A group of Gahanna students recently received some positive reinforcement with a competitive performance at the 2017 Health Occupations Students of America Future Health Professionals International Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Thirteen students in the Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools Bioscience Technologies Program located at Gahanna Lincoln High School attended the June 21-24 conference, where more than 7,100 students participated in 52 events.

The Eastland-Fairfield contingent comprised Neha Badam, Katie Blowers, Kaylea Dillon, Iman Faqih, Brittany Isbister, Lydia Liao, Olivia Menear, Sreekar Miriyala, Dolores Pacheco, Kaitlyn Rittinger, Jessie Sharp, Ian Slaughter and Claire Varney.

For the second consecutive year, the school's biomedical debate team advanced to the top 25.

Team adviser Kelly Lewis said she loves the energy and focus of this year's group of students.

"They have a year's experience now, and I think they will take it to the next level next year. They work really well together," Lewis said.

The biomedical debate team members, all of whom attend Gahanna Lincoln, are juniors Blowers, Badam, Faqih and Miriyala.

Badam said with the debate team being all juniors, this year was the first time they had participated in HOSA.

"We had only competed twice before, at regionals and states," Badam said. "The conference in Florida was on a much larger scale than any we had been to before."

Miriyala said he had previous debate experience, so he really wanted to get involved in this event.

"The event has two stages: a written test and then a debate," he said. "Our topic this year was 'America has the best health-care system in the world.'"

During the written test, Miriyala said, the team was given one hour to answer 50 questions relating to global and domestic health care systems.

"The next round would be a debate, in which one side had to argue for and the other side had to argue against the topic," he said.

"The score is averaged among us team members," Miriyala said. "That night we were notified we made it into the top 25, and would advance to the debate round."

The next day, the team debated a team from Missouri.

"We had gotten the affirmative side and debated for America having the best health-care system in the world," Miriyala said. "The experience was amazing. It was very interesting to meet people from all over the world who have come together for this common experience."

Badam said she had the rare opportunity to meet students from other states and a few other countries.

"It was so cool to be surrounded by so many like-minded students, most of whom are interested in health and science fields," Badam said.

"During workshops, on the bus to a theme park and even walking between buildings, I struck up conversations with people from Hawaii, Delaware and New York," she said.

Even though the team didn't finish in the top three, Miriyala said, its members were all happy about the experience.

"Getting to internationals and getting into the top 25 of over 90-plus national and international teams was amazing," he said.

Both Miriyala and Badam were recognized with the Barbara James Service Award for health-related volunteer work.

"Within the past school year, I have accumulated over 100 hours of volunteer (work) as a homework helper at the library, a peer tutor in school, at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, the YMCA, at retirement homes and raising money for GRIN (Gahanna Residents In Need)," Badam said.

"Through volunteer work, especially after school at the library, I found that I definitely have a passion for working with kids. I love forming friendships and bonds with the students I work with," she said.

Miriyala said he has a passion for service and helping others. Last summer, he initiated a drive to collect drinking water for Flint, Michigan, after its water supply was found to be contaminated by lead. He also helped lead Lincoln High School's pediatric cancer fundraiser, GahannaThon.

In addition to competing at the conference, the students visited Walt Disney World Resort attractions, including Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and a water park.

"I grew so much closer to all of my classmates that I went with and am so grateful for the experience," Badam said. "I am looking forward to hopefully getting another opportunity to attend next year."

While being a part of the bioscience program has increased her interest in science, the volunteer work Badam completed has shown her she has a passion for helping others.

In addition to Badam and Miriyala receiving the bronze Barbara James Service Award for having 100 to 174.9 hours of service, Slaughter also earned that recognition. Isbister, a junior at Pickerington High School North, and Dillon, a Gahanna senior, earned silver awards for having between 175 to 249.9 hours earned during the 2016-17 school year outside of school.

Competing in Forensic Science were Pacheco and Varney, both juniors from Gahanna. Competing in Clinical Specialty was Sharp, a Gahanna junior. Several students also took the National Health Care Issues exam, including Liao and Rittinger, seniors from Gahanna, and Menear, a senior from Reynoldsburg.

Lewis also was recognized with the Award of Merit as Outstanding HOSA Adviser for the state of Ohio.

"I am very humbled," she said. "It comes down to having a group of bioscience students that are good leaders and goal-oriented. They deserve a lot of the credit."