Written by Ray Koelling
February to May is the traditional period for science fairs in the US. For the 2019-2020 school year, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered that timeline in historic ways. Throughout Spokane, Washington state and across the country, some fairs were held virtually while many more simply were canceled outright.
The Eastern Washington Regional Science and Engineering Fair thought that very unfair for our students. Up to 230 projects, 300 students and their teachers were set to come to the EWRSEF on March 18. Yet we were determined not to simply throw in the towel and disappoint students.
At that time, everyone was entering lock-down isolation and quarantine. A group of great judging volunteers used e-mail, Google chatrooms and Zoom to evaluate projects that were otherwise rendered moot to an in-person fair by looking at abstracts, protocols and pdfs. It was not what we wanted nor ideal for the students but was the best we could do.
For the Broadcom Masters (grades 6-8), a student was awarded the Lemelson top prize of $100. She and several others from Deer Park and Pride Prep were each awarded an invitation to compete on-line at the national Broadcom event. The top award at Nationals being $25,000.
The ISEF high school judging saw some great projects come through thanks to increasing interaction with universities and STEM companies. We saw diabetes research, effect of cosmic radiation on Caenorhabditis elegans, molecular genetics and a whole host of similarly advanced projects. Four projects (6 students) were picked as ISEF finalists. One project was from Ferris, two projects from North Central and one project from Odessa high school. They were to compete at the International Fair in Anaheim on May 10-15. Obviously that event was canceled. Getting 1,800 high school students from 80 countries and regions into a convention center for 6 days would have been problematic to say the least.
The International Fair was held virtually with website events and all of our local winners registered their projects and abstracts and are now in the permanent ISEF database. All six of those students may officially use the prestigious award of ISEF Finalist, 2020 in any educational or professional resume for the rest of their lives.
The state fair at the end of March was also held virtually. Many local students registered for the state fair, presented projects, and were questioned and judged from their homes by a large panel of judges also in each of their homes. The result was numerous first place awards. In fact, the Eastern WA Regional had the best showing of awards at state and internationally in it’s four-year existence.
None of this is possible for our students without the continued generous in-kind, time, partnership, support, and funding from the WSU-Health Sciences Center, STCU partnership, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, NEWEC and our volunteers.
Let us get ready for EWRSEF-2021!