Science fair mentoring project completes 5th year

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Submitted by Carolyn Bogott

Science Fair Mentoring Project (SFMP) had their fifth year of success in 2018-19.

SFMP assisted a total of 127 children with participating in the science fair, which is 77 percent of the 164 students participating in the science fairs at Banfield, Neveln and Southgate elementaries.    

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Kick-off activities, which included science demonstrations and trips to do experiments in the labs at Riverland Community College, exposed many students who did not participate in the fairs to the excitement of science. This year 319 total students participated in these events.

In addition, 15 students attended Regional Science Fair at Mankato State on April 27 with the support of the SFMP. This support included transportation, registration fees, and lunch, all provided free to students.

The program started in 2014 when Catherine Haslag, chemistry teacher at Riverland Community College, brought together a group of interested Austin AAUW Branch members and other community members interested in working with the project. She proposed forming a mentoring program to help children prepare for entry in the science fair.  This grew out of her observations when helping to judge the science fair that some children were at a disadvantage because they had not had anyone to help them with their projects.

Since that first year, 365 children have received support from SFMP in completing a science fair project at the science fair in Austin and 87 students have received support in attending the regional science fair at Minnesota State University in Mankato.

The SFMP has evolved and this year Southgate teachers Morgan Dickman and Lisa Deyo used SFMP materials and strategies to help all their fourth grade students prepare for the science fair during regular instructional time at Southgate. In addition, three other fourth grade classrooms and Pi Academy students completed a short program that introduced students to the scientific method and gave them the background information necessary to complete a science fair project on their own.

Volunteer mentors played only a supporting role to help students prepare the display boards and their oral presentations. Neveln students continued in the after-school format with volunteer mentors helping them once a week over five months. Banfield used volunteer mentors in “pull-out” time during the school day to assist students.  All materials for experiments and presentations in all of these various situations were provided by SFMP at no cost to parents or students.

“The Science Fair Mentoring Project is just what the fourth graders should have — strong teaching examples with all the physical tools to be successful,” Deyo said. “The bonus is having community experts work directly with students.”

“Children may have a hidden talent that is not always visible and this shines through while they are taking part in the mentoring program,” said Neveln third grade teacher Shelly Weinmann. “They are so fortunate to have adults come to our school and help them understand the scientific method and put together a project. I have seen how much this program boosts the children’s confidence. This is such a reward to see as a teacher.”

Thank you to all of the sponsors and volunteers who make this program possible. To learn more about this program, visit