Gov. Ralph Northam with 2018 STEM Awards Recipients (courtesy photo)

Governor Ralph Northam, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and Science Museum of Virginia Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti presented the 2018 Outstanding STEM Awards on March 1. Six individuals were recognized for their scientific contributions which help strengthen Virginia’s position as a leader in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Five award winners were in attendance to accept their honor in-person at the 33rd annual event held at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. More than 165 guests celebrated with the governor and award winners.

Alexandrians Jack Ross won the STEM Catalyst Award and Ana Humphrey won the STEM Phenom Award.

Jack Ross, 2018 Stem Catalyst Award recipient, with Gov. Northam and Richard Conti, Science Museum of Virginia (courtesy photo)

Jack Ross

Inspired by the launch of the iPhone, Ross began programming smart phone apps at age 15. A year later, his apps had received more than half a million downloads and generated enough revenue to allow him to attend the University of Virginia. While at UVA, Ross worked at digital agency WillowTree developing enterprise software. Ross graduated with honors in May 2017 with a degree in computer engineering and quickly founded Beanstalk, Inc. with his brother Michael.

Beanstalk is a technology company that focuses on agricultural innovations with a goal of creating a sustainable abundance of food. Through Beanstalk, Ross is currently prototyping a fully automated vertical indoor farm in California capable of growing pesticide-free, non-GMO vegetables in high quantities while conserving energy and water. The startup plans to open a production facility in Virginia in late 2018. Ross’s work to decrease energy waste while at the same time creating nutritious food options for generations to come led to his selection as the 2018 STEM Catalyst award recipient.

Ana Humphrey, T.C. Williams junior, recipient of 2018 STEM Phenom award (courtesy photo)

Ana Humphrey
Humphrey, a 17-year-old junior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, exemplifies STEM practices in a number of her endeavors. In 2014 Humphrey created Watershed Warriors, which was originally a club and grew into a stand-alone nonprofit in late 2017. The organization pairs high school students with fifth graders to promote environmental awareness through hands-on wetland gardening. Since it began, the restoration and educational initiative has engaged more than 475 students from mostly low-income and minority communities in Northern Virginia.

Humphrey also designed and coded a computer application that can identify colonies of E. coli bacteria in a water sample test. The inexpensive, simple and accurate app counts and classifies colonies of E. Coli in the sample, a task usually done by hand. When used in the field, Humphrey’s program can help provide citizen scientists, water quality groups and government entities an easier and more consistent method for monitoring waterborne E. coli. 

Humphrey was selected as a 2018 Outstanding STEM Award recipient for increasing student interest in STEM fields at a young age and encouraging youth to take action by getting involved in their communities. In addition to being named a Virginia STEM Phenom, she has received several other prizes and awards including recognition at national science fairs for her multi-year astronomy research project focusing on exoplanets.