For Keli Steen, science fairs go way beyond achieving awards.
The Grove High School anatomy and physical science teacher has developed a curriculum called “Independent Scientific Research”, a program which takes place at the school, during the seventh and final hour of the day.
Steen is passionate about her classes and may be even more serious about what takes place during that seventh hour. The ISR program is designed to teach students the aspects of research from collecting data and gathering bacterium to keeping nine-week journals. She receives a small stipend for her end-of-the-day efforts which can go well beyond that seventh hour, similar to the way athletics is handled at most schools.
Through her 27-year teaching career at Grove, Steen has taken many of her students to participate in the Oklahoma State Science and Engineering Fair held at East Central University each spring and as many as 35 of those students have advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Many have also gone on to the American Indian Science and Engineering Fair.
Research has played a critical role in those students achieving numerous honors, but according to Steen, it’s not just about the awards.
“Students need to learn to write an essay for college and they need to know how to communicate with their professor,” said Steen. “Through research they have to know how to defend what they’ve done.”
Regional and state science and engineering fairs play an important part in the development of the student in reaching higher in the pursuit of an ultimate higher-education STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degree.
That’s why ECU is at the forefront of staging these events each spring.
“Our kids come away with a pretty good feeling about the (state) fair and the judging. They are fair, professional and good to the kids,” Steen said. “The new venue (ECU Foundation Hall inside the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center) is very nice. If they continue to support research, as long as they keep that as a priority, we would like to continue to come.”
For the third year in a row, ECU has received funding for its regional and state science and engineering fairs, thanks to a $75,000 grant. The grant is $25,000 less than for 2014-15, but $25,000 more above 2013-14 in which the fairs were funded for the first time in several years.
“With the Oklahoma State Department of Education, it’s fabulous that they continue to support and fund us,” said Dr. Rahmona Thompson, ECU professor of biology and coordinator for the science fairs at ECU. “Joy Hofmeister (state school superintendent) has stated that this is a valuable program."
Winners of the state science and engineering fair advance to Intel International Science and Engineering Fair at Phoenix, Ariz., in early May.
“There are between 14,000-15,000 kids, from around the world, who present projects there,” Thompson said. “Oklahoma kids always win something at ISEF. When you send 12-14 kids to compete against 14,000 that is pretty impressive.”
Much of the funding from that grant will help these students go to ISEF. Despite the $25,000 less in funding this year, some outside help is coming aboard this spring in the form of $10,000 grant from the Northrop Grumman Foundation, which describes its top priority as providing education experiences related to STEM. The foundation is affiliated with the Northrop Grumman Corporation in Oklahoma City. Northrop Grumman, described as an engineering consultant, serves as a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cybersecurity, C4ISR and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
“They found us. They came to us and said they wanted to support our (state) science fair because they value science and engineering so much. That was amazing,” said Thompson. “Lynn Gilmore, their coordinator with the foundation, said they wanted to support the fun aspects of the fair such as prizes and t-shirts. They’re even sending some people to help with the fair. They want to know that ordinary people do science and engineering.”