South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Cor Jesu student places top six in the country in YMCA Changemakers competition

Caroline Pingel and Elise Norman in Washington D.C. Photo provided by Elise Norman.

Cor Jesu junior Caroline Pingel has always known she has wanted to go into the medical field.

From a young age her love for math and science began, and with time it has only grown. Despite playing field hockey and soccer – both for her high school and on club teams, swimming on her school’s swim team, playing high school basketball, acting as an ambassador and beginning an entrepreneurial club at Cor Jesu, Pingel has set aside time for her passion. She is a part of National Honors Society, ECHO – a club that explores career opportunities in health-related fields, and just recently participated in the YMCA Changemakers competition where she placed top six in the nation.

Changemakers, per the YMCA website, grants high school students nationwide an opportunity to propose a project that addresses a critical issue or need. The issue selected can be anything, but it must have specific local context to the applicant’s community.

Pingel was made aware of the competition by her aunt Jennifer Ahrens, a world history teacher and leader of Youth and Government (YAG) at Cor Jesu. She then talked to her childhood friend and neighbor, Lindbergh High School senior Elise Norman, about the competition, and the two decided to enter with a project on radioactive waste in north St. Louis.

“I think this topic is very understated in St. Louis,” Pingel said. “Especially where I live, it’s not very talked about at all. It’s such a big important issue that needs to be heard more around St. Louis. There are people helping with this issue, but there’s not very many, and I feel like as a collective, we can all become more aware of it and really try to help out the best we can.”

Pingel explained that the radioactive waste is causing many medical issues for residents of contaminated areas.

“There’s lots of different cancers,” Pingel said. “These cancers are very rare and they should only be seen in, like, one in a million people in the U.S. (but) there’s clusters of these cases around the radioactive waste. It’s making asthma a lot worse, and I know nosebleeds, too.

The data used for their project shows that from 1996 – 2011, there were 28 observed cases and 23 expected cases of appendix cancer across six zip codes in north St. Louis. Appendix cancer typically only affects one to two people per 1 million a year in the U.S., meaning – at the minimum – a staggering 87% of the individuals in the U.S. with appendix cancer, between the years mentioned above, were from north St. Louis County.

During the same time period across the same zip codes, 2,826 observed cases and 2,779 expected cases of trachea, bronchus, lung and pleura cancer were also reported.

While in the nation’s capital for the conference, Pingel and Norman were given the opportunity to present their findings to staffers of Missouri representatives – a highlight of Pingel’s time in Washington D.C.

“That was an amazing opportunity because we got to talk all about our project, what we’re working for,” Pingel said. “That was really cool.”

Groups next presented their projects to a council of about eight Youth Governors. After everyone gave their presentation twice, six of the 40-50 groups were named national finalists, Pingel and Norman included. The duo, along with the five other selected groups, then had to quickly prepare to give a third presentation – this time in front of the entire conference of about 200 people – for the chance to win $5,000. They unfortunately were not awarded the money, but despite that, Pingel and Norman plan on continuing their efforts.

“We are planning a movie night fundraiser (on) Nov. 17. Right now, we’re just working out all the logistics. We’re trying to find a hospital or a medical company that we can give the money to to help these people. We’re also currently working on a website,” Pingel said.

Pingel’s main goal of this project, besides spreading awareness, is to help families and individuals who are suffering due to the radioactive waste with their medical bills – specifically those who “feel a big strain from the bills.”

“I feel like this would just really help,” she said.

Though a large part of the YMCA Changemakers competition centers around youth advocacy and politics, neither Pingel or Norman want to go down that path career-wise. Norman is “ passionate about youth advocacy” but wants to major in molecular and cellular biology with an additional focus on music and psychology or sociology, and Pingel plans on studying biomedical engineering before heading off to medical school.

Read about Pingel’s partner, Norman.