Two Broadneck High School juniors with a passion for environmental science and a flair for filmmaking have taken top honors in an international student video contest.
Catherine Knox and Katherine Selley, both 17-year-olds from Arnold, won first place in the World of 7 Billion video contest, sponsored by Population Education. More than 1,600 students from 23 countries submitted entries, which were judged by a panel of educators, filmmakers and professionals in the field of agriculture.
What began as a creative way to meet the requirements for the Science National Honor Society evolved into the award-winning video — plus a $1,000 prize to boot.
"I thought it was just a cool, fun thing to do. I didn't think we had any shot of actually winning the competition," said Knox. "We just wanted to put something out there that we were proud of, that we worked hard on. But we had no expectations."
Population Education is a national organization aimed at developing curricula and academic resources in the fields of science and social science. The contest solicited videos addressing the topic of overpopulation and the future of the environment.
"Each year we are blown away by the quality of videos and their incredible ability to relay a meaningful message in such a short amount of time," said John Seager, president of Population Education's parent group, Population Connection.
Knox and Selley's 60-second video titled "What Will Happen To Us?" highlights the issue of overpopulation worldwide and the potential for Earth's "sixth mass extinction" — a reference to the large-scale extinction of plant and animal species. (Scientists count the events leading to the disappearance of the dinosaurs as one of the previous mass extinctions.)
"The Earth is changing, swept along by the tidal wave of human growth," says Selley in a voice-over in the video. "We're in the midst of another mass extinction, but this time it's our fault."
The video warns about issues related to overpopulation and environmental degradation, and suggests ways for people to get involved.
Both students say they have always been interested in environmental preservation.
"Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, you learn pretty quickly about how important it is to look after the environment and how humans interact with it," said Knox.
As sophomores, the students' interest in sustainable growth grew after exploring the subject in an Advanced Placement environmental studies course.
"We learned a lot about all of the mass extinctions, and we talked about overpopulation," said Selley, who is also taking a human geography class this year.
Both students are members of the Science National Honor Society, which requires its members to enter one academic competition each semester. When a teacher recommended the video contest to them, both students pounced.
"We were like, 'Hey that'd be a lot of fun.' A video contest is a lot more fun than writing an essay," Selley said.
"We both had a fair amount of background knowledge, and it was also the [topic] that we felt was the most pressing issue, so we'd be able to write a better script on it," Knox said.
From the film's tight editing and polished production quality it's hard to see that the video was both students' first attempt at making a movie.
"We both have kind of messed around with iMovie software before, but that's it," said Knox. "It was way more editing than we were expecting."
"The hardest part was definitely the script," Selley said." We spent a lot of time adding things and cutting things out."
Rather than employ stock footage for the video, the students chose to use their own photos and those taken by relatives around the globe. The film features dozens of images from their travels to places such as Kenya, China, Costa Rica and France.
"The best part [of the filmmaking process] was the realization that we could use all of our own pictures, because we had pictures from literally all around the world," said Selley, who included photos from her travels in China as a foreign exchange student. "[Traveling] has definitely made me think about things with a global perspective rather than a local perspective."
Both girls said they plan to put their share of the $1,000 prize toward more travel.
Selley, a member of Broadneck's competitive sailing team, will use the money to attend a sailing clinic in Chicago this summer. Knox plans to put her share toward a semester abroad in college.
Though neither student has decided where she will attend college yet, both intend to pursue fields related to their studies. Knox hopes to major in environmental or mechanical engineering, while Selley has her sights set on a science, technology and international affairs program.
"The topic is, I think, very important," Selley said of environmental advocacy. "It's important to take a step back and look at what you're doing and think about how that impacts your world, not just yourself."