WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y -- Applications recently opened for the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award, and for the first time in its four-year history, the entire process can be completed online.
The award from the Ardsley-based company includes a half-hour radio interview with Lisa Wexler on WGCH-AM 1490 of Greenwich. The school also receives a plaque. More than 60 students from high schools in Westchester, Putnam and Fairfield counties have won the award since it was established.
“I wanted to do a ‘brainiac’ award,’’ Wexler said. “There are a lot of scholar-athlete awards. I wanted to do something for these kids who are excelling and studying in science, technology, engineering and math. When I pitched it to Acorda four years ago, they were really interested.”
Ron Cohen, Acorda’s President and Chief Executive Officer, and Tierney Saccavino, the biotech company’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications, worked with Wexler to establish the parameters of the award.
“Supporting STEM programs in Westchester County has always been one of our priorities,’’ Saccavino said. “When Ron and I met Lisa, we were talking about our passion for students in the STEM fields. We feel in many ways it’s a continuation of our corporate mission, and another way to promote our mission is to encourage the next generation of scientists, researchers and physicians.”
Students are required to submit their ideas along with recommendations from teachers and mentors. A panel, including scientists from Acorda, retired science teacher Iris Pagan and Tim Selg, who originated the science program at White Plains High School, join Wexler and Saccavino in determining winners. Michael Blueglass, a science research teacher at Yorktown High School who founded the Westchester Science Fair, helped by drafting the application.
“Our scientists are tough on the kids,’’ Saccavino said. “We always rely on our scientists to tell us if it’s a novel idea and was rigorously designed. Their lives and careers are all about rigor. It’s not easy to win the award. They do not hold them to a lesser standard because they are students. Our scientists are passionate about their careers and their work, and the variety of applications we get allow them investigate areas of research that are outside of their specialties.”
The award aside, Wexler said the experience can generate self-confidence and other life-changing attributes for students who win the award.
“The students really enjoy talking about what they do,’’ Wexler said. “Last year, I met the mother of one of the winners. She said the interview changed her daughter’s life. After the interview, the daughter came out of her shell. Her personality emerged. It was real turning point, and I was so touched. That comment stayed with me all year.”
Wexler said Acorda was the only company to which she pitched her idea. The award has flourished, expanded and is now one of the most sought after prizes for the brightest young minds in the region.
“We’re really delighted with it,’’ Saccavino said. “We started small and slowly. It has expanded every year, and part of the feedback was the online application would make it easier for the teachers and students. With the increasing pace of interest, we love to have the chance to give the students publicity for their hard work. Lisa is great at interviewing them. She really brings the students out.”
Wexler's interviews with students air at 10 am on Saturdays. Prior interviews are available at lisawexler.com.
Click here to learn more about the award and how to submit entries.