Science Fairs and Research Projects Fuel STEM Careers

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BOOKINGS, SD — Tomorrow’s scientists, researchers, engineers and mathematicians are getting their start with hands-on, inquiry-based problem solving thanks to school science fair research projects.

“Right now, South Dakota is facing a real shortage of people who are trained in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines,” according to Dr. Jim Rice, SD EPSCoR Director. “We are trying to use South Dakota’s science fair programs as a platform for strengthening the ability of K-12 STEM educational programs to guide students onto a career path that will be an important part of South Dakota’s future STEM workforce.”

Rice is the director of the South Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (SD EPSCoR), a statewide program that is working with government, businesses and education leaders to make infrastructure investments necessary to grow South Dakota’s key science and technology (S&T) sectors by producing the talent that is needed to drive innovation. Part of the SD EPSCoR mission is to enhance the state’s economic growth through increasing workforce development in science and technology fields, which starts in the classroom.

“SD EPSCoR is focused on building the human infrastructure that is necessary to drive South Dakota’s STEM-based economic development,” Rice said. “We believe that encouraging hands-on research projects is a proven way to get students interested in STEM and continue studying STEM as they graduate from high school to a college or university.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s recently released STEM 2026 Vision report reinforces SD ESPCoR’s philosophy of making infrastructure investments in hands-on, research-based, educational experiences that helps students develop problem solving skills. A primary vehicle for providing these experiences is strengthening the state’s regional science fair programs.

Science fair research projects play an important role in fostering innovation through STEM education. They are a cornerstone activity that helps students understand and apply the scientific method, develop their problem-solving skills and serve as the basis for exploring STEM careers. Hands-on activities allow students to use critical and creative thinking capacities, problem-solving skills and collaborative efforts, all valuable skill-sets future employers look for.

In order to encourage greater participation in the regional science fair programs, SD EPSCoR is working to increase the number of schools and students participating in regional fairs. Beginning in 2015, SD EPSCoR, in partnership with Fisher Science Education, introduced the science fair School Challenge Competition with three cash prizes awarded at each of South Dakota’s four regional science fairs to the schools whose top three scoring student research projects receive the highest scores. The cash prizes are: 1st Place $900, 2nd Place $700 and 3rd Place $350. In conjunction with the School Challenge Competitions, SD EPSCoR and Fisher Science Education also sponsor the High School Science Lab Makeover Award, a $5,000 award given by SD EPSCoR to one school at each regional science fair. Fisher Science will also provide a $500 gift certificate if qualifying purchases are ordered through Fisher Science. The schools can use the funds to purchase STEM equipment, supplies or related investments that will increase student participation in science fairs and allow them to undertake STEM research projects.

In addition, Fisher Science is giving all South Dakota schools an opportunity to receive a 25 percent discount on all items ordered through Fisher Science and free shipping on orders over $250.

Dates for the 2017 SD Regional Science Fairs are:

  • Eastern SD Science and Engineering Fair at SDSU – March 21, 2017
  • South Central SD Science and Engineering Fair at DWU – March 21, 2017
  • Northern South Dakota Science and Math Fair at NSU – March 23, 2017
  • High Plains Regional Science and Engineering Fair at SDSMT – March 28, 2017

More information about the regional science fairs, awards and SD EPSCoR can be found at: http://sdepscor.org/science-fairs-2/ or contact SD EPSCoR at (605) 688-6475 or Phillip.Huebner@sdstate.edu.

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