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Published August 28, 2020
By Erin Stoesz
The Wyoming State Science Fair (WSSF), an outreach program of the University of Wyoming since 1998, opens otherwise inaccessible opportunities for Wyoming middle and high school students.
Locally, successful high school competitors may catch the eye of a UW professor or research lab and win entry into undergraduate research programs or mini-internships. The lab experiences give students hands-on, personalized mentoring most do not encounter until graduate school.
To be able to say “I did a three-day internship in the UW biogeochemistry lab” or “I participated in the Wyoming Research Scholars Program (WRSP) at UW” is a real boost to a student’s resume.
Two 2020 WSSF participants, Joshua Arulsamy, from Laramie, and Malea Christensen, from Buford, are beginning work in the WRSP program this fall at UW.
Annually, top competitors at WSSF are nominated to enter other national and international STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research competitions. The Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Science, Technology Rising Stars) is the nation’s premier science research competition for sixth to eighth grade students.
This year, a record 15 WSSF competitors who received Broadcom MASTERS nominations completed their applications. Entering these national competitions begin at the Wyoming regional science fairs and the WSSF.
The successful application of student nominee Kassi Hanson, of Cody, earned her and regional science fair director Michael Cuddy, of Powell, a spot in a random drawing for $500 -- and he won. The $500 he received is being used to support the 2021 Northern Wyoming Regional Science Fair.
Of the 3,000 Broadcom MASTERS applicants, the top 300 will be selected before the competition is whittled down to 30 semifinalists and finally top winners, who receive up to $25,000.
Exceptional high school competitors win an annual trip, fully funded by UW/WSSF, to compete at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). While there are millions of dollars in prize money up for grabs to reward outstanding -- even professional quality -- student research, the student competitors also receive unprecedented international exposure, opportunities to meet Nobel laureates and McArthur Scholars, and network with their peers at social events.
WSSF splurges each year to also send a chaperoning teacher and/or core science fair volunteer/judge -- usually a UW faculty member or retired faculty member -- to participate in the experience.
The ISEF is a first “professional-like” experience for students, and we know they take their insights with them wherever they go -- to UW or beyond. But, we really value the experience the adult chaperones bring back to Wyoming. They help strengthen the science fair program in the state.
In 2020, WSSF students jumped through other open doors of opportunity to compete in Arizona State University’s Sustainability Solutions Festival and the Genius Olympiad. Both are science research competitions open to students who have successfully competed at the WSSF.
Wyoming ISEF alumni and project teammates, Dani Clapper and Carly Keller, both from Yoder, were nominated at the WSSF to apply for the 2020 Genius Olympiad. Their research was selected from 1,636 projects to be among the 824 international qualifiers to compete. The recent competition was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, but they will compete in New York in 2021. Wish Dani and Carly “good luck and do well” as they continue to develop new and better air filtration systems for school buildings.
Research by sixth grader Esther Martin, of Cheyenne, about how sand/clay ratios affect strength of bricks earned her the Lemelson Young Inventor award at the 2020 WSSF, but she did not stop there.
Arizona State University, a major award donor at the International Fair, sponsored a virtual Sustainability Solutions Science Fair in 2020, and Esther jumped at the opportunity to apply. We wish Esther the best of luck in this competition and cannot wait to see how she continues to innovate better, more sustainable building materials.
The doors opened by science fair participation are not limited to students.
Adult mentors, who actively work to support students entering science fairs, are eligible to apply for grants and training programs through the Society for Science and the Public (SSSP).
Two Wyoming educators applied for and received SSSP STEM Advocate Grants in 2020. Congratulations to Roger Spears, of Goshen County School District 1, and Cecile Prine, of Lander Middle School. We are excited to see how they use the mentoring and $5,000 to push students in their areas to new heights at the 2021 WSSF.
Science, engineering and math research experience begins with an idea, dogged perseverance seeking resources and help, and successful entry and competition at a regional or state science fair.
WSSF is a unique UW outreach program in which creative solutions are encouraged, critical thinking is fostered, and working above school-grade level standards is expected and celebrated. Participation and success in the WSSF opens many doors of opportunity -- more than mentioned here -- for young scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
Start knocking on these doors today!
Erin Stoesz is the Wyoming State Science Fair director and an assistant lecturer in the University of Wyoming’s Science and Math Teaching Center. For more information about the science fair program, email her at Erin Stoesz at email@example.com or visit the website at www.uwyo.edu/sciencefair/.