Movers and Shakers

Aidan Donnelly, an Eagle Scout from Troop 362 in Selden, spearheaded a project to have fishing line resource recovery/recycling containers installed near Suffolk County fishing spots . Photo from Aidan Donnelly

A Centereach High School senior and Eagle Scout has dedicated much of his time to protecting Long Island beaches and wildlife.

During a terrapin turtle project, Aidan Donnelly searched, tracked, monitored, measured, weighed and coded turtles to take environmental data and GPS location of the turtles. Photo by Aidan Donnelly

Aidan Donnelly, 17, joined his local Boy Scout troop when he was in fifth grade after he was inspired by his older cousin’s Court of Honor ceremony, the highest rank a Scout can earn. Donnelly saw all the volunteer projects his cousin was involved in and wanted to make a difference as well. Now an Eagle Scout himself, Donnelly has planned and been the leader of four different wildlife projects since 2014.

“I really can’t describe it,” Donnelly said. “I just love seeing my projects make a positive difference. I love seeing the difference I was able to make through my projects and knowing I’ve helped the beach and so many people.”

Donnelly has been volunteering since he was nine years old, when he joined an educational program at West Meadow Beach called Beach Rangers, a program that teaches young kids about West Meadow Beach and the ecosystem there. He credits Beach Rangers and the cleanups he participated in as inspiration for the many wildlife projects he has started.

“I was pretty sad the first time to see how much garbage was left at the beach,” Donnelly said. “Which sort of sparked my interest in wanting to help out. So, I did beach cleanups every year from then on, and once I got into Boys Scouts, I got my troop involved in the cleanup.”

Through his Eagle Scout project, which he completed in 2015, Donnelly led, designed and planned the building and installation of an osprey nest platform at West Meadow Beach, when he was just 13 years old. In order to complete the project, Donnelly had to work with local politicians, such as Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who recognizes him as a true asset to the community.

“I was pretty sad the first time to see how much garbage was left at the beach.”

— Aidan Donnelly

“Aidan has an obvious sense of loyalty and duty to his community,” Cartright said. “He goes above and beyond in all that he does, and his dedication is reflected in academic honors, high achievements in scouting, and his organization of community activities. In my role as a town council member I have met hundreds of outstanding young people in our community, but Aidan is exceptional even among that elite group.”

Out of the many projects he has been involved in, Donnelly said he felt particularly proud of his most recent one — a fishing line resource recovery/ recycling project that he just completed this past December. The project is a countywide sustainable fishing line recovery and recycling project that is installed at West Meadow Beach, Stony Brook Harbor, Port Jefferson, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Deep Pond Conservation Area, Lake Ronkonkoma, South Haven County Park, Bubbles Falls, Rattlesnake Brook near Oakdale and West Brook Pond. The project required Donnelly to work with many outside sources, such as community members and an out-of-state recycling facility.

“I needed to find somewhere that would take the line and recycle it,” Donnelly said, “rather than it ending up in the trash or in landfills. I did find a Midwest company, and they sent me postage-paid shipping boxes to give to the organizations.”

Bill Schwalback, scoutmaster of Donnelly’s BSA Troop 362, has known him since 2016 when his son joined the troop where Donnelly was serving as troop guide. He has seen the growth and drive of the 17-year-old since then and notes that Donnelly has always jumped on the opportunity to take on a leadership role and enjoys passing on his knowledge to others.

“Aidan does not deflect an opportunity to teach others,” Schwalback said. “He thrives on the ability to share his knowledge and his passion with others, and it is great to see a young adult fill with pride when he sees something to completion and knows that it will make a difference to the targeted population or species.”

Tim Kearon, left, instructs a student in golf at the Tsai Hsing Golf Academy. Photo from Mastro Communications

Golf’s off-season proved to be a hole in one when it came to life experience for one assistant golf professional.

