Ryan Salony (Abington Heights HS, Lackawanna County) - t-2nd Place, Eastern Youth

Hello everyone, my name is Ryan Salony and I am a rising senior at Abington Heights High School. I am a player on the school's soccer team, a player on the school's tennis team, an avid Science Olympiad competitor, the leader of the school's tutoring corps, and a researcher at the University of Scranton. My favorite hobbies are 3-D printing, skiing, and building balsawood planes and gliders. I'd like to give thanks to Mr. Burke, my AP Human Geography teacher, for introducing me to this competition and giving me the knowledge to succeed.

Judges' Statement

Ryan brought a scientific mind to the map-drawing process. 18 draft maps later, he analyzed different results and put into his final map. Combined with a strong personal statement and good use of local knowledge, he ended up with a fantastic result. We enjoyed the statement that high schoolers should run the state!

Personal Statement

My AP Human Geography teacher introduced the Draw the Lines competition to my class as a quick, stress free end of the year assignment to reinforce the concept of gerrymandering. After 18 fully and partially completed maps, I can safely say that I turned this assignment into quite the opposite. I spent at least 20 hours building maps, and even though it was frustrating at times, it was an incredibly rewarding and entertaining experience in the end.

Being a stronger scientist than I am a politician, I took an unconventional route to drawing my map. I approached the map using the scientific method: I made a hypothesis, performed the experiment, analyzed the results, and moved on to the next map. With each map I drew, I focused on maximizing a variable, starting at a new location, or splitting up the map in unique ways. Using the data I gathered, I was able to optimize my 18th map to include a high compactness score and basically equal population, which were the two variables I found to be the most important when drawing the lines.

Compactness, in my opinion, is the most important factor when determining congressional districts. Creating elegant, circular districts is crucial for democracy because it is the most effective factor at ensuring no gerrymandered districts. By forcing the districts to have round edges and an overall circular shape, it is almost impossible to purposefully favor one district over another. In addition, compact districts are extremely convenient for politicians, as it makes traversing the districts as quick and easy as possible. Although it wasn’t my top priority, I also tried to minimize county splits whenever possible, as it serves almost the same purpose as a high compactness score. Both high compactness and moderate county splits simplified my map for lawmakers and politicians, as well as giving other states a visually appealing model to follow when drawing their zones.

My second priority was an equal population, which was a lot more challenging and time consuming feat than I originally imagined. Equal population gives each district a fair chance in the election, which is why it’s so incredibly important to optimize. In my map, the highest deviation is 12 people, which is basically unnoticeable, ultimately making each citizen of Pennsylvania equally represented.

Besides my three main priorities, I had one other priority which in my opinion, seemed to be a dangerously overlooked factor when drawing maps. As I drew the lines, I made sure to not split towns up between congressional districts. Take, for example, the towns of Pottsville, Altoona, and Bloomsburg: all three of those are right on the edge of congressional zones, but I made sure to keep each entire area in one zone. Since most towns are unified under one district, they will have an easier time making change in their community, as they will only need to speak with one representative instead of multiple.

Although I entered this competition as an individual entry and built the map by myself, this map is far from entirely my own. The map is a reflection of the opinions of me, my AP Human Geography teacher, my AP Seminar teacher, my classmates, and my family. Each person I talked to gave me their own unique perspective, and I felt it important to incorporate these perspectives even if I disagreed with them. After all, America is a country for the people; if I don’t incorporate other’s opinions, then my map is democratically invalid.

Overall, it truly amazes me how local students can build extraordinarily better maps than the politicians themselves. It’s almost like we should have high school students run the state instead…