Back to the Future

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Here, (nearly) inside the Beltway, a common theme is talking about how a certain decision or policy will affect “future generations.” We hear it from the President during the State of the Union, members of Congress on talk shows, journalists online and in print, even scientists. But what if, instead of simply throwing an empty phrase around, there was a straightforward way for scientists to actually reach out to this “future generation,” to do something meaningful to inspire and help them?

Well, there is (obviously, or else there wouldn’t be much to read about in this post). Over the next few months, numerous STEM competitions will be taking place all over the country, featuring K-12 students participating in a wide variety of events that highlight their creativity, passion and engagement with science. ASBMB is calling on our members to take a few hours to volunteer (in any capacity) at these competitions, to help connect with, inspire and motivate this generation of future scientists.

For the majority of K-12 students, science competitions represent their most direct extracurricular scientific experience. Perhaps the most well-known competition is the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Started in 1950, the fair has grown to include more than 7,000,000 annual participants from over 70 countries. Students design projects in seventeen separate STEM categories, and take part in a tiered competition, starting with regional fairs before moving on to the state, and finally national, tournaments.

ASBMB member Laura Bohn from Scripps Research Institute presents Lillian Richards with an official certificate from ASBMB for her winning biochemistry project "Enzyme Time" at the 2014 Palm Beach Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

ASBMB member Laura Bohn from Scripps Research Institute presents Lillian Richards with an official certificate from ASBMB for her winning biochemistry project “Enzyme Time” at the 2013 Palm Beach Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

ASBMB member Laura Bohn from Scripps University recently served as a judge for biochemistry projects at the Palm Beach Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

“I was interested in experiencing how important science is to my school district,” said Bohn, “and I wanted to get a sense of what the students were learning in these schools.” She added, “[it] was worth the effort.”

Another major competition is Science Olympiad, which involves students working in teams to solve a series of STEM-themed challenges that are based on state science standards. ASBMB has worked directly in past years with state directors in Oklahoma and Hawaii to facilitate participation by ASBMB members as competition mentors, coaches and judges.

Numerous other examples of STEM competitions abound, including the Siemens Competition, the DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition, and the Robotics Fest.

Beyond the thrill of victory (not to mention the potential for prizes and prestige), these competitions present an opportunity for participating students to interact directly with scientists, which has been shown to be a positive predictor of attitudes towards science and interest in choosing science as a career. Think back to when you were in primary school, first getting interested in science. What would it have meant to meet an ACTUAL SCIENTIST? The impact you can have will last a lifetime. The best way to ensure the success and vitality of future generations is to make sure that they are encouraged and excited by science right from the start. Not just the winners, but every single student who competes. They are demonstrating an interest in, and large commitment to, science, and your participation will positively reinforce that dedication. So get out there and use this opportunity to actually inspire that future generation. Instead of just talking about it.

Interested in participating? There is assuredly a competition taking place in your area. Check out a state-by-state listing of different events on our website:

http://www.asbmb.org/publicoutreach/PubOutreachMapEvents.aspx

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