CUSD grad wins Herndon science award
COMPTON—The Compton Unified School District graduate Gema Rodriguez capped off an outstanding academic career at Compton High School, receiving her diploma and the top research paper award at the Robert H. Herndon Science Competition on Thursday, June 7.
Herndon, an engineer with The Aerospace Corporation from 1961 until 1976, performed aerospace systems studies for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The award honors his outstanding and significant science, humanitarian and engineering accomplishments.
“This is the fourth straight research paper award for CHS,” teacher and engineer Jack Moses said. “She received a plaque, medal and $600 Visa gift card for her paper.”
Rodriguez defeated participants from an impressive list of schools, Moses said, which included Bert Lynn, Crozier, Dana, Monroe, and Robert Peary Middle Schools, and Da Vinci, Mira Costa, Morningside, West, Palos Verdes, and Sun Valley High Schools.
The award-winning paper, inspired by her father, focused on water conservation.
“He always tells us that we will end up with no water someday,” Rodriguez said. “He gets on everybody in the house.”
Drinking water, she said, is a neglected commodity. “We deplete our resources,” Rodriguez said. “Society can increase its fresh water supply through desalination, but I took a more conservative approach and introduced grey water into the equation.”
Grey water supports vegetation even though it is not drinkable.
“We already have a pipe that recycles water back into the ocean,” Rodriguez said. “The same principle applies for grey water. It needs its own source, separate from drinking water.”
Conservation at home also plays a significant factor in water conservation.
“Cutting down on shower time is an important tip,” Rodriguez said. “There can be additional savings by watering the lawn in the evening or morning, instead of midday when it is hot.”
The biggest violators in her house, she said, are her sisters.
“They take 30-minute showers,” Rodriguez said. “I tell them to turn off the water, and they give me a hard time.”
CHS chemistry teacher Dana Lebental offered valuable guidance that changed the paper’s direction.
“My paper originally focused on creating more water through desalination,” Rodriguez said. “She told me to focus on the water we already have, and it was a better paper.”
The victory, Moses said, came via word of mouth.
“They had the competition the same day as graduation,” he said. “She was already on the bus heading to the Home Depot Center.”
The news left her elated.
“Lebental told me and it was amazing,” Rodriguez said. “My parents did not find out until we got home a few hours later.”
She caught the science bug in fifth grade.
“I joined MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) the same year,” Rodriguez said. “My science teacher did labs, and I enjoyed it more than just reading.”
She will attend the University of California at Merced this fall.
“I will major in biological sciences,” Rodriguez said. “It is my favorite subject.”
She will pursue her education until she becomes a physician.
“I want to be a neurologist,” Rodriguez said. “The brain is fascinating to me.”
She said she welcomes the 12-year academic journey.
“I learned resiliency from my parents, and it inspires me,” Rodriguez said. “We have eight kids in my family and my parents want the best for all of us.”
The gift award, she said, will be spent on college textbooks.
“My friends were all excited and wanted to go out for lunch,” Rodriguez said. “I told them no, that money is for school.”
Rodriguez planned on earning extra cash with a part-time job during the summer, but opted to stay home and assist her mother, Antonia Rodriguez, who is a student at California State University Dominguez Hills.
“My mom is going to be a teacher,” she said. “She plans on applying for a job with the CUSD after graduating.”
The two formed a study coalition and helped each other.
“She is taking a trigonometry class I had during high school,” Rodriguez said. “We help each other out when something difficult comes up during homework.”
Moses describes her as extremely smart.
“She told me about her medical school aspirations during sophomore year,” he said. “To me, her dedication is truly remarkable.”
Moses said if he were a betting man, he would put his money on Rodriguez.