The students at the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls heard their assistant principal’s voice over the intercom system Monday morning. “I have a very important announcement to make,” Tzipora Meier said. Looking at the concerned faces of people in her office, she knew what was on their mind — the violence in Israel.
“This is good news,” Meier quickly said, to allay the students’ fears. “Then I stopped for a second.” Dramatic pause. “Shira and Dora Chana are the national winners of the Siemens Westinghouse competition. They won. Mazel Tov.”
Everyone knew that Shira Billet and Dora Chana Sosnowik, seniors at the school in Hewlett Bay Park, L.I., and the first Orthodox entrants ever to reach the national finals, had spent the weekend in Washington, as finalists in the team category of the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition. Everyone knew their classmates had won the regional finals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in October when the organizers adjusted the schedule to accommodate the girls’ Shabbat observance.
But no one knew how they had done in D.C. until Principal Helen Spirn called Meier on her cell phone and Meier conveyed the message.
The next thing she heard was “screaming … throughout the building.”
“This was in the middle of classes,” Meier says. “It was electric.”
“I think it’s incredible,” Spirn says.
Billet and Sosnowik, longtime friends who worked together on their project that measures the viscosity of polymer films, will share a $100,000 scholarship. The project has practical applications in producing prosthetics and computer disc drives.
“My first reaction was I wish I was No. 2 so we didn’t get all this attention,” Shira says. “We don’t like being in the spotlight.”
“It’s good to know you can really work hard on something and it pays off,” says Dora Chana.
They were accompanied to Washington last Thursday by their chemistry teacher, Rebecca Isseroff. Their parents and extended families came after Shabbat.
Siemens arranged for the girls, who stayed in a Washington hotel and prayed at Kesher Israel Synagogue, to rehearse their presentation before Shabbat and present their scientific posters afterwards. “Siemens was great about accommodating us,” Dora Chana says.
The two girls are the first Westinghouse national semifinalists from their school, Spirn says. “Other Orthodox kids see that Orthodox kids can do this. It created a wonderful kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name.]”