Paving the way for STEM
Over 350 middle and high school students from 12 counties around GC flooded the Centennial Center for the 42nd annual Science and Engineering Fair on Friday, Feb. 1.
Excitement and nerves filled the air as competing students waited for one of 98 GC judges, including faculty, staff and science majors, to approach them and look at their work.
“I would like to think it gives our judges hope for the future,” said Catrena Lisse, director of science education and a chemistry professor at GC.
Contestants have been doing extensive research and experimentation for months before coming to GC. Some have even grown to become experts on their topics, and managed to amaze GC student judges.
Emma Lucciola, a junior chemistry major, judged the science fair for the first time last year where she was fascinated by a project called Starry Night. She was impressed at the student’s ability to use a sky meter, a device which allows astronomers to measure sky brightness in magnitudes per square second.
“He literally pointed the sky meter at the sky and measured the stars,” said Lucciola.
It is common for science fair competitors to borrow equipment that they may not have access to through GC. Allowing students to use various equipment to impress the judges is part of the goal of growing and encouraging young students to pursue a future in STEM.
“STEM is the fastest growing field,” Lisse said. “We need to catch up and we need to be producing those STEM majors.”
Historically, the science fair has allowed GC to reach out to surrounding communities and low income families to ignite interest and excitement for learning.
Marilyn Pitts, the mother of high school competitor Javen Pitts, is grateful for the opportunity the science fair has given her son to put his love of STEM to use.
“He likes to put things together, experiment and stuff,” she said. “It helps him get closer to his goals.”
While the main focus of the science fair is to encourage students to consider a future in a STEM field, students do not have to have STEM related goals to enjoy science.
David Garnett, a sixth-grader from Howard Middle School participating in his fifth science fair, studied cake flavors as part of his project. He found that the appearance of a cake often plays a larger role in the way a cake tastes, than the flavor of the cake itself.
“I plan on being a baker, but I like STEM a lot because I’m a science nerd.” Garnett said.
Garnett serves as a reminder that the science community brings people together from all areas of life, regardless of career choice.
For two middle and two high school students, the GC science fair was just a small taste of what they will be up against in the state and international competitions. A few past winners of the science fair have even advanced past state levels, and won scholarships.
“Five years ago, one of our winners from Macon went on to international and placed fourth,” Lisse said. “She was awarded a four-year full ride scholarship to Harvard.”
Whether the science fair has given students a chance to attend college for free, encouraged students to think about going to college, or even confirmed their dreams of becoming a baker, it has made quite an impact on the surrounding community.