University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Regional Science and Engineering Fair winners named

Alyssa Kemp of Cavalier, a fourth-grader at Valley-Edinburg Elementary in Hoople, was among seventy-eight students who presented their scientific and engineering findings at the 53rd Northeast Regional Science and Engineering Fair at the UND Memorial Union on Wednesday, March 2. Her project investigated “The Effect of Temperature on the Metabolism of Quick-Rise Yeast.”

Alyssa was in the minority in the elementary division, grades 4 through 6, where boys outnumbered girls by almost a 3-to-1 ratio. However, a curious shift occurred in the mix of boys and girls who competed in the older divisions. In the junior division, grades 7 through 9, girls more than closed the gender gap and accounted for almost two-thirds of the competitors. And in the senior division, grades 9 through 12, girls completely tilted the scale in their favor with a 4-to-1 ratio.

The number of girls in the regional science and engineering fair reflects the national trend of more women participating in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the past two decades, according to a report from the National Science Foundation titled “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2011.” But, the NSF notes, “Overall, more women than men graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree; however, men earn a higher proportion of degrees in many science and engineering fields of study.”

Working to improve the engagement of girls and boys in science and engineering is Karen Harder, the fair’s regional director. “A student who develops a science fair project covers all the subjects in school,” Harder said. She is a middle school teacher in Lakota, which had 17 students participating. “They learn art, computer and graphic techniques as well as English, math and science. In addition, the students hone their presentation skills with classmates and, most notably, with the adult judges drawn from the scientific and engineering community at UND. Participants learn skills that will serve them for life.”

The students not only investigate an idea with scholarly rigor but also must hurdle the same strict technical standards that world-class scientists surmount to get their work accepted by peers. Projects and displays must pass muster with an internal review board, which ensures the welfare of human or animal subjects used in experiments. The review also upholds safety standards for the students as well as the audience at the fair.

Running a regional science and engineering fair is not cheap. “It costs $3,500 to operate the regional fair,” Harder said. Substantial financial support for the fair came from Polar Communications of Mayville and Park River. And this year, student participation fees, usually paid by the schools, were covered by a UND and North Dakota State University program: the North Dakota IDeA (Institutional Development Award) Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), which is administered by the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences in collaboration with NDSU. Harder said additional donations are welcomed and needed in order to continue the fair.

Some pretty heavy hitters sponsor awards in each division and for special categories: from Intel to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the four branches of the U.S. military. The junior and senior division awards determined who will participate in the State Science and Engineering Fair to be held April 7–8, 2011, also at UND. State finalists in the senior division move on to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles: http://www.societyforscience.org/isef/.

At the awards ceremony, with her parents watching, Alyssa bounded up on stage to take home a first-place prize in the elementary division. Her brother Wesley, a fifth-grade student, was also a winner. The Senior Division Grand Champion was Vahid Fazel-Rezai, a Grand Forks Red River ninth-grader. His exploration of “Mathematical Flowers: Patterns in Dots Generated by Intersecting Points,” earned him an $18,000 scholarship from Jamestown College. Morgan Uriell, a ninth-grader from Lakota, was the Senior Division Reserve Champion; her project, “talkin 2 my friends,” garnered a $14,000 scholarship from Jamestown College.

Before presenting the awards to the students, Harder emphasized, “Kids who are successful in our fairs are successful in their lives.”

-- Denis MacLeod, assistant director, Office of Alumni and Community Relations, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, 777-2733, denis.macleod@med.und.edu.


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