Catie Tomasello has been named the best middle school female science student in the nation and has been featured on cnn.com. She has won top honors in seven student competitions covering subjects that range from science to filmmaking.
Yet beyond the certificates, prizes and more than $30,000 in college money she has won since 2009, the Land O'Lakes 13-year-old counts the joy of discovery as her top prize in these competitions.
"Whenever I participate in a contest, it's all about getting inspired and taking that initiative," said Catie, a homeschool student who takes Florida Virtual School classes.
As a child, said mom Heather Tomasello, Catie's play sessions centered around creativity and discovery.
"She was always a creative and articulate child," said Tomasello. "At two, three years old, she was talking up a storm in grocery stores, with people stopping to ask her age. At age eight, nine, she was making movies with her friends with sound effects and editing. For Christmas, she asked for film-editing software with a green screen."
Today, Catie looks back on computer files filled with artwork and fiction stories she created as a child. In kindergarten, she participated and placed in her first science competition.
From 2009 to 2014, Catie was a part of scholastic teams that won second place nationwide in the National Science Teachers Association/Toshiba ExploraVision Science Competition. Representing Countryside Montessori Charter School and Pine View Middle School, where she previously attended, she and her teammates — through models, videos and websites — devised concepts for scientific inventions.
In 2015, her team claimed first place in the ExploraVision science competition for the project "The GREEN Tablet," "a biodegradable computer tablet with silk circuitry and a sugar-based battery which would cut down on e-waste generated when people upgrade their technology devices."
Last year, Catie's team claimed second place in the Bright Schools Competition for "The iLUMENate Prototype." The prototype conceptualizes a wearable device and a smart home system that would permit users to exert greater control over the lighting and atmosphere in their homes.
Catie and cousin Sophia Nobles are collaborating on a project for this year's competition, and have been notified of their status as Top 50 Bright Schools Competition finalists.
"These projects are all about the environment and what we can do to help," she said. "It's about recycling and the little things we can do."
Catie is writing and illustrating an environmentally themed children's book.
"The book is all about teaching kids to reduce, reuse and recycle," she said.
Catie has earned a great deal of recognition for her multiple science honors. This year, she won the Angela Award for the best middle school female science student in the nation from the NSTA.
"We are told she is the first homeschool student ever to win this honor," said her mother.
In 2015, she was invited to attend the White House Science Fair but was unable to go due to a family conflict. And in 2014, she was featured in the cnn.com article, "Girls don't do science. Or do they?"
Beyond science, Catie has built upon her love of drama and filmmaking. Currently a student at the DeArmon Creative Arts School & Theater, she is appearing in a production of Fiddler on the Roof.
In 2016, she claimed first place in the National Academy of Engineering "Engineering4U" Film Contest and was invited to attend the organization's annual conference. This year, the American Bankers Association awarded her first place in the "Lights, Camera, Save" student video contest. She and her brother, Colby, are also 2017 World of 7 Billion Video Contest finalists, collaborating on an animated video about population control.
"I've learned so much about creating video, websites, graphics — and also about teamwork," said Catie, who hopes to explore a career in environmental and educationally themed filmmaking. "I can explore technological breakthroughs, and that's so cool."
Catie is not the only creative contest winner in the Tomasello family. Brother Colby, a Land O'Lakes High School 10th-grader, holds two second-place wins in the ExploraVision competition and went to Tokyo as part of the Toshiba Tomadachi Science Ambassador Student Program. And he is the Digital Youth Ambassador for the Living the Example program, which encourages young people to make healthy life choices. Brother Zachary, a Pine View Elementary School fifth-grader, is a 2017 Regional finalist in ExploraVision.
Heather Tomasello surfs the Internet and Facebook for contest opportunities that will benefit her kids,; and with each competition she sees them learning and growing.
"I teach them that success begets success," she said