Over the course of high school, many students participate in science projects. Solving a problem, gathering information data, and analyzing data are all aspects of the experimental research process that many Godwin students are familiar with.
Current Godwin senior Fareed Sheriff knows the research process well. In fact, Sheriff was named a top 40 finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) in late January.
The Regeneron STS is a prestigious science competition that is only available to high school seniors across the nation. Students seeking to enter this competition are tasked with finding a solution to a real-world problem and then presenting their findings to a group of scientists and researchers.
Initially, entering this contest was not a top priority for Sheriff. He entered in hopes of succeeding and getting the chance to better himself as a future scientist.
“I honestly entered the competition on a whim. From the outset I knew that my chances were very low and in spite of all the effort I spent on my application, advancing in the competition was more a dream than anything,” said Sheriff.
Sheriff focused his experiment on a problem that many people take for granted everyday: traffic lights.
“The title of my project is ‘ELMOPP: An Application of Graph Theory and Machine Learning to Traffic Light Coordination,’” said Sheriff.
In order to come up with the idea for his project, Sheriff put in countless hours of work to make it a reality.
“I put multiple months of writing, thinking, learning, and experimenting into this project over the summer,” said Sheriff.
In order to make Sheriff’s project easier to understand, Sheriff decided to compare his model to a game of chess.
“Oftentimes, [in chess] you have to think multiple moves ahead to gain the greatest advantage in a situation. The ELMOPP algorithm works in a similar way. Most traffic algorithms out there work in real-time – they’re like chess novices who think one move ahead because they use traffic data for vehicles moving in the present to ensure traffic is optimized in the moment. My algorithm, however, considers both traffic in the present and future traffic,” said Sheriff.
Science teacher and director of the Center for Medical Sciences Kelly Ostrom is proud of Sheriff’s accomplishment. She has worked with him for three years and knows what he is capable of.
“[I was] so excited for him, [and] not a bit surprised. Fareed has been getting perfect scores on state and national testing throughout his high school years,” said Ostrom.
Just like any student before a big test or audition, Sheriff wishes he had more confidence in himself before he began the process.
“I’d probably tell myself to be more confident at the start of the process. Because I knew I didn’t have much of a chance at getting anywhere in the competition from the beginning, I put the competition out of my mind after submitting my application,” said Sheriff.
Little did Sheriff know that he would be named a top 300 finalist, then a top 40 finalist.
“I feel pretty happy for winning [the] Top 40. Considering how unlikely it is to earn such a distinction and the extreme competitiveness of the program, I was happy enough becoming a Top 300 Scholar and was overjoyed when I learned I became a Finalist,” said Sheriff.
According to Sheriff, earning the distinction of Top 40 in this competition has not changed who he is in any way.
“But in spite of my pride in this accomplishment, I knew and still know that nothing about me has changed since I earned the award. Earning the award didn’t suddenly increase my intelligence or my worth; it’s just an achievement,” said Sheriff.
Sheriff’s next step is to present his final project virtually to Washington, DC for judging.
“Because of the pandemic, all judging is taking place virtually, but luckily the STS is sending me lighting equipment and stuff to ensure I can present virtually using a professional setup,” said Sheriff.
Not only did Sheriff earn the pride of winning top 40, but he also received monetary rewards as well.
“All Top 40 Finalists earn a minimum of $25,000 along with the $2,000 earned from becoming a Top 300 Scholar, as well as an iPad used for judging purposes that we get to keep after judging,” said Sheriff.
While working on his project, Sheriff wanted to make sure his work was strictly his own. Science teachers Dana Delano and Jessica Boppe both wrote Sheriff’s recommendation for the competition, but Sheriff did not have a formal mentor.
“I didn’t receive help from a teacher or mentor. Although Mrs. Boppe and Mrs. Delano wrote recommendations for me, I didn’t receive project help from anybody. In fact, one of the first goals I set for myself was to conduct this project all by myself with no mentor help whatsoever, which is why I spent the last month of junior year and first month of summer learning graph theory and linear algebra in enough detail for me to make and test my algorithm,” said Sheriff.
Delano was impressed by all of Sheriff’s work.
“I was very excited for him! Fareed is very creative and inquisitive, I was so happy that his hard work paid off!” said Delano.
After Sheriff won the award, both Delano and the Center for Medical Sciences also received recognition.
“When Fareed was named in the top 300, the center received a monetary award. I was also recognized as Fareed’s sponsor,” said Delano.
Sheriff also has advice for anyone who wants to compete in the competition next year or future years to come.
“The single greatest piece of advice I can give to somebody who wants to compete in the Regeneron STS is to start early. The STS’s application deadline is in November, which is many months earlier than most other science fairs, so I’d advise all potential applicants to start their project during the beginning of summer vacation or even the end of the previous school year,” said Sheriff.