STEM Week 2022

Every year, Solebury School's math and science departments celebrate the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math by hosting STEM-related events, activities, and guest speakers. The week is meant not only to engage the entire school with those subjects but also to inspire thinking about STEM-related careers. 


Justin Botts P'25 joined us to talk about his experience as a commercial pilot with United Airlines and as a military pilot. He shared that he has accumulated 8,500 flying hours and has visited over 80 countries. He discussed some of his missions in Afghanistan as an air medical evac and showed a video of how refueling in the air works. To end the presentation, Justin invited students to try on his uniform! 

Leanne White P’24 P’26

 is an agricultural engineer who spoke to students about careers in the field. She has had extensive experience in consumer products working for three major companies and starting her own consulting business. Her presentation focused on the qualifications and benefits of becoming an engineer, bringing consumer goods products to market, and courses to consider today that will set them up for success tomorrow. Students were engaged and asked lots of questions which sparked exciting conversations when they discussed how products make it to the shelf. Leanne talked about sourcing raw materials to get products into stores. She shared statistics on products that make it to market and reasons preventing them. “One in twenty products make it to market in food,” she explained. Some products that complete stability testing and test marketing could die before getting on a shelf. Other factors include marketing costs, profit margins, and retailers.

Finally, Leanne credited other foundational courses (statistics, writing, debate, and others) for helping students consider careers in engineering. She shared how they apply to their work by enabling them to run quick variable tests on the line to identify problems, communicate clearly and create documentation, justify project costs, and develop presentation skills.

Steven Valeri  is a blockchain developer at Aave. He talked to students about what blockchain is, why it’s important, and explained how to run code on a blockchain. Using this technology, participants can confirm transactions without a need for a central clearing authority. Steven went over a basic transaction and also showed some live coding examples.


Michael Knapp is our very own beekeeper within the faculty! Two hives were added to Solebury campus last spring. Michael explained how a hive works, how to extract the honey they produce, and the difference between a honey bee and a yellow jacket. He also discussed how the use of smoke helps prevent the bees from communicating with one another, which also helps keep them calm so they are less likely to sting. Some students were brave enough to get a closer look and even hold one of the honey frames covered in bees! 

Jamie Pfister and Cynthia Ststtner joined us from NOVA, Bucks County’s Comprehensive Victim Services Agency. They talked about how the organization was started, what makes healthy relationships, and forensic nursing. Students asked questions about the process of collecting DNA evidence and the different types of swabs done.

Ken Baron P'23 has been working as a statistician in the field of finance and investing for the last 30 years. During this presentation, AP Statistics students worked to figure out what makes candy taste good through data analysis and linear regression. Ken also talked about how statistics are used in the stock market, as well as various careers and fields that use statistics. 

Francis Collins

 is the president of the Primrose Creek Watershed Association. He spent the morning talking about the quarry and shared information about his role. The quarry adjacent to Solebury School would pump out 500,000 gallons of water per day when it was active. Today, it sits dormant. In partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the quarry owner, and Solebury, they determine the best management practices to fix the area. He gave students a video tour of the quarry and spoke about the new arboretum installation. One of the final shots focused on the electric pump used to get water out of the quarry. He talked about the directional path the water travels once pumped out. Francis shared charts of macroinvertebrate measurements used to check the pump, water temperature, and conductivity. This information can indicate when there is a problem in the water. He talked about the importance of educating the community to take care of the water and encouraged students to get involved. He shared a story about an incident upstream when someone dumped copper sulfate used to remove algae from a swimming pool, turning our creek blue and killing the frogs. 

Finally, Primrose Creek Watershed received a grant to build an arboretum last year. Francis shared plans to plant more arboretums along the creek to promote life in the creek. He pinpointed the areas and explained the importance of those locations. Ultimately, they plan to create a walkway through the arboretum from Hope Hall, our new dormitory.

Matisha Dorman is an astrochemist and current Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her presentation focused on molecules collected in space. Her thesis work is centered around astrochemistry, which she defined as a cross between astronomy and chemistry. She showed students pictures from the telescope to identify the location in space to gather molecules for her studies. Once molecules are collected, Matisha uses rotational spectroscopy equipment, which she also referred to as a Rotational Fingerprint. The machine captures the fingerprints of molecules. Students learned that molecules have their unique fingerprints, just as we do. When molecules pass through the machine, they are assigned spectroscopic constants, which are numbers to help define fingerprints more concisely. She presented a video to show molecules processed in the lab. When light from the machine is shined on the molecules, it creates movement, which she analyzes. Students were engaged and asked questions about the molecule collection process and how they put them on spectrometer slides.


