Next Generation of STEM Students

by:  Oviedo-Winter Springs LIFE magazine:  March/April 2015


Sapna and Nikhil Patel


How does a 15-year old sophomore at Oviedo High School get to perform graduate-level research and develop an iPad app for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease?  And how is it that his sister, a 14-year old Oviedo High freshman, is engaged in her own graduate-level research to help kids with autism improve behavioral and speaking skills?

Nikhil and Sapna Patel are both building on partnerships between the University of Central Florida (UCF), Seminole State College and Seminole County Public Schools.  The teenage siblings are involved in an honors-level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) research program that gives high-school students the opportunity to conduct research alongside leading scientists who also act as mentors.

“The fact that high-school students in Seminole County are being exposed to this level of research is a credit to the region,” says Sanjay Patel, proud father of Nikhil and Sapna.  “Seminole State College and UCF have bent over backwards to provide opportunities for students, and Seminole County Public Schools has stepped up to create these important partnerships.”

Two year’s ago, Nikhil’s grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s.  This tragedy impelled him to make sure no one else had to suffer.  Nikhil is working on research to provide a simpler test for Alzheimer’s, which includes an iPad app that measures the amount of time it takes subjects to identify sensory cues, thus creating an opportunity for doctors to detect the disease cognitively and in its earlier stages.  Nikhil is currently working with Dr. Charles Hughes, a professor at UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training, to gather more data.

Sapna is also doing research to help autistic children.  While she was in middle school, she volunteered in a class for autistic children and saw their struggles firsthand.  Sapna is currently working with Dr. Darin Hughes, on research to measure empathy-oriented behaviors and to help students with autism read non-verbal cues and feel empathy, thus enhancing the way they relate to others.

To read the full story, from the Oviedo-Winter Springs LIFE magazine, click here.

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