By Mark Reynolds
The Marlboro chapter of UNICO has sponsored the Italian heritage essay contest for 7th and 8th graders in the district for the past 28 years. Each of the 1st Place winners received $200 and a commemorative plaque for writing a 300 word essay on a topic that was selected by the UNICO committee.
Nick Johannets, who is Chairman of the Essay Contest Committee, welcomed the 1st Place winners and their parents to a dinner that was held last week in their honor at the Ship Lantern Inn in Milton.
Seventh grader Gabriella Fakhoury won for her essay on two important Italians – Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, calling them, “two of the biggest contributors to the success of the Italian Renaissance.” This period of artistic and cultural achievements began in the 15th century and reached its peak during the first half of the 16th century.
Fakhoury highlighted the importance of da Vinci’s art, especially the lasting impact of his painting, the Mona Lisa.
“Many songwriters, artists and designers use the Mona Lisa as an inspiration for their work,” she wrote.
Fakhoury also noted the importance of da Vinci’s many inventions, such as the parachute.
“DaVinci invented the parachute in 1485 with the intention for it to be used as an escape tool for people to get out of burning buildings. It has since evolved into the current model that most everyone is familiar with,” she pointed out.
Fakhoury wrote that the thermometer was invented by Galileo Galilei in 1596 when he was 32 years old. She wrote that the original model was a glass tube filled with colorful bubbles attached to metal tags. These tags had certain weights on them and by looking at which of the bubbles sunk/floated you were able to read the temperature.
In the early 1600s, Galileo also invented the Galilean Telescope to view distant objects. He ended up identifying the four largest moons orbiting Jupiter that today are known as the Galilean Moons.
Fakhoury concluded her essay by stating that, “Although DaVinci and Galileo are no longer with us, their legacies still live on. So the next time you check the temperature or watch a hot air balloon ascend into the sky, think about who got those inventions into our society.”
Eighth grader and two-time essay contest winner, Mia Russo, chose to write about Enrico Fermi He was born in Rome in 1901 and early on showed an aptitude for mathematics and physics. In 1918, at the age of 17, he received a fellowship to the Scuola Mormale Superiore, followed by four years at the University of Pisa, where he earned a PhD in Physics in 1922.
In 1934 Fermi, discovered, “that nuclear transformation could occur in every atom...All of this work led to the discovery of slowing down neutrons, which then led to the discovery of nuclear fusion.”
Russo wrote that Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938, “for his work with artificial radioactivity produced by neutrons and for nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons.”
Russo said although Fermi died when he was just 53, “he opened many doors for new discoveries and gave us the chance to see that we can do many amazing things to help our wonderful world become stronger and more advanced. His life was full of trial and error and he can teach us that if we are determined we can get through it...He opened a bright path for many more awesome things to come.”
In a subsequent interview Mia said she enjoyed doing the research, “that took about two and a half weeks and I learned a lot about both inventors.
Gabriella also enjoyed the contest.
“I got interested in the essay contest by my teacher and then my brother, who did it last year; I like it,” she said.
Johannets said in the history of the contest they have only missed two years – 2001 because of the 911 attacks and 2020 due to covid. In choosing the essay topics, he said his committee works hard to update the list to keep it interesting for the students.
“It’s got to be on Italian heritage and that they can learn something about the heritage,” he said, adding that it it open to all 7th and 8th graders and not just to those of Italian ancestry.
Johannets thanked his judges for the contest, Dan Martuscello, Geoffrey Pesano, Jerry Amoroso and Rich Coppinger.
Middle School Social Studies Teacher Geoffrey Pesano said having the UNICO essay contest return, “is a great way to get back to some kind of normalcy.” He said that since the topics the students had to choose from were not relevant to their curriculum, they had to do some research.
“That just goes to show you the type of young women they are and the students they are; that they are going to go above and beyond to really show who they are, so congratulations,” he said.