Tim Kearon, an assistant pro at the Nissequogue Golf Club, spent four months in Taipei City in Taiwan, teaching students in third to sixth grades how to play golf along with the sport’s core values this past winter. The East Setauket resident said the golf program, Tsai Hsing Golf Academy, was established by Dominic Chang, a U.S. businessman and member of the Nissequogue Golf Club who founded the Family Golf Centers chain. John Elwood, the club’s head professional, worked with Chang to put the initial program at the private Tsai Hsing School together, where the businessman is board chairman of the school.

Tim Kearon, left, poses with a student. Photo from Mastro Communications

Chang said in an email that the golf instruction department was created in the fall of 2017 with a full-time Professional Golfers Association instructor and one full-time Taiwan PGA instructor along with several part-timers on hand. He credited Elwood with being instrumental in putting the initial program together, and Kearon with refining it further through his teaching.

Kearon, 25, said he thought it would be an opportunity of a lifetime when Chang invited him to teach there.

“I thought it was a no brainer,” he said. “As soon as it was given to me, I took it. I didn’t take much time to think it over, and it was a big step for me.”

While golf is popular in Taipei, Kearon said it’s not always easily accessible, and to have a golf program in a school is unusual. The program is a mandatory physical education class that lasts 45 minutes twice a week for four weeks. The assistant golf pro, who participated in a similar program called First Tee in Nassau County where he grew up, said the core values of golf — respect, honesty, sportsmanship, confidence, leadership, judgment, etiquette, responsibility and perseverance — create the main lesson plan. He said out of 1,000 students perhaps only 100 are good at golf but most will learn those values.

“At least with the core values, 100% of the kids are going to walk away with something positive,” he said. “If they don’t like golf, they have that which is a huge part of it.”

Chang agrees with the philosophy.

“Because golf teaches similar virtues on and off the golf course, Tsai Hsing School decided to incorporate a golf program as part of physical education for third- through sixth-grade students, as kids learn these important core values before they hit the first golf ball,” Chang said.

Kearon said that while teaching is second nature to him, being in a foreign country was outside of his comfort zone, even though he found learning about a different culture and food enjoyable.

While the students spoke English, he encountered a language barrier outside of academia, but he said the people of Taipei couldn’t have been more helpful and welcoming, and the students were extremely polite.

“For me, I appreciated that more than anything and that really got me through,” he said. “I don’t think I would have made it had it not been for the locals being so friendly and just everyone in general taking care of me and looking out for me,” Kearon said.

While Kearon was there, Elwood was able to visit him for a week to see the school firsthand. Elwood said it was helpful for him to see how it operated in person, and he was pleased Kearon took the opportunity as many golf pros in the cooler weather head to Florida or sit it out.

“It was a nice opportunity for him to see a different culture,” Elwood said. “Also, it helps differentiate Tim from every other assistant pro in the area, something unique that’s going to stand out, I think, probably for the rest of his life.”

Micayla Beyer, center, with teammates Luke Solak and Melanie Young at a recent fundraiser. Photo from Micayla Beyer

A team of Stony Brook University students is preparing for the journey of a lifetime to help those in need, all while bringing awareness to the lack of access to clean water in impoverished villages around the world.

Micayla Beyer, 21, a senior who is majoring in physics and German, is heading up a group of 14 SBU students. The team will climb up the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, stopping along the way to help villages with limited access to clean water. The trip is in conjunction with WaterAid, an international nonprofit dedicated to improving access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities. Beyer said she learned about WaterAid through the organization Choose a Challenge, which pairs student travelers with a cause. To be eligible for the week-long Kilimanjaro trip, which begins May 29, each team member has to raise $6,000.

Nearly 100 SBU students attended an information session held on campus to learn more about the trek and the charity. Photo from Micayla Beyer

Kaylie White, engagement and support care associate for WaterAid America, said the organization has been working with Choose a Challenge for more than a year now, and the philanthropic treks can be a learning experience for students.

“Often on adventure trips like the Kilimanjaro one, students will be faced with lack of access to clean water and modern toilets as well, which is an opportunity for them to think more critically about how important those basic necessities are,” she said.

