July 1, 2020
By Ferris McDaniel
For the first time in its history, the annual Louisiana and Engineering Fair (LSEF) was conducted virtually during the final two weeks of march – an endeavor spearheaded by Lisa Graves, director of LSED and manager of LSU Online and Continuing Education’s Pre-College and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) programs – due to the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus.
It was important to Graves and her team to maintain the longstanding process of the fair, especially since they had the resources and staff on campus, whether it was Information Technology Services (ITS) or marketing, to assist in the transition. The strong foundation for virtual learning LSU Online has been building, with the support of the University’s overall mission to invest in online infrastructure, helped make the changeover a success.
While other states cancelled their state science fairs altogether, Graves and her team felt it was important for students to present their research, which is oftentimes gathered for more than a year, no matter what. “Our students are priority,” Graves said. “We needed to make sure we followed through and appreciated their hours and hours of research. Some of these students travel to labs across the state and to the coast to do research. We needed to show our appreciation for what they’re bringing forth because they’re the next generation of scientists at LSU.”
Graves’ team organized an online system whereby students could upload their formal research plans (some of which were up to thirty pages long), an abstract, and a picture of their project board for judges to evaluate with a standard rubric and criteria. Though one-on-one interviews between judges and participants weren’t possible, judges reviewed materials over the course of five days and chose winners based on the detail of the research and the conclusion formed.
The fair included 406 projects by 469 students from eighty-one private and public middle and high schools across the state, including home-school, in junior and senior divisions. Fifty-five judges, including working science and engineering professionals, current and retired professors and teachers, and various other experts, reviewed the projects. The eminence of these judges is top-notch, Graves said, adding that one judge had to drop out because his expertise was needed at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, Graves invited OLLI retirees, consisting of former educators, to ensure a plethora of judges this year. According to her, these first-time volunteers were impressed by the experience and, especially, the merit of research coming from middle or high schools and volunteered to judge again in the future.
Beyond hosting and funding the fair, LSU acts as a resource for students as they develop their projects. Participants and their teachers are able to reach out to professors and researchers for guidance along the way, Graves said.
Each year, Louisiana sends about two dozen projects to the international Science and Engineering Fair, Graves said – another reason it was important to keep LSEF on schedule this year. They wanted to meet international scheduling to submit entries, even though the international fair has been cancelled. Regional and state winners were still submitted to the international fair this year. They will be included in the ISEF alumni base and will always be listed as participants, which students can include on their resumes when applying to colleges. According to Graves, many students’ science fair projects are among the main reasons they are accepted into a research institute.
Many participants are already admitted into LSU or eventually attend and continue working on their projects, Graves explained. One previous finalist went through the LSEF competition in high school, attended LSU, will soon graduate from the University, and has mentored another student to participate in the LSEF. “Once you become an alumnus of science fair, whether it be the state or international level and you continue through your research, it’s a contribution for many years to come,” Graves said.
“The Louisiana Science and Engineering Fair is a hidden gem,” Graves said. “Not many are aware of how successful the regional fairs are as well as the state fair, not only to students, but to the state. They don’t realize the caliber of research by this age group, and how it encourages the community to get more involved.
Learn more about Louisiana Science & Engineering Fairs
Take the first step forward by completing the form and our enrollment team will contact you soon to discuss: