A trio of Black students from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Northwest await the announcement, along with seven other teams from across the U.S., remaining optimistic that they will emerge from a talented cadre of finalists vying for an annually-sponsored NASA competition that includes a prize of $4,000 to the winners.
What’s more, the team that secured a place among an elite group of finalists based on their water filtration project, has the rare caveat of being comprised of three young women: Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff. Their filtration project, designed to clean lead out of water used in DC public schools, employs technology provided by NASA. The girls created the project with guidance from the Inclusive Innovation Incubator (In3) located in the District’s Ward 2 (Howard/Shaw) community.
Soon after they received the good news in April that they had made it to the round of finalists, the three Banneker students suddenly found themselves forced to confront a situation beyond their control that had the potential to upend their hopes for success.
After a process inviting the public to vote for their favorite team became open to interested U.S. citizens, the Banneker trio began to be victimized by outside forces who blasted the three African-American girls with negative, racial-biased comments. The voting site, they learned, had been hacked by a group known as 4chan that wanted to interfere with the final tally of votes in efforts to keep the team of Black students out of serious contention.
Once discovered, NASA shut down the online voting process by suspending the site. Media outlets throughout the U.S., South Africa and Britain began to conduct their own investigations into the hacking scandal.
NASA then announced that the winning team would be determined using NASA rubrics that only recognize totals gleaned by the voting public prior to the web being hacked.
An announcement of the winning team will be made in the coming days, according to NASA officials.
However, even with the hubbub that has emerged making national headlines, the S3 Trio has remained calm and focused.
“It’s important to be role models for a younger generation who want to be in the STEM field but don’t think they can,” Mikayla said.
The three girls, all members of their high school’s varsity cheerleaders team, say they’re only concerned with keeping their “eyes on the prize,” maintaining an uninterrupted focus on their education and future careers. India plans to become a pediatric surgeon while her other teammates, Mikayla and Bria, have their sights set on becoming a biomedical engineer and an anesthesiologist, respectively.
Several positives have resulted from what once appeared to be unsurmountable odds. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has committed $4,000 to help S3 Trio continue their research.
A GoFundMe campaign has been created to raise money for the girls when they’re ready to matriculate in college. So far, the campaign has raised nearly 25,000 with a goal of $30,000.
In addition, the celebrated television producer Shonda Rhimes has donated $14,500 to the campaign.
“Through their brilliance and passion, Mikayla, India and Bria are bringing our vision for In3 to life and making our city proud,” Bowser said. “They are just the type of people and scientists our world needs more of and we are proud to support their dreams.”