White said the trip challenges students both physically and emotionally, as they learn about the problems that are caused by a lack of access to clean water, dependable toilets and good hygiene.

“We hope that after participating in this trek, students will continue to be advocates of our work and spread awareness for the global water crisis,” White said.

Beyer, a 2015 Harborfields High School graduate, said she feels it’s important for people to know that there are areas in the world where residents don’t have access to clean water, and who sometimes have to travel miles to the nearest water source. Many times children will also help to retrieve the water, she said, and therefore are unable to attend school.

The college student said the trek, which will be her first trip outside of North America, is something that can be done with minimal training as the students only need to carry a personal backpack while guides and porters help to carry heavier items such as tents. She said she and the others will be grateful for the help as she admits, “we’re probably not as fit as we should be.”

To help students prepare, White said she and her colleague Elena Marmo, help students with their fundraising goals. They encourage efforts like bake sales and on-campus events, and in the past, some students ran 5ks for donations. She said Beyer has been an incredible advocate for WaterAid at SBU.

White said the plan is to have eight students from SBU participate in the trek, which will raise $25,000 for the organization and fund projects at two schools overseas to install clean water technologies, bathroom facilities, handwashing facilities and hygiene programming.

“That will make an incredible difference in the lives of children — allowing kids to grow up healthy and strong, staying in school so they can pursue their dreams,” White added.

Team member Mary Bertschi

Mary Bertschi, 22, a SBU marine biology major, plans to join Beyer on the mission. She said she was excited to participate because she studied in Madagascar in the fall of 2017 where she learned how many poor villages have limited access to clean water and toilets. During that trip, she and other students tested the parasite loads in young people in five different villages and found 85 percent of those tested had at least one waterborne parasite. She also learned that one in nine people doesn’t have access to clean water.

“That stuck with me,” Bertschi said.

While in Madagascar, Bertschi said SBU students had ways to clean water, including LifeStraw filters, but they did have to bathe at times in the dirty rivers and streams. She said the mild introduction to limited access to clean water was eye-opening for her.

Both students are near their goals of raising $6,000, and March 30, Greenporter Hotel in Greenport, where Bertschi works, will hold a fundraiser for the nonprofit.

Bertschi said the students will have to be realistic about how much ground they can cover on the mountain and will have to watch for altitude sickness, but she said the challenges during the trip will be worth it.

“I hope people recognize what a large issue this is, the lack of access to clean water, and the lack of access to toilets and sanitation and hygiene education,” Bertschi said. “I feel like that is something that a lot of people don’t really understand the severity.”

Beyer said she and her teammates are already learning from the experience.

“This path from signing up for the trek to reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is the hardest thing any of us have gone through — it requires incredible time management, self-discipline, a positive attitude, insane creativity and networking skills, all to fundraise the 6K each and summit the third tallest mountain in the world,” Beyer said. “The best part about this whole thing so far is that we’re making an impact on so many people’s lives and bringing awareness of this water crisis to Long Island where we have some of the best water imaginable.”

To learn more about the Kilimanjaro trek, visit us.wateraid.org/team/185472.

Operation Space members assemble a rocket at Vanderbilt University. Photo from Joshua Farahzad

Former Ward Melville High School graduates are finding out how valuable past connections are while they keep their eyes on the sky.

Joshua Farahzad and Hugh Ferguson graduating from Ward Melville in 2017. Photo from Joshua Farahzad

When Joshua Farahzad, a 2017 Ward Melville graduate, decided to give building a rocket a try, he began to solicit college and graduate students from around the U.S. and Canada for his team, which he called Operation Space. Along the way, fellow 2017 Ward Melville grads Hugh Ferguson and Brandon Cea joined the mission.

