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Future Leaders winner with an inventive spirit develops solutions to wildfires, radon and wastewater

Future Leaders winner with an inventive spirit develops solutions to wildfires, radon and wastewater
Future Leaders winner with an inventive spirit develops solutions to wildfires, radon and wastewater 02:34

CBS News Colorado, in partnership with Colorado School of Mines and Chevron, honors high school students who excel in the STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- field.  The Future Leaders Award comes with $1,000 and a profile on CBS News Colorado.

Siena Parr, a junior at Dolores High School, is the latest addition to this prestigious club with a concentration on biology as her STEM focus. She said the thing that's drawn her to the world of science is simple.

"The fast-changing nature and the opportunities in areas of growth are really incredible and have really drawn me in," Parr said.

Siena Parr presents a project at a science fair on gray water's impact on plant growth. Courtesy / Kim Parr

Between placing in the regional science fair each year, winning first place at the Best of Fair Da Vinci Award, and qualifying in the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair for the last three years, she's well decorated at a young age. She's taking as many science courses as her high school can provide while catching the attention of the local biology teacher as an exceptional student. 

"She's just a driven person, it's an exception to see a person like Siena Parr to be honest with you," Dolores High School Biology Instructor Dave Hopcia said. "I don't know how she does it to be honest with you, because it's a lot of work." 

Unafraid to work towards a solution regardless of how daunting the challenge might seem, her inventive spirit is one of her strengths.

Parr has worked on a homemade fire retardant to combat flying embers from wildfires, pushed to develop radon tests in local homes and provided test kits after learning of a relative who was diagnosed with lung cancer and, most recently, sought the effects of growing plants in gray water instead of irrigation water for local farmers.

Gray water is the relatively clean wastewater from baths, sinks, washing machines and other kitchen appliances. While the plants didn't grow as well as with the irrigation water, the gray water-fed plants did show better growth than those in tap water and sterilized gray water.

"If everybody used their gray water for farming it, would really help conserve water and really help save our planet," Parr explained.

Siena Parr talks to CBS News Colorado about her science project exploring the viability of growing plants in gray water. CBS

While she's incredibly grateful for the support system she has in southwestern Colorado, she can't help but notice a disparity between her community and that of schools on the Front Range in terms of opportunities and programs. Still, even without the labs and mentors that bigger cities have, she has has more than enough curiosity and investigative spirit to keep her in league with other standout students.

"There is still no reason I can't go on and compete at the Science Fair or do incredible projects and meet all these crazy people," Parr said.

As for what her next project will be, only time will tell. But CBS News Colorado is confident with a mind hard at work like Parr's, she'll no doubt become one of our Colorado Future Leaders, more than she already has.

"Being able to push boundaries and discover new things, I think, is what has really made it worth it," Parr said of her early career as a scientist. "I get really fulfilled by academic achievement and it is really exciting to see all the progress I've made over the years and how this could be a career in the future."

CBS News Colorado accepted nominations for the Future Leaders Award through April 19, 2024. We will begin taking nominations for the 2024-25 school year in September.

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