USDA-ARS fellow wins 2023 ORISE Ignite Off! competition

August 30, 2023

2023 Ignite! Competition winners: Amanda Fanelli de Souza (first place), Madeline Addis (second place), and Samaria Aluko-Estrella (fan favorite)

Pictured L to R: Amanda Fanelli de Souza (first place), Madeline Addis (second place), and Samaria Aluko-Estrella (fan favorite)

Amanda Fanelli de Souza, an ORISE postdoctoral fellow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Research Participation Program, has been named the winner of the 2023 Ignite Off! competition.

Hosted by ORISE, the annual Ignite Off! showcases the talents of interns and fellows from participating federal agencies and offices as they share their research through Ignite Talks. Each competitor has five minutes to present their project, using 20 picture-centric slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. This national competition is open to ORISE research program participants at all sponsoring agencies.

Fanelli de Souza was honored for her presentation “Can We Improve Milk Production by Making Alfalfa More Digestible?” Her mentor is Michael Sullivan of the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center. Fanelli de Souza received her doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of São Paulo.

Madeline Addis, an ORISE participant in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office Energy Storage Summer Internship Program, placed second in the competition for her presentation “The Sustainability of Battery Technologies.” Addis’ mentors are Bryon Donohoe and Mark Nimlos of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Addis is completing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

The winners were announced during a national viewing event on Aug. 23, 2023, where each of the Ignite Talks of the 10 finalists’ presentations were showcased.

As part of the viewing event, audience members voted in a live poll for their favorite presentation. “Fan Favorite” honors went to Samaria Aluko-Estrella, an ORISE fellow in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Research Participation Program, for her presentation “Testing Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer (ABHS) Messages Among Young Adults, Adult Men, and Spanish Speakers.” Aluko-Estrella completed her master’s degree in public health at Temple University, and her mentor is Candace Rutt.

Michele Branton, deputy manager at the DOE Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Site Office, served as a special guest speaker at the viewing event. Branton congratulated the winners and praised the efforts of all who participated in the competition.

“I commend all of the contestants for the many hours of research and preparation for your Ignite Talks,” she said. “I saw thoughtful, well-articulated projects presented professionally and passionately, and was impressed by the breadth and diversity of the projects. Domestic and global health solutions addressing relevant health challenges; environmentally conscious technology advancement; and protecting our natural resources. You are truly solving the big problems. It gives me great hope for our future to see innovation represented by this group of finalists.”

To promote and facilitate the competition, the ORISE STEM Workforce Development team hosted two live information sessions (May and June 2023) and provided a recorded session for additional remote access. The team also conducted an awareness campaign that included targeted email and social media efforts designed not only to bring awareness to the contest but also to the professional development ORISE Learn training modules, available for all ORISE participants, which include a course on presenting an Ignite Talk. Combined, these efforts resulted in more than 120 started applications, with 81 completed by the deadline, and 50 total semifinalists selected from nine federal sponsors and dozens of individual programs. ORISE hosted two live practice sessions for the selected contestants, during which ORISE staff provided the presenters with feedback. From there, contestants gave their talks during a semifinal round, and 10 were picked to advance to the finals.

A panel of six judges representing DOE, CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Defense (DoD) and ORISE selected the first- and second-place winners from the 10 finalists.

The other finalists in the event were:

  • Sophia Sukkestad, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Viral Hepatitis | Mentors: Tonya Hayden and Lilia Ganova-Raeva | University: Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Adrian Harris, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases | Mentor: Sandor Karpathy | University: Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Bella Garcia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Assay Development Team, National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Division of Viral Hepatitis | Mentors: Lilia Ganova-Raeva and Maja Kodani | University: University of Georgia
  • Darcy Cherlin, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy | Mentor: Jessica Deerin | University: George Washington University
  • Anastacia Dressel, U.S. Department of Energy, Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship Program, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | Mentors: Michael Ross and Mark Mitchell | University: Cornell University
  • Jake Krauss, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 – Great Lakes National Program Office | Mentor: Emily Bender | University: Free University of Brussels
  • Erica Yang, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 – Great Lakes National Program Office | Mentor: Anne Scofield and Matt Pawlowski | University: University of Buffalo - SUNY

A video recording of the 2023 Ignite Off! National Viewing Event is available online. Learn more about the ORISE Ignite Off! competition and browse STEM-related research, policy, and technical opportunities at premier national laboratories and scientific facilities across the United States.

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