Trio of Eagle Scouts among finalists in prestigious high school STEM competition

From left: Eagle Scouts James Licato of Virginia, Jason Zhang of Kentucky and Michael Pavelchek of New York.

One designed an innovative filter that removes harmful micropollutants from water. Another used his own struggle with allergies to research long-term treatments for allergic diseases. A third discovered a process for creating pharmaceuticals without the need for toxic metals or polluting reagents.

While their scientific discoveries are wonderfully diverse, these three high school seniors share one thing in common: They’re all Eagle Scouts.

This month, we learned that these three Eagle Scouts are among the 40 finalists in the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search, a nationwide competition that awards cash prizes to high school seniors who have the potential to change the world.

The three Eagle Scouts are James Licato of Virginia, Michael Pavelchek of New York and Jason Zhang of Kentucky.

You’ll meet them below. In their stories, you’ll find the latest example that Scouting and academics can do more than merely coexist. When families make time for both, they see just how powerful the combination can be.

What is the Regeneron Science Talent Search?

Put on by the Society for Science, the Regeneron Science Talent Search helps inspire and engage the next generation of scientific leaders.

The society bills the competition as the nation’s oldest. It was started in 1942 as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

Alumni have won the Nobel Prize, founded major companies and invented groundbreaking medical treatments.

This isn’t the first time Scouts have been among the finalists. We previously blogged about Samuel Ferguson, an Eagle Scout from West Windsor, N.J., who received an $80,000 prize for finishing in sixth place in 2019.

How competitive is it, and what do the finalists earn?

Eagle Scouts James, Michael and Jason were selected as three of the 40 finalists from a pool of 1,760 applicants.

If being among the 2.3% of applicants selected as finalists isn’t impressive enough, just read the project titles in each Eagle Scout’s bio below. It’s not every day you see words and phrases like “perfluorinated” or “high-affinity IgE” or “cyclopropanation.”

Each finalist receives at least $25,000.

If the Eagle Scouts are selected to be in the top 10, announced during a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, they could earn even more. The top 10 awards range from $40,000 to $250,000.

James Licato in his Scout uniform (Photo by Anne Licato)

Meet Eagle Scout James Licato

Age: 17

Hometown: Arlington, Va.

School: Washington-Liberty High School in Virginia

Scout unit: Troop 648, National Capital Area Council

Project title: “Development of a Zeolite Composite Material for the Simultaneous Removal of Pharmaceuticals, Personal Care Products (PPCPs), and Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) in Water Treatment”

How Scouting helped: “Scouting fostered my passion for the outdoors and taught me many things about communicating effectively. It offered me a chance at my first leadership role as the senior patrol leader of my troop, teaching me skills of organization and planning that were crucial to both completing and communicating my research.”

Favorite Scouting memory: “Having the opportunity to hike alongside crystal-clear streams at Philmont or snorkel with barracuda at Sea Base really opened my eyes to the wildlife and ecosystems that we could lose if we do not protect them.”

Making time to do it all: “I found the time because I enjoyed everything that I was doing. Of course, it was only through the constant support of my teachers, family, friends and fellow Scouts that I was able to complete my project while doing so many other things. They were all incredibly understanding and accommodating, especially when I had to miss school to conduct experiments in the lab.”

Learning he was a finalist: “I was out on a preseason run for track when I got the call. It took me a minute to catch my breath and a few more minutes for it to really register that I was a finalist.”

Michael Pavelchek with the bridge he built for his Eagle project (Photo by Michael John Pavelchek Sr.)

Meet Eagle Scout Michael Pavelchek

Age: 18

Hometown: Ossining, N.Y.

School: Ossining High School in New York

Scout unit: Troop 18, Greater Hudson Valley Council

Project title: “Swap70 and Myc Promote Sequential Switching to High Affinity IgE in Allergic Asthma”

How Scouting helped: “I think this independence and creativity you get from Scouting is really helpful in conducting any kind of scientific research. Science, mathematics and engineering are all rooted in fact, and being able to look outside of what we already know to try and think of some new angle is key.”

Favorite Scouting memory: “Okpik at Northern Tier. Spending a week during the winter in February in minus-30 weather, getting to do activities such as cross-country skiing and ice fishing, was just incredible.”

Making time to do it all: “As long as you enjoy what it is you’re doing — which for me is Scouting, my engineering club, science research and sailing — you didn’t mind spending long hours into the night to do everything. I definitely made sure not to do more than I could take on and always had to keep a schedule to keep times organized.”

Learning he was a finalist: “I was actually watching a movie for my film class and couldn’t get to the phone, so when I made it over there a few minutes later, I had this number that said from Washington, D.C. I quickly Googled the number to see who it might be and saw it was listed as Regeneron STS, which basically made me panic. I was really in shock for the next few hours that I had been selected.”

Jason Zhang at his Eagle court of honor (Photo by Rui Zhang)

Meet Eagle Scout Jason Zhang

Age: 17

Hometown: Bowling Green, Ky.

School: The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky

Scout unit: Troop 710, Lincoln Heritage Council

Project title: “The Photocatalytic Single-Electron Oxidative Cyclopropanation of Ene-Ynamides with 2, 6-Lutidine N-Oxide: Synthesis of Bicyclic Amides”

How Scouting helped: “I actually got interested in chemistry after getting my Chemistry merit badge at the 2017 National Jamboree. I watched a staff member demonstrate the iron nail and copper sulfate experiment, and it was cool seeing the color change. This inspired me to learn chemistry at school.”

Favorite Scouting memory: “Going on campouts and hiking in the beautiful woods with my troop. One of my favorite places to hike is Mammoth Cave National Park.”

Making time to do it all: “Scouting taught me how to manage my time wisely. Outside of Scouting and research, I am the co-president of the math club and the biology club, I play the clarinet in my school band, and I participate in the Science Bowl. I love these activities and set aside time for them.”

Learning he was a finalist: “I was totally shocked. I felt grateful to all those who helped and inspired me with my project, including my mentor Dr. Deng and my teacher Mrs. Cheryl Kirby-Stokes.”

Learn more

Find additional info about these three Eagle Scouts — and the 37 other finalists — at the official site of the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

About Bryan Wendell 3114 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.