Madeline David  is a climate scientist who joined us to talk about community solar energy. She shared her journey in environmental science, ultimately leading to climate and renewables. Madeline spoke about the benefits of renewable energy and how her company transforms its delivery to communities. She currently works for Summit Ridge Energy in Arlington, VA., which owns and operates solar projects in the Maine, Illinois, and Maryland markets. They have developed “solar farms” to allow people to subscribe to offsite energy. The company leases farmland on back acres to set up solar farms, which helps provide stable income to farmers, creates jobs in the community, reduces the carbon footprint, and allows more people to take advantage of the energy source. In addition, it eliminates the issue of older homes that may not be equipped to handle the installation and makes it more affordable. Students were engaged and asked lots of questions. Madeline talked about her day-to-day duties and responded to questions about the effect of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 on her work.

Matt Pignatore started in marketing but decided to pursue a career change a few years later. He went through a six-month full-stack coding boot camp and 14 months later, transitioned into full-time UI development. Matt Currently works for Hilton Hotels and discussed his role to translate creative software design concepts and ideas into reality using front-end technology. Students shared which areas of development they are most interested in pursuing a career in and he gave an overview of how to get into coding for those been thinking about it but haven't tried it. 

Lisa Rain is an environmentalist water quality specialist. She currently works for Duke Energy Company in Orlando, FL. Her work ranges from strategic and economic development to help tech and startup businesses and communities plan for future success, looking for sustainable energy sources, to immersing into the metaverse for training and research.

Lisa’s journey started in the direction of becoming a doctor—taking the sciences and graduating with a degree in biology and chemistry. She discovered that would not be her path after spending hours shadowing people and volunteering in that field. “Get internships and immerse yourself in seeing if that’s something you really want to do,” she offered students trying to decide on career choices. Lisa’s work at Duke Energy keeps her very engaged with the community. As part of the innovation and competitive side, she works with many external agencies, including counties, sectors, and the chamber of commerce, to develop ways the company can help the community. Another part of Lisa’s job involves looking at sustainable energy sources. She talked about cool new technology developed to use hydrogen to generate energy. Students were fascinated by the idea of getting energy out of water. She spoke about the process of pulling molecules out of the water and the difference between pink hydrogen and green hydrogen. “Hydrogen is a very clean way to generate energy,” explained Lisa.

One of the biggest highlights was the discussion about Lisa’s work in the metaverse. She talked about a cool project where they created the very first version of a twin city of Orlando in the metaverse. They can see, feel, touch, and experience Orlando using VR. The benefit is that they can project live data into the metaverse to predict things or create hurricane projections. Lisa also shared other benefits of using VR for training simulations. Students asked various questions about life experience in the metaverse, the likelihood of households adapting to the technology, and Disney’s presence in the Orlando twin. 

Matt Goddeeris figured out he wanted to be a scientist in 9th grade. Matt is the Vice President of Biology at Cellarity, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company applying machine learning to create novel therapeutics. Matt holds a doctorate in Cell and Developmental Biology from Duke University. He shared that his research has tackled many different areas in biology including mechanisms of aging, signals required for heart development, causes and treatments for muscular dystrophies, and how cells organize their local environment. When asked what he likes most about his job, he commented that he enjoys that it is always changing and he is constantly learning. He also shared that most experiments don’t work and that failure is 95% of the job. 

Randall Gellens ’77 first thought he would be an actor, then maybe a writer. When he started at the University of Delaware he happened to take a computer science course and found that it fit him really well. He was hired as a systems programmer at the University of Delaware while attending school, giving him full access to all of the school's data. He then went on to work for a company in DC working with classified and public information to analyze international political developments and helped to develop threat assessments for American assets. 

Randall also talked about his experience assisting with developing software that aids in locating individuals when they call 911. He has also assisted in developing software that sends crash data to dispatchers so that dispatchers have more information about the crash (the speed of the car, whether or not the passengers were wearing a seat belt, the deceleration rate, etc.) as they are dispatching ambulances, trauma helicopters, etc.

During assembly, Vince D’ Ambrosio of Castle & Associates spoke to the school about architecture and design. He is currently helping to build the new dorm and the wastewater treatment plant. Vince has a career in architectural engineering and construction management and outlined the exciting future of Solebury School in the next coming years. 


Melissa Carbonara is a physical therapist with a specialty in orthopedics. She gave an overview of the different types of therapy such as outpatient, acute care, inpatient rehab, and home care. She emphasized that empathy plays a big role in this career, and it is important for anyone considering pursuing this career path. Melissa explained some of the injuries she's seen in patients and discussed the classes needed for anyone interested in the career. 

Broadway Junction Subway Station

Phoebe Douglas and Ryland Brickner-McDonald from the Naik Consulting Group joined us to talk about civil engineering. They shared information about civil engineers' role in city planning for bridges, highways, tunnels, and many other development projects we may not realize. Phoebe discussed a project to relocate the interceptor sewer around a rail yard using a microtunneling process. Ryland described the process and played an animation of microtunneling to demonstrate the method used for deep sewers and pipeline installations. Other projects included work on the Broadway Junction subway station and the Delta Terminal at Laguardia Airport.

