Homer student places second in Caring for Kenai

A Homer High School student has won second place and $1,100 in the 25th annual Caring for the Kenai environmental competition for his volcano eruption preparedness kit.

“The road to development is always rough, but I plan to take my idea to the fullest level of implementation so when the next eruption occurs we’ll be better prepared,” said Daniel Wiest.

Placing first in the competition was Keira Stroh of Kenai Central High School for her Scannin’ Salmon App. Her smartphone app idea with the ability to identify salmon species by simply taking their picture and matching it to an online data base won her top CFK honors and a $1,600 cash prize. 

Stroh, the younger sister of two time CFK finalist Courtney Stroh, said her sister’s success motivated her to create the app.

“I knew it would take a lot of effort because Courtney had a great idea, really worked hard and never actually took first place so that motivated me to do better and work even harder and I’m so happy to have won,” said Keira. 

The CFK competition challenges high school students to respond to the question “What can I do, invent or create to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster?”

In third place and claiming a $900 prize was Shania Johnson of Cook Inlet Academy, who is creating a “Bear Aware” app for smartphones to report and learn of recent bear sightings in public areas. 

She said her project will help prevent bear encounters as well as killings of bears in defense of life or property by allowing people to know where bears are and how to avoid them.

Taking fourth place honors and $750 was Kasey Paxton of KCHS who developed a filtration system for skimming oil sheen from storm drains and road runoff. Coming in fifth and winning $650 from Ninilchik was Jacob Roberts with his creative rain gutter garden project. Winning $550 and in sixth place was Lisa Krol of KCHS who engineered an emergency electronic charging device for cell phones. 

In addition to the $8,000 in cash awards for the finalists this year, $25,000 will be awarded to the science departments of schools that participated this year, thanks to the CFK signature sponsor Tesoro Alaska and community partners Kenai River Raven Lodge, Hilcorp Energy, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, ConocoPhillips and ASRC Energy Services.  

High schools using CFK as part of state standards curriculum were Homer, Ninilchik, Voznesenka, Nikiski, KCHS, Soldotna, Seward and Cook Inlet Academy. Each school receives $750 for their participation and the remainder of the $25,000 will be allocated proportionately to how the students placed in the CFK competition. Additionally, 20 students received special recognition awards from local businesses and individuals. 

Other finalists that earned $400 each for making it to the final 12 out of more than 400 entries were: 

• Leah Johnson of KCHS with her Horse Trail Maintenance Club:

• Madison Akers of Homer with her plan for battling invasive plant species;

• Kelina Polushkin and Ustina Chernishoff  of Voznesenka who are spreading the word about the polluting effects of copper in brakes and where to find alternatives;

• Matthew Bartolowits of Ninilchik, who wants to replace studded tires with walnut composition tires that have better traction and don’t harm asphalt. 

•  Maddy Carey and Bre DeLon from CIA, who want to create a “Minuteman” data base to connect high school students with organizations that need volunteers to do community service; and

• Robert McGinnis of Ninilchik, who plans to build a mobile recycling trailer to take to large community events this summer to make recycling easier. 

On Saturday, finalists and their guests will attend the CFK V.I.P awards banquet hosted in their honor by Tesoro at the new Fireweed Fellowship hall in Soldotna. 

This year’s oral presentation judges included Paul Ostrander, chief of staff for Borough Mayor Mike Navarre; Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek; Cameron Hunt, Tesoro plant manager; Melanie Hollon, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation health officer; Matt Connor, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge visitor services manager, Denise Newbould, of the environmental consulting firm ERM Alaska; Dr. Paula Martin, assistant director of Kenai Peninsula College; and last year’s second place CFK winner Krysten Maxson. 

Caring for the Kenai is administered as part of the Kenai Watershed Forum’s education program. More than 400 students entered the competition this year.