Welcome to the Maine State Science & Engineering Fair!
Intel ISEF 2013
You may remember that back in March our Maine high school students competed in the 2013 Maine State Science Fair. The event was bigger than previous years and the quality of the
projects that we were proud to host was astonishing. All students presented themselves, communities and their schools with poise and grace. Many won awards, but in the end there could
only be three that would advance to the international competition: Mary Butler (Bangor High School), Meagan Currie (Greely High School) and Harry Pershing (Greely High School). They were not to
travel alone, but also won expense paid trips for their teachers (Cary James of Bangor, Bob O’Neill and Brian Blum from Greely) to participate in continuing education education credits opportunities,
symposiums and support and celebrate the accomplishments of their students and receive validation for the hard work they put in throughout the year.
Finally the time came to see this achievement realized. Only a little over a week ago we all boarded planes, in different cities but all full of excitement, to begin our journey to Phoenix, Arizona to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), where 1600 students from 70 countries would also be competing. We were joined by an enthusiastic and fantastic group of parents, all ready to cheer for their child or offer support when nerves caused feelings of doubt. Their presence made all of the difference to our young competitors.
Nervously we set up our projects, constantly combing the violations lists for our names, being told that a bowl of water or wood fibers would not be allowed as part of the display, until we were all approved and were left to wait for the judging. Fortunately none of our students were listed on any of the violations list and Intel ISEF’s scientific review committee signed off on all of our projects with no objections. Our first victory.
Through the week students attended symposiums covering what judges are looking for, how to present themselves through public speaking, and assorted others. Teachers were collecting the continuing education credits and fair directors were going to every symposium that involved rules and science fair management. There were events only for students, leaving the adults the opportunity to get together and discuss how we all can better serve the students of Maine. Nobel laureates formed a panel to answer students’ questions, and experience that few have the opportunity to enjoy. We were even visited at the breakfast table by two of these Nobel Prize winners one morning! And the students were constantly practicing the points they wanted to make concerning their research and trying to anticipate all possible questions.
Then came the judging. The students were on their own, with no adults other than judges allowed inside the exhibit hall. It was these days that our students were most deeply affected by nerves. As I said before the value of having a parent there for the student to lean on was priceless. And we were all reminding them that simply being part of such an elite group of people was a HUGE accomplishment that made them winners already.
The Special Awards Ceremony was spectacular as usual. Flashing lights, music and more like music awards show than a science competition making each student feel like a rock star. We were all feeling privileged just to be there. Then it happened. Twice! Harry’s name was announced as the Society of Exploration Geologists Distinguished Award winner bringing with it a cash award of $2000, a trip to the SEG International Expo and Annual Meeting, and the opportunity to have his work published! Not to be out done, Meagan was called to the stage to receive the NOAA Award of $500 cash, a weather radio and a certificate signed by the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. This was more than we had hoped for. After all, this is only the second time that Maine has been represented at Intel ISEF, ever!
The Grand Awards Ceremony was equally as grand. It was hard not to get a little choked up by the effort that they made to celebrate the hard work of those 1600 students. It was awe-inspiring. We had no expectations entering the hall, finding our seats, and waiting to hear the handful of names from the list of 1600 that the judges had rated as exceptional. They began to list the fourth place winners and our hearts caught in our throats when we heard the words, “From Cumberland, Maine. Harrison Pershing,” for the fourth place Physics and Astronomy category award! All pictures of Harry going to accept his award are shaky because it’s hard for a camera to focus when it is attached to a person who is jumping up and down. We finally settled down, feeling that we were indeed pushing our luck to expect anymore. Then they were announcing the second place category winners and I think my heart may have stopped, completely frozen, when again we heard those magical words, “From Cumberland, Maine.” This time it was Meagan in the Animal Science Category. Not only did she win $1500 but she will also have an asteroid named after her! As a fair director I could not have been more proud of these students if they had been my own children.
I do have to admit that the trip wasn’t all work for our students. We also took the time to enjoy a little down time at the zoo and a visit to the Grand Canyon. We ate most of our meals together and built some lasting friendships that will not be forgotten soon. But it was time to go home, back to a mountain of school work that had piled up in the last week, work for the parents and myself and classrooms full of students eager to hear about the experience for the teachers.
I am humbled to have been allowed to share such a spectacular and life-changing event with these people and I can’t wait to begin working on the 2014 Maine State Science Fair! We are currently accepting submissions if you, your child or your students would like a chance to experience this themselves. We have some exciting changes coming for you this year, I’ll tell you more in future newsletters.
Finally I want to thank Mary, Meagan and Harry for their hard work and for being amazing representatives of the state of Maine. You are part of an elite group and your futures are bright.
Thank you Cary, Bob, Brian and all other teachers who bring STEM into the classroom in such meaningful ways- you are truly heroes.
Thank you Angela, Carolyn, Emily and Andrew for providing these young people with the support they needed.
Thank you to Erin for helping me keep everything under control, Randy, John, Sven and Rob for breathing life back into the Maine State Science Fair and your continued support and all of the volunteers that make the MSSF run so smoothly.
And finally, The Jackson Laboratory and our sponsors, without you none of this would be possible. Our goal is to make you proud to be a supporter of the Maine State Science Fair and our amazing students.