Top innovators, fundraisers earn national honors at the Inspiration4 Science Fair for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital called the St. Jude EPIC Challenge – Denver Gazette

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Sept. 13, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Hundreds of elementary-age innovators and fundraisers took part in the St. Jude Inspiration4 Science Fair during the past school year with classmates and reached for the stars to support kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital ® as part of the fundraising campaign for Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit Earth.

Called the St. Jude EPIC challenge, participating students practiced Experimenting, Prototyping, Inventing and Creating to prototype a life-improving innovation for the kids at St. Jude.

Taking home the top student innovation honor called the Hope Award is 9-year-old Esperanza Alcorta of Silver City, New Mexico, who reflected on her younger sister’s cancer journey when creating her invention called My Comfy Pillow. The heart-shaped prototype, which she researched, designed and assembled herself, was created as a “soft, fluffy, huggable” way to help St. Jude patients stay relaxed as they go through treatment. Esperanza will receive a special message from the Inspiration4 crew as they orbit Earth on their multi-day mission.

A second grade class from Indian Land Elementary in Indian Land, South Carolina, received the top classroom innovation award for their invention of the Buddy Blanket. Teacher Michelle Anderson brainstormed with her class what the blanket should look like and what it should say. The prototype featured a handwritten note of encouragement for the kids in treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. For winning, the class gets to fill a time capsule for transport to space on Inspiration4.

Additionally, the recipient of the Generosity Award for top fundraiser is Neela Sembroski of Everett, Washington, who raised $1,675 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Her prototype is a beanie that displays different colored lights depending on the wearer’s mood, helped her rally dozens of supporters to exceed her fundraising goal of $1,500. She drew inspiration from St. Jude patients and her father aerospace engineer Christopher Sembroski who is part of the Inspiration4 crew.

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Joining Sembroski on the Inspiration4 mission will be St. Jude cancer survivor and physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux; Dr. Sian Proctor of Phoenix, Arizona; and Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, founder and chief executive officer of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot who made the generous decision to turn his passion for space into purpose by naming St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital the benefiting charity. He also committed $100 million toward the multi-billion dollar St. Jude expansion plan that aims to accelerate research advancements and save more children worldwide.

Finally, see below for a list of the top fundraising classes from coast to coast that will receive a commemorative EPIC Achievement Award presented by MOVA Globes and a classroom robotics kit.

  1. Amanda Nixon’s math class at Mid-South Gifted Academy in Collierville, Tennessee
  2. Rachel Stigler’s third grade class at Hernando Hills Elementary School in Hernando, Mississippi
  3. Anne Zeitler’s fifth and sixth grade classes at Holy Trinity Lutheran Academy in New Hope, Minnesota
  4. Kristen Kelly’s fourth grade class at Rising Leaders Academy in Panama City, Florida
  5. Veronica Reyes’ first grade class at Imperial Cross Elementary in Imperial, California
  6. Heath McLeod’s students at Gaston Elementary School in Gadsden, Alabama
  7. Stephanie Sartain’s third grade class at Hernando Hills Elementary School in Hernando, Mississippi
  8. Jessica Walton’s kindergarten and first grade students at Harrisburg Elementary in Harrisburg, North Carolina
  9. Avery Faile’s third grade class at Discovery School in Lancaster, South Carolina
  10. Katie Rattles’ third through fifth grade classes at Joplin Schools in Joplin, Missouri

The support of donors through programs and campaigns like Inspiration4 are critical to making a difference in the lives of children around the globe. Thanks to funds generated through programs like this one, families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

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About St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Its purpose is clear: Finding cures. Saving children.® It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude won’t stop until no child dies from cancer. St. Jude freely shares the discoveries it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. Visit St. Jude Inspire to discover powerful St. Jude stories of hope, strength, love and kindness. Join the St. Jude mission by visiting, liking St. Jude on Facebook, following St. Jude on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, and subscribing to its YouTube channel.

About Inspiration4

Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian orbital mission to space, will be commanded by Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Shift4 Payments. The mission is named in recognition of the four-person crew’s mission to inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® and send a humanitarian message of possibility while representing a new era for human spaceflight and exploration. To learn more about Inspiration4, visit and follow Twitter (@inspiration4x), Facebook (@inspiration4mission) Instagram (@inspiration4) and YouTube (@Inspiration4).


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SOURCE ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

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