LOS LUNAS—School of Dreams Academy student Gianna Nilvo’s research might one day make it possible to give cats a longer life span, which is why she won first place at the 2019 National FFA Agriscience Fair in the animal systems category for individual projects.

Nilvo’s project centered around the question of if veterinary prescribed digestive enzymes helps a cat’s digestion and, in turn, give a cat a longer, healthier life.

Her inspiration came from her own cats’ struggles with digestive issues.

Prior to this, Nilvo has never attended the FFA Agriscience Fair. She said the judges will give students a ribbon if they made it in the top three but not give any placements until the following day.

The placing event was being televised on the Rural Free Delivery channel and took place at Lucas Oil Stadium on a large stage.

“It’s nerve wracking. I felt like I was going to pass out at first. Then, all of a sudden, I hear ‘first place, Gianna Nilvo,’ and I was in shock.” Nilvo said.

She also made it to the top 30 finalists in the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS, a prestigious national STEM competition for middle school students.

Competing in the top 30 grants the finalists a $500 cash award and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., which happened the week of Oct. 25.

Nilvo said both experiences were very different but very good. FFA Agriscience Fair focused on the projects and how the students presented them to the panel of judges and to the public.

At Broadcom, the projects only accounted for a small portion of their scores.

The 30 students were broken up into teams of five and were judged on how they collaborated with the other members of their team to perform the tasks given to them.

Tasks included coding, building a remotely operated vehicle, collecting samples of sediment and finding efficient ways to carry insulin via drone.

“We had to find our weaknesses and strengths within each other as a team and we didn’t know these individuals before,” Nilvo said.

“After meeting them, you just feel at home because they’re other students who love science and they understand the shared passion.”

Nilvo said there was a judge present at all times during events, including meal breaks to observe how the students communicated and worked together as a team.

Gianna Nilvo had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., for the Broadcom MASTERS competition. She was one of 30 finalists chosen from across the country to participate in the program.

“It was more of a learning experience,” her mother, Jennifer, said. “They want the kids to know what it’s realistically like to be a scientist in the real world.”

Nilvo and her mother now also have minor planets named after them.

“I guess some students were awarded planets. Now if something happens to our planet, we can all move over to planet Gianna,” said the SODA ninth-grader with a chuckle.

Teachers of the chosen students were also awarded planets.

“I got a planet, too, because of her,” Jennifer said. “Lincoln Laboratories do this project and they had some planets that were unnamed, so they decided to name the planets after some of the students at Broadcom.”

While in the nation’s capital, Nilvo had the chance to visit the U.S. Capitol and meet Rep. Xochitl Torres Small along with another surprising public figure.

“While we were waiting to visit with a representative, in walks Ted Danson,” Nilvo said. “He was so nice and was talking to us about how his dad was a scientist. We had a nice conversation and it’s the biggest take away for me.”

Nilvo said students also got to meet and network with Nobel laureates.

“We got to meet them and ask any questions we had. A lot of them said their discoveries have mostly been on accident,” Nilvo said. “It was really neat because they gave us contact information for potential mentorship.”

The community built with the students with similar interests was what struck Nilvo the most from her experience with Broadcom.

“I was sad to leave; I felt at home there,” Nilvo said. “I’ll always remember those kind and intelligent students, and the feeling of fitting in right away with people who had shared interests.”

Nilvo encourages other students to pursue their curiosities and find solutions.

“If there’s a problem in your community or in your life that you’re looking to solve, ask questions, test it and find mentors. You can find one question that you ask and turn it into a huge project that can change your life,” Nilvo said.

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Anna Padilla, News-Bulletin Staff Writer