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St Joseph Alumni Prove Science Fair Can Mean Future As Current Students Bring Home Six Gold Awards from State Competition

Students from St. Joseph School in Downers Grove brought six (6) Gold Awards back from the Annual State Exposition of the Illinois Junior Academy of Science (IJAS), held at University of Illinois at Champaign on May 5, 2012. St. Joseph School was also recognized with the Lyell J. Thomas Memorial Award for supporting outstanding student research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The exhibition involved over 1000 projects and papers with 1500 participants. The eighth graders winning Gold Awards for their exhibits include Phillip Kovarik (Up in Flames), Megan Geraghty & Noreen Nader (Juicy Fruit), Colleen Dickey & Elisabeth Vlasek (Best Oil Buster), Erin O'Brien & Delaney Miller (What Makes Stains Stay?), Emmet Elisha, Connor Keegan & Junior Martinez (Weight & See), and Jane Wagner & Jill Wagner (Filter Your Way to Clean & Clear Water).

“We are thrilled to have such talented students here at St. Joseph. Their hard work really paid off.” said eighth grade teacher, Kathy Standish. "Six Gold Awards for the six projects is quite an accomplishment," said principal, Rita Stasi, who called each student individually to congratulate them on their efforts. “We are so very proud of these accomplished eighth graders.”

While these current students achieve at their annual science fair competitions, the school realizes that these science fair projects can shine a light on one's future endeavors.

Giving proof are two St. Joseph School alumni, Chris Kennedy and Jessica DeBruler, both class of 2000 graduates, who have moved in a direction of study directly related to their eighth grade projects.

Chris Kennedy, having always enjoyed mathematics, decided to use math to solve a real life problem in his Science Fair project.

Creating various-shaped parabolic projectors by adding different coefficients to the basic equation y=x^2, Kennedy manipulated shapes and varied the focal points of three parabolae. Using a car headlight for luminescence, he measured the light intensity at a given distance for his results.

As captain of his high school math team, he had a peaked interest in Optics. He went on to attend Rose Hulman Institute of Technology for their Optical Engineering School, and today works as a Laser Physicist designing and engineering high-energy, peak-power, solid-state lasers.

Kennedy is also nearing the completion of his Masters Program in Optics at the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics & Photonics.

Kennedy’s former classmate, Jessica DeBruler, finds herself surrounded by injured animals, having completed her Bachelors in Animal Science at University of Illinois. She is now in her final year of studies for a Doctorate of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM).

Her eighth grade science fair project, for which she received Best in Category at the regional level and took Gold at the State Exhibition, was related directly to the study of animals, particularly focusing on color blind research. Having always had a love for animals, she admits that, as an eighth grader, she really just wanted to be around the neighbor’s pets. But today she has taken her dream of working with animals to the fullest, owning her own horse, Prince, and caring for sick animals.

As an undergrad, DeBruler joined the Equestrian Team. “You don’t have to own a horse to join,” she said. It was there that she began taking weekly riding lessons and met her horse, Prince. When asked if owning a horse helped her get into veterinarian school, she said, “I think so. They look for well-rounded people. Volunteering in small animal clinics helps, but handling a horse or working with cows can certainly improve your chances.”

DeBruler has also volunteered at the University of Illinois’ Wildlife Clinic for the past four years, where she’s had plenty of practice. Open 365 days a year, the facility takes injured animals from squirrels to rabbits, red-tailed hawks to Bald Eagles, snapping turtles to coyotes, raccoons to fawns. The animals are either sick or injured, mostly due to trauma and many involve car accidents or dog attacks. “If you think of how sick a wild animal has to be before it is caught, these animals are very sick, depressed and in shock.” Initially we stabilize the animal, often using IV fluid therapy to bring up their blood pressure and from there we determine how else to help.”

Her final year puts DeBruler in clinical rotations. She will rotate through different services including orthopedic surgery, soft tissue surgery, ophthalmology, equine medicine and surgery, imaging, anesthesia, dermatology, exotics, rural animal medicine, and emergency and critical care (to name a few). Her most recent surgical participation involved root canal therapy on a tiger located at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, a facility in Indiana, which houses over 225 exotic felines. “The tiger was desperately in need of dental work,” she said. As part of a team, she handled the anesthesia. DeBruler had to physically breath for the tiger during the surgery. She manually pumped the oxygen, counting breathes per minute and adjusting her rate based on the blood pH and co2 levels she saw on the monitoring equipment.

DeBruler shares stories and photos about her horse in a blog she created. Interested in reading more about tiger anesthesia? Go to A recent blog entry says it all, “It was one of those days during which I couldn't imagine a cooler career to be going into.”

Upon graduation next May, DeBruler plans to look for a one-year internship at a large equine hospital, complete with surgical facilities for horses.

St. Joseph School offers preschool, half-day kindergarten, a full-day extended kindergarten program and a first through eighth grade Catholic education. For more information or a personal tour, contact the school office at 630-969-4306 or go to

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