Taylor Hersh was busy visiting with one of her classmates when her parents walked into one of her classes last month, and the distraction kept her from noticing. It was a good thing, because it kept a big secret a little longer.
Taylor's parents, teachers, principal and some classmates at Fox Chapel High School were all part of a surprise announcement that Taylor was the statewide winner of the Igniting Creative Energy Challenge sponsored by Johnson Controls.
The 17-year-old junior was surprised when the announcement was made during her chemistry class last month, but she may have been even more surprised when she went to the front of the classroom and saw her mother and father, Marilyn and Jeff Hersh, standing in the back.
"I was speechless. I couldn't believe they were there and I hadn't even seen them come in," she said, "And I couldn't believe I had won."
One of Taylor's teachers, Holly Zulick, is a gifted support teacher at Fox Chapel and had discovered the contest. Pam Floriani is another QUEST (gifted support) teacher and the science facilitator who also encouraged Taylor.
"I found out about the contest at the Quest Office at my school. I read the information and it said you had to create a project to help save energy and protect the environment," Taylor said. "I liked how it was science focus and on a topic that I felt I could really address."
Taylor hopes to focus on a career in biomedical research and is concerned with environmental stewardship.
Students entering the challenge were directed to create a project under the categories of visual arts and music, science and technology, and language arts. "I enjoy writing, so I thought I would create a story," she said. "I decided to write it as a dream and look at America in the past, present and future."
Her work was titled "A Little Birdy Told Me."
Taylor's parents already knew of the award, as did her teacher, Annette Oros. "She told us that we had a guest speaker. When the speaker started talking about Johnson Controls and then the contest, I thought it was just her topic. Then when she said that someone in our class had won, I started thinking, 'Oh, maybe it is me,' but it happened so fast," said Taylor.
Taylor was presented with a $1,000 check for her school, a portable hybrid solar charger and a $25 Visa card. Her entire class received pens and a pizza party.
"Everyone was pretty excited about that," she laughed.
Johnson Controls Service account executive for building efficiency, Sarah Kurpe, and Johnson Controls branch manager for service and building efficiency, Patrick Sullivan, gave Taylor her prizes.
According to Mr. Sullivan, "Johnson Controls is a global leader and Fortune 500 company in automotive experience, building efficiency and power solutions. For buildings, it offers products and services that optimize energy use and improve comfort and security. In consideration of Taylor's essay, the company is promoting energy conservation through a North American educational competition that encourages students to learn more about energy and the environment."
Taylor is no stranger to contest success. She wrote her way into third place in the Rachel Carson Environmental Policy Essay Contest, sponsored by Chatham University in March, and received honorable mention for the Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research essay contest earlier this year.
"It is just fun," she said.
She also enjoys volunteer work with her friends. She recently volunteered at the Squaw Valley Trail Mix, a day of events at a local park, and the Animal Shelter's Mutt Strut on the North Shore.
As for the summer, "I hope to get a summer job and I am starting to look at colleges," she said.
Freelance writer Kathleen Ganster can be reached in care of firstname.lastname@example.org