Hunter hunts down victory in Khan Academy Contest


$250,000 scholarship. $100,000 lab. $50,000 for the teacher. One contestant: senior Eva Hunter. The annual Khan Academy Contest has come and gone, taking with it a single PHS entry. To compete, students had to enter a video spanning less than three minutes, describing any science or math concept.

“The kids that were drawn to it were either really interested in math or science and are already going above and beyond in that field, or are really creative and were looking for ways to express themselves creatively,” math teacher Amy Dunn-Ruiz said.

Connecting the science aspect of the contest and having already expressed a curiosity in immuno-oncology three years ago while writing her I-Search, Hunter said she used that information to create her video.

Immuno-oncology is the study of drugs that target the immune system to help it fight cancer, Hunter said.

“It’s a difficult subject that not a lot of people know about,” Hunter said. “It’s very relevant because a lot of people are either affected directly or indirectly by cancer, so it’s something people should know about.”

While the topic and information presented in the video should be engaging, judges also take into consideration the performance of the contestant, said professor of neuroscience and contest judge John Hardy.

Students are asked to teach their concept in the most creative way possible. To meet this requirement, Hunter presented her information as part of a sports report, Hunter said.

“I don’t really expect to win, but I thought it would be a cool thing to do, and on the off chance that I get something out of it, that’d be really cool,” Hunter said.

Along with the creative freedom contestants have while making their videos, Dunn-Ruiz said she was also attracted to the competition’s other unique qualities, such as the size of the contest and prize.

“It is an international contest, so it would be pretty phenomenal to have one of our students place in that,” Dunn-Ruiz said.

Also, should a student win the competition, $100,000 for a new lab would be very beneficial as the school makes plans for a potential remodel, Dunn-Ruiz said.

“I’ve always loved science, and I hope that this prize is part of the process of helping more kids, who are a bit nerdy like me, to get the opportunity to do science,” Hardy said.

The prize money gives students, who do not have substantial money or support to receive high levels of education, the possibility to do so. Students from second and third world countries benefit the most from the competition’s low risk, high benefit qualities, Hardy said.

“We live in an age where technology dominates our lives, and having young people interested in science is really important,” Hardy said. “Of course for the winner, it gives them a great opportunity to do really well academically,so I think it has a general benefit and a specific benefit.”

The competition inspires students to pursue scientific or mathematical careers, so by getting more schools involved, the competition serves its purpose, Hardy said.

“I’m surprised more people didn’t take [part in] it because I don’t think it was that much work and there’s nothing really to lose from it,” Hunter said.

Both Hunter and Dunn-Ruiz said they believe that the timing of the competition proved difficult for many students.

“The deadline crept up pretty quickly,” Dunn-Ruiz said. “And this time of year, seniors are super busy, getting ready for college applications and juniors are taking the PSAT. There’s just a lot going on this time of year.”

Despite this year’s low participation levels, Dunn-Ruiz said she already looks to ensure greater success in future years.

“If they do the contest again next year, I will definitely try to be more proactive in helping my students know about it and trying to support them in the creative process and the production process,” Dunn-Ruiz said.