Science Fair Mentoring Project takes students to STEAM Expo
Published 2:01 pm Sunday, April 3, 2016
By Carolyn Bogott and Catherine Haslag
The Science Fair Mentoring Project finished its second year helping Austin elementary school students participate in the STEAM Expo, or the science fair. This year’s program assisted 35 Neveln fourth-graders in preparing projects for the STEAM Expo, held Feb. 26 at I.J. Holton Intermediate School.
This year’s program kicked off in October at Neveln Elementary School with a demonstration of the Mentos fountain and a lesson on experiments and variables for all third- and fourth-grade students. Next, all Neveln fourth-grade students participated in a field trip to Riverland Community College science labs for a hands-on introduction to the scientific method. Mentoring session began shortly after the field trip and featured scientists from the community talking with the students about why they chose science as their life work.
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During the remainder of the program, 25 mentors from our community assisted students in selecting a project, writing a hypothesis, conducting the experiment, and preparing a graphic and oral presentation of their findings for the STEAM Expo. The mentoring sessions were conducted after school on a weekly basis from November to February. The mentors were members of the community from “all walks of life.” No special scientific knowledge was required. Sessions were arranged so that mentors and students alike had support at every step. Students and mentors built personal relationships with each other and the students were able to explore science in a new way.
A total of 46 Neveln students participated in this year’s STEAM Expo. Of the 46 students, 21 are eligible to participate in the Regional Science Fair in Mankato on April 30. All 21 of the eligible students are registered to attend regionals with the help of the Science Fair Mentoring Project, which is providing transportation and food for the day, paying for the registration fee, and providing other necessary equipment for these students to attend regionals.
This project was started in the fall of 2014 by Riverland Chemistry faculty member Catherine Haslag. After volunteering as a science fair judge for several years, Haslag observed that some students were at a disadvantage because they did not have access to appropriate supplies and guidance when completing their projects. She wanted to find a way to address these barriers to students participating in the STEAM Expo. She took this concern to the Austin AAUW Branch for support, and the Science Fair Mentoring Project was born. Haslag has worked with a steering committee, which for this year included Richard Lemons, Rick Herreid, Shelly Weinmann, Fred Bogott, and Carolyn Bogott. Together, the committee builds the curriculum, secures funding and works with the school to organize the program for the academic year. As a result of this program, the schools it serves has seen a significant increase in student participation in the STEAM Expo.
Thank you to all of the mentors and Riverland Faculty who volunteered time to mentor students and lead activities at the college.
Thank you also to the many community partners who supported this endeavor: AAUW, Austin Aspires, Austin Human Rights Commission, Austin Public Library, Austin Public Schools, Hormel Foods, Hormel Institute, Hy-Vee, Mayo Clinic Health Systems Albert Lea and Austin, Mower Refreshed, Vision 2020, Riverland Community College, United Way of Mower County, Christ Episcopal Church, and The Welcome Center.
And special recognition goes to Neveln School Principal Dewey Schara and teachers Shelly Weinmann and Rachel Stange, whose enthusiastic support enhanced the experience greatly.