Formerly homeless teen scientist pursues studies in Maine

Posted Sept. 07, 2012, at 5:17 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 07, 2012, at 5:42 p.m.
Samantha Garvey of Brentwood, N.Y. speaks with President Obama during the White House Science Fair this past February. Garvey, who lived with her family in a homeless shelter in January of this year, recently completed an internship at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor and started her freshman year at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
The White House
Samantha Garvey of Brentwood, N.Y. speaks with President Obama during the White House Science Fair this past February. Garvey, who lived with her family in a homeless shelter in January of this year, recently completed an internship at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor and started her freshman year at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Samantha Garvey has been through a lot in the past eight months.

The teenager, who hails from Brentwood, N.Y., attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January at the invitation of her local congressman, appeared that same month on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” received a $50,000 scholarship from AT&T and in February participated in the White House Science Fair, where she got to meet and speak with Obama.

Now, having graduated from high school and wrapped up a summer internship at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, the 18-year-old is settling into her first semester of classes as a freshman at Bowdoin College.

Perhaps most important, Garvey and her family no longer are homeless.

Garvey garnered national media attention in early January when — while she, her parents and younger siblings were living at a homeless shelter in Suffolk County on Long Island — she found out she was one of about 300 finalists nationwide in the Intel Science Talent Search. Despite the fact that the Garveys were struggling financially and recently had been evicted from their home, she was in the running for the contest’s top prize of $100,000.

According to the New York Times, Garvey’s parents were injured in a car accident last year. Her father, a cabdriver, was able to continue working but her mother, a nurse’s assistant, was unable to work for more than six months.

Garvey did not win the prize, but the media attention to her situation did result in an outpouring of support. Suffolk County officials quickly found a rent-subsidized home where her family could live, and Garvey was praised for her dedication to her studies despite the financial difficulties her family faced. Degeneres presented Garvey with the $50,000 AT&T scholarship when the teenager was on her television show.

“Think about what she has overcome,” Obama said about Garvey in his speech at the White House Science Fair this winter.

Obama mentioned Garvey again Thursday night in his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. He did not mention Garvey by name, but said her example inspires him.

“The young woman I met at a science fair who won national recognition for her biology research while living with her family at a homeless shelter — she gives me hope,” Obama said.

Rebecca Grella, Garvey’s former science teacher at Brentwood High School, told The Associated Press she was stunned when Obama alluded to her prized student.

Attempts Friday to contact Garvey through MDI Bio Lab and Bowdoin College were unsuccessful. Citing student privacy and its policy of nonpartisanship, a Bowdoin spokesman declined Friday to comment on Obama’s mention of Garvey in his speech.

On MDI Bio Lab’s Facebook page, lab officials on Friday posted a photo of Garvey in response to her being mentioned in Obama’s speech.

“Mr. President, Samantha Garvey gives us hope, too,” lab officials said under the photo. “MDIBL was extremely proud to have her spend the summer with us, expanding her scientific horizons.”

In a prepared statement, lab officials said Friday that Garvey spent six weeks this summer at the lab as a Constance Laibe Hays Fellow. She worked with lab Director Kevin Strange on ways to identify defense mechanisms that cells use to prevent and repair stress-induced damage.

Garvey used a type of small roundworm to study how nervous systems and cells communicate to stimulate such mechanisms and whether such signals might regulate behavior, according to the statement

Garvey has told lab officials that her internship in Bar Harbor helped her gain more skills and become “more well-rounded as a young scientist,” the statement indicated. According to lab officials, Garvey eventually plans to focus her studies on environmental policy and ocean health.

The focus of Garvey’s high school research, which was under consideration by Intel for the $100,000 prize, was on how mussels native to Long Island Sound have reacted to predatory behavior of the invasive Asian shore crab, the New York Times has reported.

Garvey’s interest in marine biology and ocean health would seem to be a natural fit with Maine, which has approximately 3,500 miles of convoluted coastline and where crabs, mussels and other marine species can be found in abundance.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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