CVHS Students Compete in National and International Science Fairs

Mahesh Arunachalam stands next to his science project copy.
Photos provided by Lori BODNAR


Spring is science fair season and several students from the Academy of Science and Medicine at Crescenta Valley High School (CVHS) recently competed in science fairs including the California Science and Engineering Fair (CSEF), Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), and the SkillsUSA state competition. Eleventh grader Mahesh Arunachalam participated in all three competitions and won first place in his category at CSEF. Tenth grader Vela Benedicto placed first at the state level in SkillsUSA and will be representing California at the SkillsUSA National science fair from June 19-23.

Arunachalam explored treatments for brain cancer with his science project.

He explained, “My project is focused on mitigating the ongoing lack of treatments for glioblastoma [a certain type of brain cancer] by identifying repurposable drug candidates utilizing computational and wet-lab resources. I worked on my project for around eight months for about five to 10 hours per week.”

Mahesh Arunachalam by the STEM sign at ISEF.

Over 60 countries competed in ISEF. Arunachalam said, “ISEF was in-person and I could meet people from 62 other countries. I made friends that I still text today from across the globe. Last year, I competed in the international BioGENEius competition where 14 of us from around the world met. At ISEF I was able to meet with four of them again! Most other fairs are just the judging and awards. ISEF lasted six days and we attended seminars where people from various professions and institutions taught us. There were highly specific sessions such as how to apply to college as a research student or more broad sessions such as how to apply for a patent with your ISEF project. There was only one day where we were judged. The judges at ISEF were highly qualified and provided very insightful feedback.”

Vela Benedicto with her teammates Ethan Lee and Maryam Akelyan by their project.

Tenth grader Benedicto designed an air quality monitor for her science project that she will present at the upcoming SkillsUSA nationals. Benedicto said, “I focused on creating a product for developing regions who may not be able to afford expensive resources. My project aims to close the gap regarding lack of air quality data in those places. I am part Filipino and was initially inspired to combat these air quality problems after personally witnessing it during my time in the Philippines. I have been researching and working on my project since mid-August, though building started sometime in September.”

Benedicto will be representing California in Atlanta, Georgia for the SkillsUSA nationals competition June 19-23. Benedicto said, “Regarding SkillsUSA, I am competing in Career Pathways Showcase – Industrial & Engineering Technology. [I am the] first CVHS participant in that category to compete at nationals after placing first in the state of California. I am greatly looking forward to meeting new people to learn about their projects and experiences. I have always loved getting to know people and learning from hearing their stories, advice or thoughts.”

The Academy of Science and Medicine provides many opportunities and helped prepare the students for the various science fairs.

Arunachalam said, “The Academy has provided countless opportunities to explore my current passion of computational biology and the flexibility to try other interests. The Academy also provides connections with specialists, schoolwide science fairs for practice, and much more. I would like to recognize my teacher, Orenda Tuason, for her time and effort she provided from explaining the basic concepts in AP biology and biotechnology all the way to the nuanced specifics such as how to convey the importance and reality of my project.”

Benedicto said, “Being in the research class within the Academy of Science and Medicine has helped me grow by participating in more professional venues. Through this, I further developed skills such as time management and pushed myself technically by working with Arduino [open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects] and other technologies involved in my project. I am especially appreciative of the upperclassmen who were able to share their experiences and advice. 

“I would like to sincerely thank my family for their flexibility and support regarding my research schedule, and Orenda Tuason and Alamelu Arunachalam for their patience and time dedication towards the research class.”

Both Arunachalam and Benedicto plan on science as their career path.

Arunachalam said, “As of now, due to the connections I have been able to make in the biotechnology sphere in Los Angeles, I am currently hoping to pursue computational biology in LA for my undergrad.”

Benedicto added, “I am currently thinking of majoring in an engineering field. I hope to continue my current dream of being able to make the world a better place through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) now and in the future as well as actively seek to work with mentoring the next generation or engage in research opportunities.”