The Lure of Science

When one thinks of a science fair, one often thinks of exploding volcanoes and/or potato clocks. However, for a number of junior high and high school students attending the Eastern South Dakota Science and Engineering Fair, that’s not the case. p16-Science-Fair-(4c300)

For a surprising reason, David Reynolds, head of the Department of Music, has served as a judge of the fair for seven years. The Department of Music sponsors a special award for students whose projects have a direct correlation to music.

“It might be hard to believe, but there’s a very close connection between music and science,” Reynolds said.

The ESDSEF is an SDSU tradition 62 years in the making, with Brad Blaha serving as the director for the last seven years.

“I quickly found out that it was more than just bubbling volcanoes,” said Blaha.“The projects are more challenging and difficult than what I imagined.”

Blaha noted the 2016 event was one of the biggest. Frost Arena was packed with 349 projects presented by 513 students. With 11 categories, ranging from animal science to chemistry to physics and astronomy, Blaha said that the fair incorporates faculty and staff from every college on campus.

Throughout the day, volunteers judge students; this year, the fair had 137 registered judges, most of whom were faculty or staff. Judges also included local industry partners and a few undergraduate students.

This year, more than $15,000 was awarded, and four science projects and five students were awarded the opportunity to attend the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Whatever category students select, Blaha and Reynolds agree the science fair projects have an impact on students that goes beyond their years of competing in the ESDSEF.

“It’s a beautiful thing for students because they can do whatever they want,” Blaha said. “These students are doing projects they really have a passion for.”

Categories students select are often correlated to careers they could choose in the future where they can use information from their projects and build upon that knowledge.

“I think the feedback they get is great,” Reynolds said. “It’s also forensics [how presentations are organized] because students need to be able to speak about their projects and have an impromptu conversation about it.”

Ben Hummel, a sophomore English major, participated in the ESDSEF while attending Florence High School.

“I found a lot of comfort in the idea that, despite the fact I was from a small, rural community, I was able to contribute to the academic community,” Hummel said. “I developed an affinity for presenting complex ideas in a short amount of time.”

Over the course of the fair, thousands of students have learned many things, but one of the most important is something that most students wouldn’t think about at first.
“Science doesn’t always mean chemistry,” Reynolds said.

Kelli Garry

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