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Ward Melville High School

Justin Zhang

Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

In this annual regional competition, coordinated by BNL’s Office of Educational Programs, high school students across Long Island design, construct and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified. An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at BNL on March 15.

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. 

“So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process,” he explained.

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering.

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

An honorary award was given to retired BNL engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. 

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

Zhang’s and Nepravishta’s bridges have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April. For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov.

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By Bill Landon

The Sachem North boys lacrosse team retied the game at 4 to 4 late in the third quarter but the Ward Melville Patriots shut the door in the final 12 minutes, scoring four goals to put the game away, 8-5, at home April 5.

Ward Melville remains unbeaten, and the win put the Patriots atop the Division I leader-board at 6-0 as of April 5. The loss dropped the Flaming Arrows to 4-2.

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville boys basketball lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds of a League I matchup against Central Islip on the road Jan. 4 despite leading by nine points earlier in the game. The Musketeers battled their way back to tie the game at 66 when Central Islip junior guard Ty-Shon Pannell drained a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with 2.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Patriots in-bounded the ball and took the Hail Mary shot without success, dropping the league game, 69-66.

Robert Soto led the way for the Patriots with three field goals, a trey and nine free throws for 18 points. Ray Grabowski followed with two triples, two field goals and four points from the charity stripe netting 14 points.

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville squared off against the Newfield Wolverines out on the strip Dec. 8 in a three-way bout with Brentwood. The Patriots had their hands full with a surging Newfield squad but edged the Wolverines 16-11 to remain unbeaten 3-0 in Suffolk League II.

The Patriots are back out on the strip Dec. 13 where they’ll host Centereach starting at 5 p.m. at Ward Melville High School. The Patriots and Wolverines will also compete in a holiday tournament invitational Dec. 15 at Brentwood High School. First bout scheduled for 9 a.m.

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Suffolk County high school golf champions Palmer Van Tuyl, Gavin Girard, Alex Korkuc, Andrew Petraco, Nick Stoecker, Mike Petraco and coach Bob Spira. Photo from Bob Spira

The Ward Melville High School golf team closed the season with a feeling that could probably be compared to a hole in one.

The team walked off the Rock Hill Golf Course in first place after the Suffolk County high school golf championships Oct. 31. In addition to the team win, senior Alexander Korkuc finished third in the individual tournament with a score of 154. The team will go on to the Long Island championship, and Korkuc qualified for the state tournament. Both will take place in the spring.

“I told them right from the beginning, ‘You guys have the talent.'”

— Bob Spira

Bob Spira, who has coached the team for some 12 years, said the golfers are looking forward to the Long Island championship. The last time the Patriots took the title was in 2016.

“This year we’re back on the map again, so it’s really nice to be back on top,” Spira said.

The coach said the six team members work well together, and he considers all top players. He said they worked hard this season and didn’t hesitate to keep practicing shots that they missed in a match, even if it meant hitting 200 balls.

“I told them right from the beginning, ‘You guys have the talent,’” the coach said. “‘It’s just putting in the time and just everything working out. Even the best golfers can have a bad round. So, don’t let it get in your head, keep moving forward.’”

Korkuc said he wouldn’t want any other coach than Spira.

“He’s a great coach,” he said. “He’s been there for me four years, and he’s always told me to keep working and it will eventually work out.”

Ward Melville junior, Palmer Van Tuyl, said he’s been playing with the team since eighth grade, and he has witnessed how the team and he have grown as players. A highlight for him this year was successfully shooting two rounds under par in matches.

“That was really big in my development to know I have the ability to have really good scores in addition to solid play all season long,” Van Tuyl said.

He said his teammates who, in addition to Korkuc and himself, include eighth-graders Gavin Girard and Nick Stoecker with eleventh-grader Andrew Petraco and ninth-grader Mike Petraco, are strong players. Van Tuyl said having skilled younger players is important for the future of team.

“To have that much depth that early is, I think, a big key to our strength.”

— Palmer Van Tuyl

“To have that much depth that early is, I think, a big key to our strength,” he said.

When it came to the team win after the Suffolk County championship and Korkuc’s qualification, Van Tuyl said it made him forget his disappointment coming in 11th place on the second day.

“The self-pity or the self-sadness was completely overshadowed by the great feeling I had for the team, and the happiness I had for my friend,” he said.

Korkuc and Van Tuyl said their teammates are like a second family. Korkuc, who hopes to take a year off from college to attend a golf academy next academic year, has advice for his fellow teammates.

“Keep working hard and everything will fall in place like it did for me,” he said.

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By Bill Landon

The Patriots drew with eight points late in the game but dropped their season opener 61-50 against visiting Bay Shore Nov. 30.

Robert Soto led his team in scoring netting 15 points along with a pair of treys. Ray Grabowski followed with 12 points, and Chris Foglia banked seven.

Ward Melville will be back in action Dec. 3 where they’ll host Centereach in another nonleague contest in a Coaches vs. Cancer matchup at home. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:15 pm.

Residents of the Three Village Central School District rooted the Patriots on to a homecoming win against Walt Whitman High School Oct. 6.

