WASHINGTON — Thanks to a class assignment, Washington Community High School junior Maddie Kogelis is a national champion.
Kogelis' 60-second video on the dangers of radon gas took first place in 2017 in a state contest sponsored by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and American Lung Association in Illinois.
She won $1,000. She also won $300 because her video had the most views on YouTube over a one-week period.
Kogelis didn't know her video was entered into a first-ever national competition along with state winners from Iowa and Florida.
She found that out recently on the same day she learned she won the national contest, too, earning another $1,000 prize that she also plans to put toward her future college expenses.
"To be honest, I'd pretty much forgotten about the video until I found out I won the national contest," she said.
The national competition was sponsored by the American Lung Association and Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The class assignment to make a public service announcement video about the dangers of radon came from Washington chemistry teacher Amanda Lemm when Kogelis was a sophomore.
"Maddie was in my first-period class and her video was the first one the class watched," Lemm said. "I pressed play, watched the video, and told Maddie the video was really, really good.
"It's clean, concise and to the point. There's no fluff. It tells why radon is so dangerous."
Kogelis said she didn't know anything about radon before she made the video over a weekend using an iMovie app on her smartphone. She planned out the video for about a week.
"I wanted the video to be informative about a serious subject, while presenting the information in a fun, upbeat way," she said.
In the video, Kogelis draws with colored Sharpies with upbeat music in the background. She points out that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer and finishes by telling the viewer to "Get your home tested."
During her research for the video, Kogelis said, she learned her parents had their home tested for radon several years earlier.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced by the radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil. It can enter homes and buildings through small cracks in the foundation, sump pumps and soil in crawlspaces.
About 1,200 people in Illinois die each year from radon-related lung cancer.
Lemm said students in Washington chemistry classes taught by three teachers create radon PSA videos each year. The videos are done using state contest guidelines so students can enter their video in the contest if they wish.
"We've had several students finish in the top 10 in the state contest," Lemm said. "This was the first time we had a first-place winner."
About 25 Washington students entered the state contest last year, Lemm said, and there were about 130 videos entered from across the state.
Kogelis is a member of the Mechanical Monarchy robotics team at Washington and she competes in cross country and track. She attended Lincoln Grade School and Washington Middle School before going to the high school.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.