Face of the Week: Sienna Fink of Eastern Technical High School
Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

image of the Face of the Week: Deborah Yahve of Windsor Mill Middle School

The thought came to Sienna Fink nearly two years ago, on the January day when she read in the newspaper about how a 15-foot Fraser fir Christmas tree ignited in an Annapolis home and quickly consumed the tree, the 16,000-square-foot house, and the lives of Don and Sandra Pyle and their four grandchildren.

“It was such a terrible thing,” says Sienna, a Grade 9 student in the Allied Health program at Eastern Technical High School in Essex. “But it made me think, and it gave me the idea: how dry does a Christmas tree have to get before it becomes a hazard?”

The question simmered with Sienna through her eighth grade year at St. Joseph School in Fullerton, and when her science fair project came near, she put her ruminating to work on finding an answer.

Sienna’s idea sparked a project that, less than a year later, was named one of just 30 finalists in the national Broadcom Masters science fairs competition sponsored by the Society for Science and the Public. Her work on the project earned her a five-day trip to Washington to present her findings, participation in a series of STEM workshops and challenges, and an opportunity to meet President Obama at the White House.

And while she didn’t get to meet President Obama – he was away from Washington doing some last-minute campaigning in early November – “it was really, really fun,” Sienna said of her adventure, which ended Nov. 2. “I made so many friends that I cried when I left. I’ll never forget it.”

Eastern is proud of its national finalist, too, says Principal C. Michelle Anderson. Sienna, she says, “truly represents the innovative, inquiring spirit of (Eastern) students.”

It wasn’t always so, says Sienna, a Perry Hall resident who admits she was never interested in science before her Christmas tree experiments. While she suspects she’s “equally right-brained and left-brained,” her interests to now have tended toward the creative – drawing, animation, reading, and writing. She loves science fiction, though, and counts herself a true Trekkie – a “Star Trek” aficionado.

“I have a lot of imagination,” she says. Her pursuits “are like meditation for me; they let me relax.”

There was little relaxing when she latched onto the Christmas tree project, however. She dove into the project with the help of scientists at the University of Maryland whom she interviewed as part of her research. Eventually, Sienna arranged 18 branches, each 18 inches long, to hang from the rafters in her home’s basement, their cut ends resting in buckets of water. Each week, Sienna took away buckets of water from a row of branches and measured the hydration in each. And at the end of five weeks, she measured the flammability of each by rigging a pulley on a ladder and dangling each branch over a sterno-fed fire pit. Dad Glenn and mom Christine were on hand to ensure their daughter’s safety.

Most the branches ignited quickly. But those that had been kept in water for five weeks barely caught fire, and those that did quickly fizzled out. Her conclusion: leave a tree in water and the chances of ignition are low; remove the water – even for a short time – and trees become far drier and more likely to ignite.

The project was selected from among 6,000 to enter the Broadcom Masters competition; 300 semi-finalists were whittled to a final 30 who spent a day presenting their projects at the National Geographic Society. The rest of the five days was spent in workshops, seeing a first-run movie at the Kennedy Center, touring the new Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall, and visiting the White House. And while the group wasn’t able to meet the President, they were able to meet and talk with Meg Smith, the President’s assistant and chief technology officer in the U.S. Office of Science.

Since her return, Sienna has been hard at work catching up on her studies. Her first-semester transition to Eastern has been a bit stressful, she says, noting the amount of work she has had. But she has embraced the school’s spirit and positive atmosphere. “It seems like people are real happy here, and I like that a lot,” Sienna says. She’s joined the school’s art and drawing club and science fiction club.

And she’s incorporated a newfound interest in science into her future plans – right now, she’s interested in being either a psychologist, a palliative nurse, or an emergency medical technician. “There are just so many things that interest me,” she says, “but I want to do something that will combine all my interests.”

Perhaps emblematic of Sienna’s seemingly unending quest for knowledge is a movie she’s currently making, the result of a summer camp she attended earlier this year. In Sienna’s movie, an adventurer hunts for treasure using a map that shows the location of three gemstones, which then leads to the discovery of a box containing the treasure.

“When he finally opens the box, it’s empty except for this note,” Sienna says. “He reads it, and it says, ‘Better luck next time.’” She flashes a smile before concluding.

“I guess the ending is sort of up for interpretation.”

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