The Patriots varsity football team beat the Walt Whitman High School Wildcats 32-10. Ward Melville now ranks 5-0 in the league, which is the first time since 1974.

Before the big game, students and families enjoyed a parade and carnival where attendees participated in games, crafts and listened to live music.

The Patriots will travel to William Floyd Oct. 13 and Longwood High School Oct. 20. Their next home game is Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.

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Kelsey Ge, front left, and Jay Sangwan, front right, are joined by volunteers as they drop off dental hygiene products collected by Mission Toothbrush at Long Island Cares. Photo from Mission Toothbrush

Some Ward Melville High School students are doing their part to make the world a better place, one toothbrush at a time.

On Sept. 16, volunteers from Mission Toothbrush, a nonprofit dedicated to collecting oral hygiene products for those in need, will be holding a drive at Stop & Shop in South Setauket. In addition to toothbrushes, the volunteers collect toothpaste, dental floss and mouthwash that they distribute to nearby churches, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, including St. James R.C. Church in Setauket, Long Island Cares in Hauppauge and Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson.

Kelsey Ge, left, and Jay Sangwan, right, with former president Ethan Li, center, drop off dental hygiene products collected by Mission Toothbrush at Pax Christi. Photo from Mission Toothbrush

“Hygiene products — dental hygiene products in particular — can prevent a range of diseases that take place within the mouth and the entire body,” said sophomore Neil Mehta, director of outreach for the organization.

Junior Jay Sangwan, co-president, said there are added benefits to being able to keep on top of dental hygiene.

“Having a healthier smile is obviously good for self-esteem and confidence, which is extremely important, as we all know,” he said. “So, a big part of our mission is that we want to share a smile with those who are less fortunate allowing them to be more confident in themselves and have higher self-esteem.”

Co-president Kelsey Ge, a junior at Ward Melville, said those who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters have told Mission Toothbrush representatives they receive a lot of food and clothing, but not enough hygiene products.

“The good thing about [dental hygiene products] is that they are nonperishables,” she said. “So, they’re very easy to collect and store. I think in general it’s a great way for people to contribute in a unique way.”

The organization was founded in November 2015 by Josh Farazhad and Hugh Ferguson, who both graduated from Ward Melville High School in 2017. Students Ethan Li, Ge and Sangwan then stepped in as co-presidents, and after Li’s graduation in June, Ge and Sangwan continued the tradition with Mehta; Katherine Liu, director of finance; and Preeti Kota, director of operations.

Mission Toothbrush has collected $40,000 worth of dental items and monetary donations since its inception, according to Ge. The organization estimated the products have included 5,000 toothbrushes, 8,000 ounces of toothpaste, 95,000 milliliters of mouthwash and 30,000 yards of dental floss.

Jay Sangwan and Kelsey Ge drop off dental hygiene products collected by Mission Toothbrush at Pax Christi. Photo from Mission Toothbrush

The students said volunteering is not limited to those in high school, and from time to time, middle schoolers have helped out. Each drive averages 10 volunteers from the school district lending a hand.

The group will soon solicit other hygiene products including diapers and feminine hygiene products that those donating may overlook during community outreach drives, and the board of directors also wants to create branches in other areas in the future.

“Being able to open some sort of new branches outside of our local area is important,” Ge said. “Because of our focus on local community, it’s a really great way to concentrate on the needs directly around us, but one of the limitations is we really can’t reach the wide population who truly need these supplies.”

Sangwan said he hopes expanding will help more high school students interact with others in their areas. “A big part of this was not only to help the community and to raise awareness, but also it was just a really good life skill, we thought, for high school students to have these interactions,” he said.

Mission Toothbrush’s drive will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 16 at Stop & Shop located at 260 Pond Path. For more information about Mission Toothbrush and future community drives, visit www.missiontoothbrush.org.

Dan Graziosi

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2017 there were more than 550,000 homeless in the country. Three alumni from Ward Melville and Commack high schools have asked a simple question: How many are stuck that way simply because nobody can see their résumés?

“You never really know why someone became homeless,” said Dan Graziosi, 22, a Ward Melville graduate. He is chief executive officer of Lazarus Rising, a nonprofit created in 2015 that helps homeless people write their résumés and get ready for job interviews. 

“A lot of the people don’t necessarily see the skills that they themselves have, and sometimes showing this person that they have value is almost more important than making a résumé for them,” Graziosi said.

Matthew Sobel

Co-founders of Lazarus Rising, Ward Melville alum Matthew Sobel, 23, and Commack alum Matthew Rojas, 23, gave birth to the organization wondering, as sophomores at the University of Delaware, that if creating a résumé for them was difficult — two people who considered themselves privileged — then how tough would it be for a person without access to resources such as a computer?

“There’s a really unfortunate number of people who are experiencing homelessness,” Rojas said. “While some are unfortunately addicts, a lot of them don’t have basic things like a printer, Microsoft Word or they just haven’t had an interview in a long time.”

As they first walked into a Delaware homeless shelter in 2014, just a block away from their freshman dorm, the two did not have much in the way of community service experience. Yet at the shelter they met a man named Jeff, that while he had fallen on hard times since the 2008 recession, he also had years of experience managing more than 20 people at a warehouse. The only problem was his résumé was five pages of a single-spaced biography rather than the commonly accepted single page bulleting a person’s most applicable skills.

