[Source: Jordan LaPier, ASU State Press] — It looks like your average science fair — groups of school children running down halls and giggling in corners while parents and judges survey the students’ cardboard displays covered in construction paper and photographs. But the Arizona American Indian Science and Engineering Fair, a partnership between the ASU American Indian Programs Office and schools throughout Arizona and in tribal communities bordering Arizona, is anything but an average science fair. “These students are coming from schools with almost no resources,” said Philip Huebner, the director of AIP. “These are the scientists of tomorrow.”
AISEF began as a way to promote greater involvement in science and technology among the American Indian communities in Arizona, Huebner said. The American Indian Programs office, located at the Polytechnic campus, not only hosts AISEF and two other fairs, but provides resources and training for students in schools that don’t otherwise have them available.
For Annette Mendivil, a 12th grader at Casa Grande Union High School and member of the Gila River Indian Community, AISEF was an important opportunity. “It meant I could have a future, education-wise,” she said.
Last year, Mendivil’s project on juvenile tilapia fish earned her the AISEF grand prize and a trip to compete in an Intel science fair, where she received a four-year scholarship to study at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., even before finishing her junior year. “It took up all my time,” Mendivil said of her winning project. “I had to give up sports and everything – weekends and breaks, too. I sacrificed other interests for this, and I’m so glad I did that.” This year’s entries come from a wide variety of science disciplines, with topics ranging from a study of Mongolians as “our long-lost cousins” to one project called “How Music Affects the Heart Rate.”
In a row of projects, one group offered “Tips on Smooth Lips,” another studied the frequency of physical traits in their class, and Keleesha Yazzie’s team from Shonto Preparatory School in the Navajo nation constructed a “cheap” heating system out of everyday materials. “We had about 180 projects registered this year,” Huebner said.
Huebner said that because AISEF is a partnership between an ASU organization and the community, “it’s not only important for ASU but for the state as well.” He said he believes the students will use the skills learned through AIP research programs to become effective members of a growing Arizona workforce. “We want to bring students to a level to compete with others,” Huebner said, adding, “I’d put these projects up against any other science fair in the state.” AIP will host the 53-year-old Central Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair on March 18, according to volunteers.