Meet the Regeneron Scholars

Meet the Regeneron Scholars photo
Congratulations to Syosset High School seniors Justin Cohen and Monet Yuan, who have been named prizewinning scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competition. They are among 300 Regeneron STS scholars recognized nationwide and hope to be among 40 finalists named later this month.

Justin studied 9/11 first responders who were later exposed to Hurricane Sandy. Preexisting data obtained from a study group of anonymous World Trade Center responders both before and after Hurricane Sandy concluded that higher levels of hurricane exposure were associated with increased symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and distress following Sandy. Justin looked closely at their varying coping strategies, and he found that certain adaptive coping skills, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, resulted in lower distress symptoms and promoted resiliency. His research established coping skills as an important therapeutic target for individuals at risk for exposure to trauma, such as disaster responders.

Justin performed his research under the guidance of Dr. Adam Gonzalez at Stony Brook University’s Mind Body Clinical Research Center. Although he was only two years of age on September 11, 2001, Justin’s father was working in New York City at the time and was forced to evacuate. Growing up, Justin was fascinated by some of the different stories and accounts he has heard from that day. 

“I have always been drawn to studying the psychopathology of 9/11 responders who have experienced this traumatic event firsthand, so when I found out that I could work with someone in this area I was very thrilled and wanted to start immediately,” said Justin, who is strongly considering psychology or psychiatry as a future profession.

“I was very surprised and, of course, overjoyed to be fortunate enough to be picked by Regeneron.” 

Monet’s research isolated two cancer genes within the same family to see if there was any interaction between them and how this would affect and hopefully prevent cancer growth. She first tried eliminating each gene individually, which resulted in continued cancer cell growth. By eliminating both genes simultaneously, Monet confirmed a synthetically lethal relationship between the two types of genes, which caused the cancer cells to die off. To ensure her theory was consistent for varying cancer types, she conducted experiments through three different types of cancer cell lines: melanoma, colorectal and breast cancer. 

Monet said past experience volunteering at NYU Winthrop Hospital and later acceptance into a biomedical research program at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory helped to inspire her love for research. She conducted her research at Cold Spring Harbor under the guidance of Dr. Jason Sheltzer. 

“I like the process, but I also enjoy helping other people. I do this because it’s something I love, but it’s mostly for the outcome,” said Monet, who would like to attend medical school, with ambitions to work in either biology or neuroscience. “At first, I was in shock [at being named a Regeneron Scholar]. When I came home and unwound from the day, it really settled in. It was a very happy experience. I’m really grateful for this.” 

“I am very proud for Justin and Monet to be selected among the top 300 young scientists in the nation,” said Syosset High School science research coordinator Veronica Ade. “It is gratifying that our research students consistently meet this caliber of excellence, but more importantly, that they are doing what they love. We always encourage students to study areas that interest them, and for Justin and Monet this could lead to very successful careers paths in the future. I wish them all the best.”
As part of a lengthy online application, which includes providing a litany of academic grades, transcripts and letters of recommendations from teachers, Regeneron Scholars must submit a 20-page research paper and a lengthy essay supporting their work. How they present and explain their projects weighs heavily into the selection process.

“What is so compelling about these young scientists is the quality of their work combined with the importance of their discoveries. It shows the power of young minds to find great insights through hard work,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tom Rogers. “I am very proud of Justin and Monet. On behalf of the Board of Education and administration, I congratulate them and wish them continued success.” 
Alumni of the Regeneron competition (formerly sponsored by Intel and earlier Westinghouse) have made extraordinary contributions to science and hold more than 100 of the world’s most distinguished science and math honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science. As a result of their award-winning research, Justin and Monet will each receive $2,000 and the school will receive an additional $4,000, $2,000 for each winner.

The 40 finalists will be invited to Washington, D.C., in March, where they will display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists and compete for additional awards, including the top prize of $250,000. Good luck to Justin and Monet!

Pictured, from left, Dr. Rogers, business research teacher Diane Malley and Ms. Ade congratulate Monet and Justin along with social science research teacher Andrew Manzo and Syosset High School Principal Dr. Giovanni Durante.