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Science Siblings


A pair of Bluffton siblings is proving it is possible to do it all — and have fun along the way.

Honor students at Bluffton High School, 17-year-old Decker and 16-year-old Maile Paulmeier are about as driven and hardworking as they come. 

Listening to the brother and sister explain their science fair projects, it’s easy to forget they aren’t adults — they’re just two exceptionally mature teenagers who love science. 

Both have participated twice in the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. To qualify for the international science competition, students must first win a regional or state fair. 

As seniors, Decker and friend Drew Lee submitted a project about reclaiming and restoring wetlands that was chosen as a national semifinalist for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow challenge. Maile also competed in the international fair, creating an artificial muscle that won fourth place in her category. She chose her project after a close friend with a disabled hand found that a prosthesis was prohibitively expensive. The siblings both hope to qualify for the 2018 international fair in Pittsburgh. 

In addition to their science smarts, both kids are athletes. Decker plays football and lacrosse for the Bluffton High Bobcats; Maile plays Bobcats lacrosse.

Decker also is president of both the National Honor Society at Bluffton High and the school’s business competition club, DECA; Maile is also a member. Both are leaders in the school’s Model United Nations and Youth in Government clubs, and Maile also is a representative on student council and an honors student.

In their limited down time, they work at their mother’s restaurant, One Hot Mama’s, where they run food and bus tables. Their mother, Orchid Paulmeier, was a contestant on season seven of “Food Network Star.” Decker, Maile and their younger sister Zoe learned the importance of hard work and good behavior at their mom’s business.  

Zoe, 14, shares her siblings’ drive: The Bluffton High freshman plays softball and volleyball and is a member of Youth in Government, DECA and Model UN.

The teens’ father, Michael Paulmeier, teaches fourth grade at Michael C. Riley Elementary School and is the strength and conditioning coach and an assistant coach for the Bluffton High football team. 

Decker said that science fair judges often ask students what their parents do for a living, because the projects are usually related to the parents’ careers. He said the judges are usually surprised when they learn his mom runs a barbecue restaurant and his dad teaches fourth-graders. 

“Though our parents didn’t offer a lot of technical experience with things, they definitely offered a lot of knowledge on how to dedicate ourselves fully ... how to present and how to be a public speaker,” Decker said. 

Decker is waiting to hear if he’s been accepted to Stanford University, where he hopes to study environmental engineering and international relations. Maile, a junior, also hopes to attend Stanford and wants to major in science technology and society. 

Decker offers these words of encouragement to other teens with big dreams: “From my experience at the international science fair, you don’t have to be a genius to compete at that level. You can accomplish anything if you have the drive and passion.”