Hayley Todesco

Hayley Todesco

Fighting for the environment is no easy feat — but taking on the complicated, messy challenges of the future with a spirit of innovation and scientific skill is something Hayley Todesco is more than prepared to tackle.

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A winner of the Google Science Fair and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, her design for a tailings pond bioreactor (which allows for a faster way to clean up waste from oils ands extraction) has given her the opportunity to raise awareness and educate other young people about the unique environmental problems her generation faces and share her enthusiasm for building a greener future. Naturally, she’s very much game to pursue some creative, world-changing solutions and inspire other young scientists along the way.

Age: 21
College: University of Alberta
Majors: Molecular Genetics
Expected Graduation: Spring 2018
Website, YouTube

What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement to date is presenting my work at and subsequently winning the Google Science Fair and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize for Canada with my tailings pond bioreactor designs. My work on this project has also generated 120,000+ views on social media and raised public awareness for the environmental issues surrounding these ponds in my province.

How did you first get involved with environmental stewardship?

I have devoted myself to solving local environmental issues after watching an environmental documentary when I was ten. Every journey begins with the first step, so I entered environmental research-oriented science fair projects in 18 science fairs—including participating in the Calgary Youth Science Fair seven times and being chosen to attend the Canada Wide Science Fair five times. Each project studied and raised awareness for a wide variety of environmental issues including smog, solar technology, carbon emissions and oil pollution as I explored my growing passion.

How has your discovery affected you personally? 

The problem-solving and technical skills that I developed during the course of my project have helped me in finding further research opportunities...

My discovery has opened doors for me that would not have been possible before. The problem-solving and technical skills that I developed during the course of my project have helped me in finding further research opportunities while in university. It has also given me the confidence to pursue a science career by telling me that there is a place for me among the other women in science.

Your discovery took over two years of hard work – how did you stay motivated and determined?

I believed in my idea and I really wanted to find out if it would work. When troubleshooting these bioreactor designs, I put a lot of myself into the project. The final design was a fusion of ideas from household items and plumbing designs. Family support was also a huge part of what kept me going.

I put a lot of myself into the project.

Between volunteering, research, school, and outreach, how do you balance everything going on in your life?

Honestly, managing my schedule is a skill that I am slowly getting better at. Learning my limits and prioritizing parts of my life is an ongoing learning process that just gets better as time goes on. Finding places where my interests overlap (e.g., for-credit research experiences, volunteering positions involving science outreach) is a great way to spend time effectively.

Why is outreach at conferences and schools so important to you? 

I see myself having a totally different career, education and life path if it hadn’t been for science fair. If I had never found out about these competitions and resources when I was young, I would have missed out on a lot of life-changing opportunities. Informing the next generation of students about what is available out there and inspiring them to go for it is extremely important to me because I have first-hand experience with the life-altering changes they can produce. 

What advice do you have for other collegiettes who want to help save the planet?

My advice would be to look at local organizations, campus clubs, advocacy groups and research opportunities to work on immediate environmental issues that you are passionate about. This passion is essential for seeing your ideas to fruition, while working on teams maximizes your impact beyond a single individual. Developing educational and career plans around newly-emerging green industries is an incredible way to contribute to saving the planet for the long-term.

...passion is essential for seeing your ideas to fruition...

How would you describe yourself in five words?

Sincere, funny, smart, determined and keen.

Katherine Speller (or Katie) is the News Editor for Her Campus. She first fell in love with journalism while attending SUNY New Paltz ('14). Since then, she has worked on the staffs at MTV News and Bustle writing about politics, intersectional social issues and more before serving as staff researcher at Lady Parts Justice League. Her work has been published in Women's Health, the Daily Dot, Public Radio International (PRI) and WNYC and she's a regular panelist on the "We're All Gonna Die" politics podcast.

Katherine is a Libra with a Taurus moon and a Scorpio ascendant, which either means nothing or everything. She loves strong diner coffee, reading tarot for strangers at the bar and watching the same three horror movie documentaries. She lives in the Hudson Valley with too many animals.