News

UVF Alumna Leads Young Scientists to Great Heights

by Sarah Cushing - Office of Marketing | Dec 03, 2015
Carrie Mitton '03
When Carrie Mitton ’03, first stepped into her role as a teacher for gifted students at East Vincent Elementary School in the local Owen J. Roberts school district, she didn't know what to expect. Previously, Mitton held a position where she helped students who were falling behind academically. “When I first switched,” said Mitton, “I wasn’t sure what I had to offer, but no matter where you are, students are going through tough situations. The biggest thing teachers can do is believe in their students, especially when they don't believe in themselves.” That is exactly what Mitton set out to accomplish when she successfully led a team of sixth-grade students in an eCYBERMISSION Web-based competition in June 2015.
 
eCYBERMISSION is sponsored by the U.S. Army and organized by the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA). The competition is one of the many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives created to encourage students in sixth through ninth grade to become interested in these growing fields. The national competition is designed to challenge students to develop a solution to an existing problem in their community. Winning teams receive up to $9,000 in U.S. EE Savings Bonds. 

The sixth-grade eCYBERMISSION team, known as the “Aqua Squad,” was comprised of three students from East Vincent Elementary School: Jeanne Tokay, Jackson Massey and Andrew Bilotta, whose father, Lee Bilotta, is the chair of the Digital Media Department. The group chose the name due to the nature of its experiment.
 
After discovering nearly 77 percent of the teachers in their school choose to drink bottled water, the students set out to prove whether their school’s tap water was just as healthy and tasted just as good as bottled water. “I told them I wanted them to persuade me,” said Mitton. “Think about how much money that would save,” she told them. The students conducted more than 140 tests for water quality and double-blind taste tests with 45 participants, dedicating several hours each week to data analysis. Their study concluded that the difference in taste and quality is not significant and could help to save $140,000 in costs to the school’s budget, the annual estimated cost for bottled water.
 
Mitton advised the team as it competed against 6,700 other teams (over 20,000 students), winning local, state and Northeast U.S. Regional competitions. The Aqua Squad qualified as one of the 22 teams out of the 6,700 to be invited to Washington for an all-expenses paid national competition. There, Mitton’s students presented to a review panel comprised of distinguished STEM representatives from the U.S. Army and academia. They also answered publicly the questions from judges and the other students. As Mitton watched her students present their project at the national showcase, she could not help but be overjoyed. 

“I was overwhelmed by pride in them,” she said. “To watch one’s students stand up and fly on their own is every teacher’s dream.”

Over 6,000 people tuned in on live Web-based television. There, audience members could vote for their favorite projects. The Aqua Squad won the People’s Choice Award and each member was presented with the newest generation of the iPad mini.
 
Mitton commented on the growth she observed in her students as they progressed through their journey. “At the start of the experience one of the members believed that the ability to be successful in science and math was simply inherited,” said Mitton. However, Mitton went on to explain that the gifts and abilities brought to the team by this specific student were just as important as the other students’ strengths in science. “We are not all made the same,” said Mitton. “The fact that we are different is what makes working together successful.”
 
UVF celebrates Mitton’s success in guiding her students to achieve great things. Her devotion to instilling confidence in students by believing in their potential is a noteworthy characteristic. This is what makes her a great teacher and leader, and a model representative of UVF.