'No way!' –– Kennedy High senior is Intel finalist


Kennedy High School senior Rachel Mashal screamed into the phone when the panel of renowned scientists at the Society for Science & the Public called on Jan. 19.

“No way!” she hollered.

“This is real. This is actually happening, Rachel,” a voice on the other end of the phone responded.

That was the day the society informed her that she was selected as one of 40 finalists from across the country in the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious high school science contest. Thousands of student scientists enter the competition each year. Three hundred are named semifinalists, and from that pool, the final 40 are selected.

Mashal, 18, of Merrick, is the second Kennedy senior to be named a finalist in the past two years, following the 2015 honoree, Samuel Epstein. Both were advised by Barbi Frank, an Advanced Placement biology teacher. Only a handful of high schools have had back-to-back finalists. This year on Long Island, the other is Jericho High School.

Mashal is Kennedy’s first female Intel finalist. In addition to her and Epstein, the other two were Michael Wagner in 2002 and Adam Solomon in 2006.

As a finalist, Mashal wins an all-expenses-paid trip from March 10 to 16 to Washington, D.C., where she will present the findings of her senior research project on fruit flies, and her work will be judged by a panel of several of the world’s top scientists. Frank will accompany her to Washington.

Mashal already won a $1,000 scholarship as a semifinalist. As a finalist, the least that she can expect to win is a $7,500 scholarship. There are three top prizes of $150,000 each, three second-place prizes of $75,000 and three third-place prizes of $35,000.

Mashal was at home on Jan. 19 doing — what else? — her homework when her cell phone rang. She kept her phone nearby, hoping the Society for Science & the Public might call, but not really imagining that it would, she said. When the 202 area code for Washington popped on her caller ID, she said, “I freaked out … When I was a semifinalist, I cried. When this happened, I was in total shock.”

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