As a graduate student, my Saturdays are not much different than weekdays. But last Saturday was different for me.
I had registered to volunteer as a judge in the Alamo Regional Science and Engineering Fair (ARSEF) held at St. Mary’s University. I have presented my research in many conferences and meetings but I myself have never judged any so far. So, I was very excited to experience the other side of research presentation.
Upon arrival, I was handed my “judge” tag and led to a hall where other judges had gathered. After a short orientation session, we proceeded towards the science fair. My responsibility was to judge junior team projects and there were a handful of them. I thought the judgement should be easy and it won’t take long. But when I started scoring, I realized how difficult and complex it was to evaluate each project. Every project had their unique strength and impact despite some challenges. I even had to revisit the projects to make sure that I had graded them to the best of my abilities.
There were projects where students investigated how music can influence one’s academic performance or how environment friendly were to-go food bags from various fast food vendors. Some of the them were highly sophisticated, including the use of CBD oil for the treatment ofdementia or improving laser guided signaling in space technologies. These exciting accomplishments from sixth grade students made me wonder how capable these kids are going to be when they grow up.
Although I was evaluating the projects, the event turned out to be more of a learning experience for me. I learned that the way of communication can have a significant impact on the message one wants to convey, regardless of the quality of the research. Second, science does not always have to be complicated. One can find scientific basis on even the simplest of things one could imagine. Third, team work – the way students worked together with a common objective, tackled obstacles and compiled the outcome as a successful project was incredible.
In addition to this, I also learned how the ARSEF has evolved over the years. A gentleman who has been serving as a judge for a decade now, shared his experience from his earlier days. He mentioned that the science fair has been attracting more and more students each year and the projects they bring are getting diverse and refined. At the end of the event, I could not stop admiring the enthusiasm, creativity and hard work the students put in to qualify for the fair.
The Alamo Regional Science and Engineering Fair is an annual event where students from grade six through twelve participate with their STEM projects as an individual or as a team. I would highly recommend whoever is reading this article to participate in such an event at least once and motivate students towards STEM research.
About the Author
Meena Kusi is a Ph.D. candidate at UT Health San Antonio. Her mentor is Tim Huang, Ph.D. She is also a Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) predoctoral fellow.