused to an activity several miles away, and the Meier family attended Shabbat services at a nearby Chabad House.

“It’s nice that Shabbat ended early, because by the time they got back I could be involved in the nighttime social activity,” he said.

At the Sunday night poster presentation, two judges asked Josh if he was the student who worked on his project at Harvard. Indeed he was; he had refined his results last summer in the lab of geneticist David Sinclair at Harvard Medical School.

Among the judges were experts in each contestant’s area of study. The one chosen for Josh, Prof. Sharon Gerecht of Johns Hopkins University, earned her doctorate at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

“In the regionals at MIT, most of the questions were from one or two judges,” Josh said. “Here, there was a fast-paced question-and-answer about how I got my data.

“It was really intense, and the judges really did their homework.”

The tax-free $40,000 scholarship will go to whichever school is lucky enough to top the Teaneck teen’s “long list” of potential schools. He has an equally long list of past accomplishments and prestigious prizes.

“All these opportunities have been so amazing, and I thank everyone who has brought me to this – everyone who shaped me into who I am today, even all the kids at competitions who inspire and continue to propel me,” Josh said. “We’re all talking about going to college together and starting companies together one day.”

The $100,000 grand prize scholarship in the individual category went to California high school senior Eric Chen. Arman Bilge of Massachusetts won the $50,000 second prize.

A video of Joshua Meier’s presentation can be seen at http://www.greentaildigital.com/siemens/2013/meier2/f.htm.

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