Madeline M. Joseph, M.D., has always had a thing for science fairs.
Joseph, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville, is a longtime judge for the Northeast Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
She’d step back from the judges table only when her children were competing, but would still volunteer during the event and pitch in where needed.
Last summer, Joseph judged an international science fair in Los Angeles and saw the top prize of $75,000 go to a team of students working on a health and medicine project.
Knowing that, in Northeast Florida, the health and medicine category isn’t among the most popular, Joseph went to senior leadership to try to get UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville involved.
The college jumped on board and this year sponsored the Best Project in Health and Medicine Award and gave a cash prize to the winner.
"I think it sends a strong message to the community that we are supportive of research in medicine and we want to help those projects succeed," Joseph said.
Mohan Ravi, a junior at Stanton College Preparatory High School, won the inaugural UF award for a project that tested whether increasing a specific protein would be beneficial in treating multiple sclerosis. The experiment was done using fish tissue. Ravi had also been working on various projects at the UF Center for Simulation Education and Safety Research.
Ravi volunteers at a nursing home and, after seeing so many patients with MS, he chose to direct his research toward that disease.
Ravi said he’s grateful for the opportunity to ask questions of UF faculty and the support he’s received at the simulation center. Ravi, 16, hopes to patent the treatment he’s working on and said the UF honor helps show him he’s moving in the right direction.
"For me, having a medical school look at this as a viable option means a lot to me," Ravi said. "I think a lot of students will be more involved with UF itself because of this award."
Joseph said she thinks having the UF name attached to the health and medicine award will increase the number of participants in that category. This year there were nine. In coming years, she’s hoping to expand UF’s role – and bring some her colleagues out to join the panel of judges.
More than 400 students compete in the regional fair every year and, to get there, they have to advance from the competition in their own school, Joseph said.
The science and engineering fair is open to all students in the sixth to twelfth grades in Duval and Nassau counties. This year, 25 schools – both public and private — sent students to the regional competition.
Students with medical projects, including Ravi, were on campus this month to present their findings during Advances in Medical Education 2012.
"You would be amazed at the level of these projects from high school students," Joseph said. "These are the students that are likely to go on to a career in medicine and, as the UF College of Medicine, it is important that we support them."
Ravi is already researching medical schools, weighing their specialties, teaching practices and other attributes. His top choice right now? UF.
Associate Dean for Healthcare Excellence and Organizational Enrichment; Chief, Division of Pediatric Bariatrics