“It kind of took our breath away knowing that an employer is throwing that right out the window,” Sobel said. “It’s not Jeff’s fault — he just didn’t know what standards there are in résumés.”

In 2015 Sobel, Rojas, Graziosi, along with several other friends and compatriots, incorporated their talents into the non-profit Lazarus Rising, all while they were still undergrads. 

Matthew Rojas

“There is a subset of the homeless population that have the skills to be an amazing employee, but they simply lack the skills that we take for granted like being able to write a résumé,” Sobel said. “We all realized we came from super-fortunate situations, being from where we came from and what schools we came from. I came into college with minimal community service. It’s one of those experiences you really can’t understand until you do it.”

Lazarus Rising has grown to host more than 200 volunteers offering their services either in school or during their free time. They have college chapters at Binghamton University, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh and professional chapters in New York City and Philadelphia. Graziosi estimates that the organization has aided more than 300 homeless participants.

Volunteers for Lazarus Rising often spend approximately one hour with a homeless person working on his or her résumé. They then spend more time after completing mock interviews or even help the person navigate applying for jobs online.

Rojas said that it is one of the greatest satisfactions of his life having helped these people get back on their feet. “It’s a feeling that what I’m doing actually makes a difference,” he said.

Meanwhile the group hopes to expand its reach in New York state and eventually Long Island, most likely through local colleges like Stony Brook University.

All three alumni are out of college and have either found jobs or starting ones, but that has not stopped any of them from being active in the organization. While Graziosi will soon be taking on a job as a technology consultant for Ernst & Young, a professional services organization, he still plans to run as the nonprofit’s CEO into the foreseeable future.

Graziosi’s mother Sheila, a Setauket resident, said what her son and his friends have been able to accomplish has not only changed their lives, but the lives of many homeless.

“He’s amazing — I’m just so proud of him,” Graziosi’s mother said of her son. “He’s really getting so much out of it.” 

Lazarus Rising is looking for more volunteers. For more information about volunteer opportunities or to donate to Lazarus Rising, visit lazarusrising.org.

Ward Melville 2018 valedictorian Ethan Li, second from left, poses for a photo before graduation with Liv Halvorsen, salutatorian Michael Lu and student government president Jillian Becker. Photo from the Three Village Central School District

By Rita J. Egan

Ward Melville’s valedictorian felt like he had been checkmated, but then he heard some good news.

Ethan Li was at a chess tournament in Ohio, and he said he was feeling down after losing an important game when his friends started texting him. He discovered his 105.77 weighted average earned him the valedictorian honor for 2018.

Ethan Li

Li moved to Stony Brook from Arizona at the beginning of ninth grade, and it was a big transition from a small private school to a large school district, but he said he’s happy his family made the move.

“I definitely felt there were more opportunities for internships, research, just in general, meeting different kinds of people who had different talents in different fields [here],” he said. “And, I felt like that was a really helpful experience to be able to reach out to them and learn somewhat from them.”

Li said he’s been inspired by his classmates through the years. A couple are former students Hugh Ferguson and Josh Farahzad, who started the nonprofit Mission: Toothbrush, which distributes oral hygiene products to those in need on Long Island. This year Li became co-president of the nonprofit.

Li will attend Princeton University this fall where he will major in operations research and financial engineering — ORFE for short. He said he became interested in ORFE while talking to friends who were first- and second-year students at the university on the same track.

“Initially, I wanted to do neuroscience, but this program combines mathematical modeling with computer science and economics,” he said. “And this seemed a lot like what I was interested in. Ideally, I would still like to combine some kind of aspect of neuroscience in my eventual career, but this just hits so many points that I’m interested in.”

With this course of study, he said plenty of career options will await him when he finishes school. He said he would love to start a company that addresses or brings innovation from neuroscience to the public sector. He said if his plan to own a startup doesn’t work out, he can work in finance or for companies like Google and Facebook in their computer science departments.

Ethan Li and his date Catherine Jiang are all dressed up for prom. Photo from Ethan Li

He said a recent program conducted by Google caught his attention. It involved central processing units playing chess against each other and teaching themselves in isolated loops. He said research like this relates to what he wants to do in the future: applying machine learning and pattern recognition study to neuroscience and neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

In addition to his studies, which included several advanced placement classes, Li started the chess club at Ward Melville, and he volunteers to teach the game to students in the district. This summer he will travel to Paris, France, for a week for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine annual meeting. The research project he did two years ago titled “Differences in Subcortical Brain Volumes Between Expert and Novice Chess Players” was selected for the conference.

Li said his dad Alan, who works in China for a construction business, and his mother Fung Wang, who works at Stony Brook Cancer Center in data sciences, have always inspired him with their work ethic. The valedictorian said his parents didn’t have any expectations, but instead just provided never-ending support so he could live up to his potential.

When it comes to juggling his education and activities, Li said he thinks of the old Nike ad, “Just Do It.”

“When you start doing one thing, it’s a domino effect upon activity,” he said. “You just want to do more and more.”

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