Suburban Mosaic: 5 Illinois teens among top science talent in nation

Five Illinois teens are among 300 students from across the country selected as the most promising young scientists and named scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

The contest, organized by Regeneron and Society for Science, is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

This year’s five Illinois scholars are: Shaurya Agrawal of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire; Aditya Gupta of William Fremd High School in Palatine; Srikar Kovvuri of Stevenson High School; Anthony Zhu of Barrington Community High School; and Nikita Agrawal of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago.

Nikita Agrawal’s project is: “A novel approach for predicting large wildfires using machine learning towards environmental justice via environmental remote sensing and atmospheric reanalysis data across the United States.”

Shaurya Agrawal’s project is: “Combinatorial optimization and machine learning to predict optimal cell-state conversion paths.”

Aditya Gupta of William Fremd High School Courtesy of Regeneron and Society for Science

Gupta’s project is: “Agri-GNN: A novel genotypic-topological graph neural network framework built on GraphSAGE for optimized yield prediction.”

Srikar Kovvuri of Stevenson High School Courtesy of Regeneron and Society for Science

Kovvuri’s project is: “Multifaceted wildfire-induced risk assessment for electric power grid: An analytical approach with implications for resilient infrastructure.”

And Zhu’s project is: “Detection of COVID-19 through a heptanal biomarker using transition metal doped graphene.”

Scholars were selected from 2,162 entrants who attend 712 high schools across 46 states, Puerto Rico and 10 other countries. They were chosen based on their outstanding research, leadership skills, community involvement, commitment to academics, creativity in asking scientific questions, and demonstration of exceptional promise as leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through original, independent research projects, essays, and recommendations.

“I am truly impressed by the quality of the projects and the ingenuity that each student brings to the competition,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science and executive publisher of Science News. “Their diligence, passion, and perseverance should be celebrated.”

This year, research projects cover a range of topics, including artificial intelligence/machine learning assistance and detection, climate change, prevention for wildfires, floods, drug discovery, and teen mental health, anxiety, and suicide.

Each scholar receives a $2,000 award, with an additional $2,000 going to their respective schools. The 40 finalists chosen to compete in March will be announced Jan. 24.

The finalists will then compete for more than $1.8 million in awards during a week-long competition, March 6-13 in Washington, D.C.

Report: Children of color lagging

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released its latest Race for Results report revealing progress in some areas but persistent disparities for children of color in the United States.

In Illinois, outcomes for Black children are below national averages. The report weighs incremental progress in certain indicators of child well-being against a backdrop of persistent disparities hindering Black, Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native children.

These communities suffered the most from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also benefited the most from the temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which included cash payments to families for six months in 2021. The expanded tax credit lifted 2.1 million children out of poverty, and child poverty went from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021 — the lowest rate on record, according to the Census Bureau.

The tax credit lapsed in 2022, resulting in a soaring poverty rate exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

The Race for Results report contends young people are missing critical developmental milestones due to lack of investment in programs and services that support children, especially in under-resourced communities and communities of color. It recommends more states create and strengthen their own child tax credits and earned income tax credits.

To view the full report, visit

Measuring school readiness

EduDream Research Consulting Firm is partnering with Illinois Action for Children to provide funding for capacity building among local communities over the next five years toward fostering readiness in young children and families.

The first community EduDream is working with is the Elgin Partnership for Early Learning.

“Our community is at the forefront of facilitating collaborative action, and we take pride in being selected for such an exciting opportunity to work collectively for best outcomes for young families,” said Amber Peters, EPEL executive director.

The group brings together diverse stakeholders from various sectors to promote equitable outcomes for children and families. These collaborations involve identifying root causes, strategizing solutions, and addressing community needs for early childhood education, particularly among under-served groups.

EPEL works to enhance the impact of local initiatives that foster readiness of children for school and life in the greater Elgin communities within Elgin Area School District U-46’s footprint. It helps integrate expertise and resources from more than 120 partners.


Aurora’s 39th annual ceremony celebrating the 95th birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Calvary Church, 9S200 Route 59.

This year’s theme is “What Happens to a Dream Determined?”

Tyler Lepley Courtesy of city of Aurora

The ceremony honors King’s life and legacy with youth performances, community awards, and guest speakers — 17-year-old doctoral graduate Dorothy Jean Tillman and award-winning actor Tyler Lepley.

Dorothy Jean Tillman Courtesy of city of Aurora

Tillman earned her bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College at age 12 and a master’s degree from Unity College in Maine at 14. She completed her Ph.D. in integrated behavioral health from Arizona State University. She also is the founder and CEO of the Dorothyjeanius STEAM Leadership Institute in Chicago.

Lepley is best known for his roles on Tyler Perry’s “The Have and the Have Nots” on the Oprah Winfrey Network and in “Harlem” on Amazon Prime.

Other speakers include Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, Indian Consul General Somnath Ghosh, and Aurora University President Susana Rivera-Mills.

The ceremony is free and open to the public. Tickets are available at

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