Local Students Benefit from Haddix STEM Program
Local Students Benefit from Haddix STEM Program

A recent $10 million gift to Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences, described by University officials as “transformational,” helped transform the lives of two Omaha high school students this year.

Incoming freshmen Vincent Huerta and Sydney Westphal participated in the inaugural Haddix 24th Street STEM Corridor Program, which is one of four initiatives funded by the gift from George Haddix, PhD, MA’66, and his wife, Susan, a member of Creighton’s Board of Trustees.

The program introduces top high school students in Omaha to the advantages of pursuing undergraduate studies in science, technology, engineering or math at Creighton. Students at Omaha North, Omaha Central and Omaha South high schools were given the opportunity to spend a summer completing a research project with Creighton STEM faculty.

Both Huerta and Westphal won honors for their completed projects at Omaha’s 2019 Metropolitan Science and Engineering Fair.

Huerta’s project involved qubits, which are the quantum version of the classical computer “bit,” which exists in binary form as either a zero or a one. The quantum “bit,” however — the qubit — exists simultaneously as both one and zero, with its identity as one thing or the other established only when translated to a classical computer through the use of quantum algorithms.

His expedition into the mysterious world of quantum computing also earned Huerta, a graduate of Omaha South High School, honors from the Omaha chapter of the Greater Omaha chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA).

Westphal, a graduate of Omaha Central High School, took honors for research establishing that butterflies are almost as important in the process of pollination as bees. Butterflies, she found, visit plants and disperse pollen at rates not far below the more storied bee.

Soldier beetles, she demonstrated, are poor pollinators, despite being the most frequent “visitors” to plants. Her research found they consume nectar but largely fail to transfer pollen.

Westphal’s adviser was Theodore Burk, DPhil, professor of animal behavior, entomology and behavioral ecology in the Department of Biology. Huerta was guided by Thomas Wong, PhD, assistant professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Westphal said the Haddix STEM program was “eye opening.”

“It was such an amazing experience it made me want to come to Creighton, which was not on my college list before,” she said.

“The Haddix program gave me countless opportunities, one being the research I did with Dr. Burk. We did more research this summer, and we are putting together a paper starting this fall. I will never be able to express the gratitude I have for such an eye-opening experience.”

Huerta said the Haddix program gave him a taste of the independent study habits typical of college.

“It helped me both delve into a deeper side of my interest, being physics, while helping me develop independent skills like working on my own time without a hovering figure telling me to work,” he said. “It made me hold myself accountable and actually use the resources provided to learn.”