Auburn University hosts in-person state-wide science and engineering fair for the first time
Auburn University welcomed almost 200 of the brightest and most creative middle and high school minds for the Alabama State Science and Engineering Fair (ASEF) to the new Academic Classroom and Laboratory Complex (ACLC) on Saturday, April 1. Students from 47 different schools throughout Alabama presented posters of their independent research to over 150 judges from across the state while competing for nearly $15,000 in awards. Presenting in research competitions can be intimidating, but these 6th through 12th grade students were experienced presenters by the time they visited the Plains. To qualify for ASEF they won their local and regional science fairs.
The top four winners from ASEF will represent Alabama next month at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Dallas, Texas, May 14-19, 2023. ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science competition. It provides a forum for students from more than 50 countries, regions and territories to showcase independent research and compete against the top 1,500 students in the world for nearly $4 million in prizes and scholarships.
Auburn University has been helping develop Alabama’s science and engineering fair ecosystem for more than ten years with support from the National Science Foundation and other sources. The collaboration between faculty and staff in the College of Science and Mathematics and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering resulted in the Greater East Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair (GEARSEF) being recognized for its growth, efficiency and teacher training initiatives. This propelled Auburn to host the state fair.
Fair Directors Mary Lou Ewald and Virginia A. Davis realized that developing a successful state fair with projects spanning eleven different disciplines required a campus-wide alliance. Campus units contributed financially, provided judges and offered college- and department-specific awards to participants during the event. The STEM Outreach Center in the College of Sciences and Mathematics organized ASEF.
“We are proud to bring ASEF to the Plains,” stated Mary Lou Ewald, ASEF director and director for the STEM Outreach Center in the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn University. “STEM is everywhere on Auburn’s campus — showcasing its far-reaching influence.”
Every academic college on Auburn University’s campus has at least one STEM-based major which correlates to 41% of the Auburn University student population — the highest number of STEM majors at any Alabama university.
Auburn’s colleges highlighted their STEM activities in an afternoon exposition. ASEF competitors, their families and their teachers participated in an architecture workshop, learned about campus resources and research initiatives, and visited interactive exhibit tables. Exhibitors included everything from a large-animal birth simulator hosted by the College of Veterinary Medicine to a paper-making cart hosted by the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. The ASEF Exhibition was made possible through a state-wide NSF EPSCoR grant that aims to educate the public about advancements in Alabama-based plasma science research.
Over the next two years, the ASEF steering team will work with a cohort of teachers from rural, urban and low-socioeconomic status (SES) and Title 1 schools in Alabama to provide training and resources for educators to effectively mentor student research projects. Many Alabama students live in STEM ‘deserts’ with little to no opportunity or incentive to participate in independent science and engineering research endeavors. The team aims to change the STEM story of these students and welcome them to participate in science and engineering fairs.
“We can’t wait to host ASEF on Auburn’s campus each year,” said Dr. Virginia Davis, ASEF director of faculty and community engagement. “Science and engineering fairs build interest in the wide range of STEM-related fields to meet Alabama’s workforce development needs. We also love seeing the students’ excitement when explaining how they picked their project and what they learned.”
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