While USI students are away for Spring Break, courts in the Recreation, Fitness, and Wellness Center are getting a breather, too. Pickleball nets and pickup games have been replaced by long rows of tables showcasing the work of 237 curious, young minds participating in the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair.
“I feel good about it. I like my presentation,” said Elliot Rahman, an eighth-grade student from Heritage Hills Middle School in Lincoln City, Indiana.
He’s displaying outcomes from testing the corrosiveness of metals. “I’ve always liked construction, and I really wanted something that would give me results that would be applied to real life and could actually help me.”
Now in its 12th year at USI, the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair (held Thursday, March 7 and Friday, March 8) welcomes K-12 students like Rahman from the greater Evansville area to share their scientific research in a variety of categories and compete for titles and prizes (like GoPro cameras and cash).
But beyond the recognition, they’re also able to make valuable on-campus connections.
“The process of the science fair is important, and the scientific method and the design process are important, but these kids talking to a faculty member or an adult professional about what they’re doing and having somebody engaged and interested…that’s priceless,” said Allison Grabert '02, director of the science fair and the Southwest Indiana STEM Resource Center at USI. “That one-on-one [time] makes a big difference.”
More than 70 adults—including USI faculty, staff and students; faculty from other local higher education institutions; local teachers; and business, industry and health professionals—offer their time as judges, organizers and volunteers.
"Everyone involved in USI’s fair feels that this is of the upmost importance, not just to the University, but to the national and local STEM landscape." -Allison Grabert, director of the Southwest Indiana STEM Resource Center at USI
"Everyone involved in USI’s fair feels that this is of the upmost importance, not just to the University, but to the national and local STEM landscape," Grabert explained.
Pam Kobe, administrative assistant in USI’s Mathematics Department, spent Thursday afternoon making sure science fair check-in ran smoothly.
“We’re passing out the name tags and the booklets and the prizes to the teachers and the kids,” she said. “My daughter came to the science fair five years ago, so it’s kind of cool to be on the other end of it now.”
“It’s always exciting to see them [the participants] get excited for something I saw in myself a long time ago,” added Ryan Loehrlein ’19, mechanical engineering and finance. Loehrlein is a member of USI’s UNITE CubeSat team and earned a scholarship to the University while competing in the science fair as a high school student.
He continues to come back as a volunteer because of the importance the event played in his choice to attend USI. “This university showed me at a young age that I could actually pursue my passion.”
That’s exactly why Grabert believes the fair is more than an engaging outreach program; it’s a recruitment tool.
“I think that we’re seeing students and parents coming here to USI for the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair and leaving feeling like USI may be the place to send their kids for college,” she said. It’s a great way to elevate USI.”
And she wants faculty and staff across campus—not just those with math or science backgrounds—to benefit. “We have [science fair] categories that are reflective of each one of the four colleges here at USI,” Grabert explained. “This would be a wonderful opportunity to come in and talk to future Screagles.”
Winners from each division (Senior, Junior and Elementary) of the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair advance to the Hoosier Science and Engineering Fair in Indianapolis on March 30. There, they have a chance to move on to the pinnacle of competition: the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in May. The Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair is open to the public at no cost until 4 p.m. on Friday, March 8, 2019 in USI’s Recreation, Fitness, and Wellness Center.
Elliot Rahman, an eighth-grade student at Heritage Hills Middle School, poses with his project at the Tri-State Science and Engineering Fair held at USI March 7-8, 2019.