Distinctly SJND

Not Just In a Lab: Maya Gilliam, '23, Shows Science Is for Everyone

Not Just In a Lab: Maya Gilliam, '23, Shows Science Is for Everyone
Jun 10 2021

Maya Gilliam, SJND ‘23, joked, laughingly, that she enrolled in the biomed program to get out of second-semester physical education. But jests aside, she’s in it for the long haul. The program is available to SJND students who enroll in honors biology their first year, and is a commitment they keep until they graduate. 

Zoey Adam, an SJND science teacher who teaches AP Environmental Science, Biomedical Innovations, and Medical Interventions, also serves as the mentor for the project. She said that the students undergo a transformation from uncertain 10th graders to confident researchers.

Maya Gilliam

Maya with family members.

“It was really, really challenging for them,” she said. “Especially the part where it's like, ‘wait, I have to come up with something that other people haven't done.’ But it was definitely really cool to see some really out of the box thinking.” 

In past years, students have prepared projects to present at the Alameda County Science Fair. This year, faculty decided to keep the projects in-house, allowing for more control and projects that could have a biomedical focus. 

“This year, the project was basically students got to choose whether they wanted to do research into a disease or disorder, or research into pharmaceuticals and drugs and medicine,” Zoey said.

Maya Gilliam FriendMaya on a pandemic walk with a friend.

Maya, through a series of mishaps with paperwork, ended up researching Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). Her original choice was Alzheimer’s, and as LBD is a similar condition, her interest was piqued. 

“I ended up choosing Lewy Body Dementia because I thought it was the closest to Alzheimer's in terms of the symptoms,” Maya said. “But, it also had the least amount of research done about it because it's a pretty new disease, and they haven't specified research towards treating it. I thought it would be really interesting to try and find new treatments for the disease.”

Because it is relatively new and research relatively lacking, challenges arose, but were overcome with persistence on Maya’s part. 

Maya Gilliam Pandemic Piggies - Two Guinea Pigs

Maya's "pandemic piggies."

“It was really difficult to find a new, possibly useful treatment because most of the treatments that have already been proved useful were being used to treat it,” she said. “We can't use our existing treatment to treat the disease. So that was difficult. But I did a lot of web digging. And finally, this website popped up with [another possible treatment].”

Although at first the project seemed overwhelming (students create comprehensive online posters and webpages to present their findings), the experience as a whole was a rewarding confidence boost. 

“I always thought that scientific research had to be done in a lab, that specific people could do it, or only really special people were able to do it,” Maya reflected. “And you had to go through a lot of training. That's true for high level research. I think it was really interesting for me to see how a bunch of 10th graders could research something and present a really professional looking presentation on it. It just shows how anyone can do something like this.”

Maya Gilliam with her dad.

Maya with her dad at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Zoey affirmed that the students came out of the project with more confidence and the ability to present their research with authority. Fellow classmates, SJND board members, alumni, parents, and even local scientists attended the presentations. 

“They're so much more confident; they know what they're talking about,” Zoey said. “At the presentations, people were asking them some pretty challenging questions, and they were so able to nail the answers.” 

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