Bart Wolman is the CEO of EnRevo Pyro. The company uses a process to convert scrap tires and plastics to usable end products. Bart walked the students through the whole conversion process of waste tires and how this process was more efficient than the traditional disposal of scrap tires. He talked about the hazardous conditions created when tires are thrown on the side of the road or remain in landfill piles, trapping water, making it the ideal environment for vermin, rats, and mosquitoes. In addition, tires in traditional waste-to-energy facilities produce harmful pollutive emissions by burning them. Bart shared how his process heats the materials without introducing oxygen so that they avoid a fire that creates toxins. He talked about the airlock intermediary set of seals that controls the flow of materials into the chamber, which keeps the oxygen out.

Students asked about the processing time, volume to convert scrap tires, and plant efficiencies. They learned that the chamber could process 35 tons of tires per day. Half of the short-chain polymers heat the chamber, selling the excess short hydro-chain gasses to a cement kiln company. Their mission is to have zero-to-landfill deposits. Finally, when asked about sourcing waste tires, Bart talked about how they acquire scrap tires and shared images of the tire mountain repository in Colorado. The picture showed roughly 60-70 acres of waste tires.

Erik Vallow P’21 '26 works on various robotic applications at Apex, AI as a customer solution manager. He talked about some of the most recent projects he’s worked on including an autonomous-driving semi-truck. He shared images of what a computer/car sees when driving to know what to avoid and where to drive. Erik ended the presentation by discussing some of the majors that are related to robotics. 

Jan Mejia-Toro ’23 hosted a Differentiation Bee. The Differentiation Bee is like a spelling bee but with derivatives—a fundamental component of calculus. The derivative of a function at a point can actually be approximated using something all of our students learn in Algebra I—the slope of a secant line (aka the slope of a line between two points). 


Brian Perry is a civil and environmental engineer. Brian talked with a packed room of students about soils, hydrology, environmental consulting, and surveying. He walked students through some of the projects he has worked on and passed around samples of porous pavement. He explained how porous pavement provides mitigation for stormwater runoff. 

“I believe there will be a cure to cancer in my lifetime, or at least we will be able to manage it like a chronic disease,” shared Dr. Avinash Desai P’24 with students. The Chief Medical Officer at Actinium Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Desai has dedicated his professional life to making this dream a reality. During his presentation, students learned about the history of cancer treatment, the process of clinical drug trials, and the evolution of a cancer cell versus a healthy cell. Dr. Desai also explained the four main cancer categories (carcinoma, sarcoma, leukemia, and lymphoma) and treatments that are currently being used and those that are being developed. 

Max Hegedus is a civil engineer, with a focus on structures for 10 years, and a carpenter. He discussed his work on the Tappan Zee Bridge sharing that he helped build football field-sized sections at a time that would then be placed by crane. He showed the class some pictures and played a video about how to analyze trusses. Max also talked to students about the measurement smoot. He explained that a smoot is a unit of measurement that measures exactly 5 feet 7 inches after Oliver R. Smoot, a fraternity pledge to Lambda Chi Alpha, who in October 1958 laid down repeatedly on the Harvard Bridge so that his fraternity brothers could use his height to measure the length of the bridge. 

Dr. Mary van Vleet, affectionately called Dr. V.V. by her students, is an assistant professor at Spelman College. Her presentation focused on computational chemistry. She talked about the role of computer simulations and predictions and her work to make models better. Simulations are sometimes conducted when experiments are impossible, dangerous, or too time-consuming. Dr. V.V. talked about four areas of simulations, including weather forecasting, working with corrosive compounds or dangerous chemicals, drug design molecular simulations for faster results, and blind (structure and dynamics of water) simulations. Students watched a protein fold in a molecular simulation video she played for the class.

Dr. V.V. talked about the study of motion for small molecules and how she examines the effect on the water when other ions are added. She shared a diagram to discuss atoms and their interactions based on potential energy versus internuclear distance. She explained the Lennard-Jones potential model and the energies of interacting objects. “Sometimes models are oversimplified to predict what happens in real data,” Dr. V.V. said. She works to make these models better.

After graduating from Solebury, Chris O’Brian ’17 attended Cornell University where he received a bachelor's in computer science. He currently works as a professional software engineer at Lutron where he primarily works on embedded software design. He reflected on his time at Solebury sharing what some of his favorite classes were and looking back with fond memories of his time as a boarder. Chris also talked about the different types of programming languages and then answered questions from students about the transition from Solebury to college life. 

Every year, Solebury School comes together for a school-wide STEM event on the final day of STEM Week. This year's event was a scavenger hunt! Advisories worked together to answer STEM-related questions and based on the answer to the question, they knew where to go next. For example, find the sum of the atomic numbers of all the noble gases. Then prime factor that number. How many prime factors does it have? Call it z, and head to room Abbe-z. Great job everyone, and thanks to everyone who made this a fantastic STEM Week!