PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Students gear up for Southeast Regional Science Fair
Southeast Alaska draws many youth scientists to study the natural wonders of the area. On Mar. 28-29, more than 140 students will display over 120 projects in the Marie Drake gym during the 16th annual Southeast Regional Science Fair.

Though students from other towns have signed up for the fair before, this is the first year students are actually competing in the fair from areas outside Juneau.

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  Many of the students who compete in the science fair go on to study science in college, said science teacher Jonathan Smith.
"For years we've been wanting to push this idea of reaching out into the rest of Alaska and we have had some participation in previous years, but this year we have a bulk of students participating from other areas, truly making it a regional fair," said science teacher Jonathan Smith.

There will be 10 students from Mt. Edgecumbe High School's advanced genetics and microbiology class in Sitka, as well as several students from Interior Alaska towns coming through University of Alaska's EDGE program (Experiential Discoveries in Geoscience Education). The fair is being held in conjunction with the EDGE program this year.

The bulk of students competing in the fair are freshman and sophomores from the JDHS advanced physical science and advanced biology classes - taught for the last nine years by Smith.

Six years ago, the Southeast Regional Science fair became an affiliate of INTEL (International Science and Engineering Fair), meaning students adhere to the same national rules and policies of the National Science Fair network. This enables judges to send students straight on to the international competition from Juneau instead of routing through Anchorage first.

"One of the reasons we became affiliated was because we wanted to give the most students possible the opportunity to go to the international fair," Smith said. "So it affords more students from Alaska overall to go to the fair. But travel budgets are now a concern."

According to fair coordinator Koren Bosworth, one of the reasons participation from other towns has not occurred in the past is due in part to travel costs.

"It's been very hard for the Mt. Edgecumbe students to travel here, this year they found a way, but is seems sports teams get a lot more funding for some reason for their travel. We are working to change that," she said. "We are a very low cost organization, but travel for international events is costly. Air miles are one thing we are looking for from Southeast community members to possibly donate."

Bosworth is also trying to get as much money together to be able to send students to the Alaska High School Science Symposium in Fairbanks.

In Juneau the wealth of natural resources to study are endless according to Bosworth. Most student projects were developed in conjunction with a volunteer scientist/mentor from the community. "(Students) can study with oceanographers, wild life and marine biologists just to name a few, so the fair tends to be very competitive," she said.

Over 120 mentors have spent numerous hours with the students and around 120 judges give up a good portion of their weekend for this event.

"The biggest thing about the science fair besides the kids themselves - these are very difficult projects - the kids are amazing," Bosworth said, "is that its such a community event...there are also sponsors who give money and awards and the volunteers who run the entire fair weekend making it possible. I appreciate seeing all these community members come out to contribute."

About 20 different awards are handed out through the affiliation with INTEL, including awards from the U.S Metric Association, Women in Geosciences, Military, and the Stockholm water competition which awards a project by sending them to the statewide competition, then making it possible to compete nationally, and possibly internationally in Sweden.

Many local awards also are given, including the Greens Creek Award to the project best relating to mining, Alaska Miners Association, the U.S. Forest Service, Bartlett Regional Hospital which is judged by their doctors and Pavitt Fitness also will give one this year. These are all donated and judged by the local organizations.

There also is a regular judge panel that chooses which projects will go on to the INTEL international fair. "We are still 40 judges short for the regular judges, we need about 120 to do it right," Bosworth said. These judges will spend 30 minutes with the students from each individual project as part of the judging process. Over half of the projects in last years fair received an award.

"The fair isn't just about competition," Smith said, "I certainly wouldn't do the science fair with the students if it was just about competition. It's about doing real science, in the real world, with real scientists."

Smith describes his philosophy as a science teacher as, science being a process.

"(Science is) not a bunch of information you find in a textbook. The information came to be in textbooks from the doing of science. Science is a verb," he said, "Seldom do students leave school with understanding that. They think science is a bunch of things that we already know. Really why people want to be scientists is the discovery of the unknown, it's the one place you can be an explorer and find things no one else has found out. I try to pass that on to students."

Many students who have been involved with the Southeast Regional Science fair in previous years have gone on to study a form of science on a collegiate level, though not necessarily the ones who win the fair, said Smith, stating a difference between being competitive and passionate.

There will be a Public Open House on Friday Mar. 28 from 5-9, and a public open house with individual student presentations on Saturday, Mar. 29 from noon to 1:30pm. The awards ceremony will be at the University of Alaska's Egan Library on Saturday, Mar. 29 at 7pm.