Farahzad, who is currently a sophomore at Duke University majoring in electrical engineering and economics, led a group of 40 college and graduate students in building two hypersonic rockets last summer. While many colleges have groups of students trying to do the same, Farahzad set out to assemble a group from various universities by emailing every college in the U.S. and Canada to work on a rocket remotely, learning the art of collaboration along the way.

After receiving resumes from fellow rocket enthusiasts, he and Operation Space team members remotely designed and built a rocket that is capable of reaching Mach 6-plus speeds, which is six times the speed of sound. Farahzad said the group is planning its first launch in late May at Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the goal is to break the student altitude record of 330,000 feet to reach the Kármán line, recognized as the border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

Farahzad said Operation Space, in a way, took root in Ward Melville when he was in teacher Bob Spira’s Advanced Placement physics class during his junior year. Spira showed the class “October Sky,” a movie about students who try to build rockets. As a part of the final project, the students built one themselves.

“I remember really, really loving that,” he said. “I never did it before.”

Farahzad said he knew he wanted to include Ferguson, who while in high school started the nonprofit Mission Toothbrush with him. The group, which is still run by Ward Melville students, collects oral care products for those in need. Later into the rocket project, during a trip home Farahzad said he was talking to Cea, and he realized how valuable his friend, who is a West Point cadet, would be to the plan.

The Duke student said after planning remotely with other Operation Space members, they managed to prefabricate electronics at Rutgers University in New Jersey and structures at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, which is also where the students finally met in the summer of 2018.

“We never met each other before,” Farahzad said. “We had been working on it for less than two months. We tried to piece it all together at Vanderbilt over a course of week. Some things worked, some things didn’t work.”

Farazad said the group decided to build two rockets in case one got damaged. The rockets were shipped to Princeton University in New Jersey where they will be housed until take off.

Ferguson said he was happy when Farahzad, one of the first people he met when he moved to the Three Village school district, approached him about the project. He said their experience with Mission Toothbrush provided a solid foundation to work on future projects.

Ferguson said they learned that when you have an idea you just have to jump in, and it’s important for young people to follow their interests no matter what their personality or skill set.

Brandon Cea and Joshua Farahzad. Photo from Joshua Farahzad

“It has taught me that do things you’ll be the most interested in and most fulfilled in, and because of that, I think you’ll do your best work, and it will be the best for your personal growth as well as be the best for the cause,” Ferguson said.

Now a sophomore at Northeastern University studying computer science and economics, Ferguson has helped Farahzad with recruiting, creating a business plan, and working on the web side of things. He said the project, and how quickly the rocket was built, reminds him of hackathons where students create an app or computer program in 24 to 48 hours. He added having a focused idea and proper planning is the key, and he also realizes how important a network is when it comes to working on a project of this size.

“Your network is much bigger than you think, probably better than you think,” he said. “If you really put the effort in, I think you know a lot more people than you think you do or who can help you, at least.”

As for the connection with Cea, Farahzad learned that his former classmate founded the West Point Space Engineering and Applied Research Program, an interdisciplinary team focused on enabling the next generation of space-capable leaders. Cea says for their projects the team can source BKNO3, an explosive compound, which cannot be procured or tested by civilian universities. Farahzad said Cea partnering with Operation Space allows them to get the explosive material they need for their rocket.

The West Point cadet, who describes Farahzad as inspirational, is happy to be working with his fellow classmate and is looking forward to the launch day.

“While it would be the crowning achievement of most students, it’s just the first step of an exciting partnership between a couple of Ward Melville alumni,” he said. “The future lies in space, and the best shot we have is through the building of the civilian-military relations. I don’t know what problems we’ll want to tackle next, but we can be content in the fact that it hopefully won’t be rocket science, and if it is, we already know how that’s going to go.”

Farahzad is looking forward to launch day too and said while a date has not  been scheduled yet, the second rocket will be launched at a later date.

“I’m just happy to get to launch and see this whole thing, which feels very abstract, become real,” he said. “As long as everyone is safe, whatever happens after we hit the button will be a bonus.”

For more information about Operation Space, visit operationspace.org.

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