Perseverance and Passion

How a Former eCYBERMISSION Participant Became a Future STEM Leader

One of the main goals of students participating in eCYBERMISSION is to find a problem within their local community and seek to find answers in solving it, entering their ideas into the competition. Definitive solutions are not always found, but any research done is contributive towards finding them. Zoe Diederich, a 7th grade participant of eCYBERMISSION in the 2016-2017 competition year, didn’t have a winning project. Her team submitted their project, received their score, and for the other members of the team, that was it. That wasn’t enough for Zoe. It was her genuine interest in the topic and the feedback from the judges that pushed her to keep going with her research and led her on a journey that would take her to a professional level. Here’s her story…

When Zoe was in the 7th grade, she and several classmates were assigned a project in school that would take her on an incredible path in STEM. What started as a simple idea about maintaining the health of the reefs and canals in her native Florida hometown, quickly turned into a passionate project that impacted the community tenfold. Zoe, with the help of her dad, set out to prove that she had what it took to help find a solution to the declining health of the bay and the waterway in her backyard.

What fueled the initial project idea was Zoe’s concern about the overheating of the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant and the ecological effects it has as it sits on the edge of Biscayne Bay. Having grown up in the area and had a lot of interactions with sharks, researchers at the Bimini Shark lab and the surrounding beaches and waterways, this issue hit close to home. Over the summer at STEM camp, she sought to cool water through a system of waterfalls that included different surfaces similar to light colored river rocks. She found these surfaces reflected the light and had a better chance of cooling water than the darker surfaces that are often found in the canals. Using her time wisely, she ran her tests and found that she could lower the temperature by just over 3 degrees.

After the progress she made over the summer, Zoe continued on in her journey towards a potential solution as she entered the 8th grade. She entered her school’s science fair, refined her presentation of her project, and was selected by the judges to represent her school in the district science competition. It was there, after much hard work, she took home her first real win and qualified to enter the state competition representing Miami-Dade County.

The trials and preparation continued as she prepared for the state competition, with only about 6 weeks to get the job done. Knowing she had to get some hands-on experience and wanting to see the canals in person, her dad reached out to several contacts trying to get in touch with someone at the nuclear power plant that might be able to schedule a meeting. After lots of networking and tracking down people in their communications office, Zoe so impressed Florida Power & Light (FPL) that they granted her the tour she had been requesting and invited her to come down to Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant.

She spent the day there touring their facility, meeting with environmental scientists and spit-balling ideas with them. At one point, they explained that though they had scores of leading scientists studying the very problem Zoe was working on as well as offering solutions, there was one of Zoe’s ideas that had not been seen or thought about before. This both stunned and amazed them and they even had an open dialogue about her solution and what next steps could be. After meeting with them, she took a tour of the canals, stopped to see the temperature reading equipment and artesian wells, and saw many endangered American Crocodiles. She ended what was supposed to be only a one hour meeting, four hours later and the next day excitedly boarded a helicopter to view the canals from the air.

After taking all that she had observed at Turkey Point, her project testing continued in preparation for the state finals. After applying what she learned, she found that her results improved.  It was time to head to the state competition. After many months of research and preparation, Zoe’s moment came. She was named a first place winner, received first place from the American Society of Civil Engineers and won the “Best in Fair” Ying Scholar Award.

After all that hard work and accomplishment, Zoe continues to persevere. She is currently submitting her project to the BROADCOM Masters Competition and is even in talks with FPL to continue working with them in the coming years as she continues to refine and improve her project.

The team at eCYBERMISSION is so proud to have had the pleasure of such a successful young woman starting her community STEM journey with our program. It just goes to show that hard work, dedication, and passion to help your local community can bring great things. Congratulations again to Zoe! We can’t wait to see more of what the future holds for you, future STEM leader!


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