Sunday, March 18, 2001

Science fair coming to NKU

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        While George Gore has always relished opportunities to judge science fairs, he was disappointed that entrants in Miami University's fair were exclusively from Southwest Ohio.

        “There was none from Northern Kentucky,” said Mr. Gore of Cold Spring, a retired engineer who has judged science fairs at the university for three years.

[photo] Sister Mary Ethel Parrott (right) helps (from left) Rachel Petit and Sara Wetzel at Notre Dame Academy.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        That pricked Mr. Gore's professional and parochial pride.

        Mr. Gore, a graduate of Newport High School who attended Thomas More College when it was Villa Madonna, wanted to foster similar interests and opportunities among young Northern Kentuckians.

        When local educators were unresponsive, Mr. Gore resolved, “I'm not going to let this slide.”

        He and other directors of the Engineers & Scientists of Cincinnati made a science fair their cause last year and found a receptive audience in Phillip H. Schmidt at Northern Kentucky University.

        Dr. Schmidt was the recently hired director for NKU's new Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics (CINSAM).

    Northern Kentucky University created the Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics (CINSAM) two years ago after an assessment by professors of the local job market concluded that:
    • When they look for young talent, many employers and graduate schools prefer math and science majors whose undergraduate degrees reflect an integrated, interdisciplinary education.
    • When students graduate from NKU, most stay in the Tristate.
    • There aren't enough graduates with interdisciplinary backgrounds in science and math to meet local demands.
    Because of CINSAM, new funds mean that faculty members are being added and undergraduate research assistants hired.
    This week CINSAM will bring K-8 students to NKU for “science camp.”
    On March 24, youngsters from 43 counties will come to NKU's Regents Hall for the Central Kentucky Regional Science Fair at CINSAM's invitation. It's open to the public noon-2 p.m.
    If all goes well, CINSAM and NKU will sponsor their own Northern Kentucky Regional Science Fair next year.
        “Phil went for the idea,” Mr. Gore said. “It is really through Dr. Schmidt that this is taking off.”

        Reaching out to local teachers and students is at the core of CINSAM's mission, unlike less concentrated efforts that other faculty and colleges have pursued.

        In addition to awarding scholarships and supporting campus-based student research, CINSAM promotes the teaching of science and math in local schools.

        Kentucky students, on average, score lower in the sciences than in reading and math on state tests, particularly middle school students.

        Mr. Gore, Dr. Schmidt and their colleagues agreed that a science fair at NKU would be a perfect way to promote their shared commitment to science and math.

        However, neither Dr. Schmidt, a professor of mathematics, nor Mr. Gore, for all of his years of planning major construction projects, had run a school science fair.

        They sought out Travis Huber, who'd survived similar doubts and agonies as founder and director of the 43-county Central Kentucky Regional Science Fair.

        Happily, Mr. Huber, assistant principal of Mason County Middle School and a former science teacher, agreed to bring his sixth annual event to NKU this year. On Saturday, 400 youngsters in grades 4-12 from a 43-county area will set up their projects for judging in NKU's Regents Hall.

        He and a handful of teaching colleagues had taken over and renamed what had been the Northeast Kentucky Regional Science Fair when Morehead State University gave it up in the early 1990s.

        Already, an unusually large number of Northern Kentucky entrants have registered, CINSAM program manager Karen Ware said. Most participants are in grades 4-8, Mr. Huber said.

        At Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, Notre Dame Sisters Mary Ethel Parrott and Judith Averbeck have well-equipped labs where students prepare their projects.

        Competing is a long tradition, Sister Mary Ethel said. “Older kids have done well and younger kids see that.”

        She helped resurrect the regional event and hopes to have a hand in creating the Northern Kentucky Regional Science Fair in 2002. The sisters were willing to drive their students to Morehead or Lexington, but closer is better, Sister Mary Ethel said.

        Regional events are vital because winners get expense-paid trips to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair or similar competitions.

        “We want local kids to compete on an international level,” Dr. Schmidt said, especially since Intel will be in Louisville next year. “That's a big deal.”

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