HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Jan. 16, 2019) – Equipped with clipboards and grading rubrics, five Huntsville Center employees served as judges during the Monte Sano Elementary School science fair Jan. 10.
Rows of trifold presentation boards filled the school cafeteria as the judges conducted one-on-one interviews with 27 sixth-grade honors students who were tasked with presenting the results of their hands-on projects and demonstrating their understanding of the scientific method.
Russ Dunford, who manages strategic plans and integration at Huntsville Center, said he was impressed with both the projects and the presentations.
“I was completely taken aback,” Dunford said. “Gone are the days of making a volcano that erupts with no scientific process or controls or data analysis. These students at the sixth-grade level were executing with scientific processes – defining dependent and independent variables, variance, etc.”
Mark Reed, Huntsville Center contract specialist, said he was “in awe” at the level the students’ projects achieved. Before joining the Center 18 months ago, Reed taught sixth- and seventh-grade science in Copperas Cove, Texas, and is certified with the Texas Education Agency as Highly Qualified in Science.
“One of the students actually extracted the iron from different breakfast cereals so that he could measure which brands were most accurate in their advertising,” Reed said. “I'm positive that when I was in sixth grade I could not have conceived of doing something this complex, let alone put together a hypothesis, do the research, perform the lab exercise, and then write an academic paper that outlined everything from start to finish.”
Also serving as judges from Huntsville Center were Tom O. Meier, director of the Management Review Office; Lorena Henderson; lead contract specialist in the Contracting Directorate; and Meghan Clardy, a chemical engineer who works in the Cost Engineering Branch.
Linda Tisdale, the sixth-grade science teacher presiding over the fair, thanked the Huntsville Center volunteers for making the time to participate.
“I’m impressed that they were able to come out to our small community,” Tisdale said. “Sometimes people forget about us up here on the mountain.”
While having fun and learning about science were part of the event for students and judges alike, Tisdale said the overarching goal behind the science fair was to prepare the students for short- and long-term success.
In the short-term, winners from Monte Sano’s science fair are slated to move up to the 2019 North Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, scheduled for April. This UAH-hosted science fair has allotted as many as 12 slots for the Monte Sano students who receive top marks during the local Jan. 10 event.
A slightly longer-term goal is scholastic placement: Tisdale said she hopes to open the door for students to take honors and advanced-placement classes in high school and college.
Even further out, another intent is to help foster students’ interest in the career fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Tisdale said she hopes girls who attend Monte Sano Elementary are fully receptive to the school’s message that the STEM career pathway is just as viable for them as it is for their male classmates.
According to a 2010 report from the American Association of University Women, although women have made “tremendous progress in education and the workplace during the past 50 years,” they are still noticeably underrepresented in STEM – even more so than the historically male-dominated career fields of business, law and medicine.
Dunford, also speaking long-term, said he views the Center’s participation in the science fair as an investment in the future of the students and the local education system, as well as in potential U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – and Huntsville Center – employees.
“Huntsville Center has always been supportive of the local community, and why not? The Center is part of the ‘we’ that comprises the Huntsville community,” said Dunford. “We are a scientific/engineering organization to the core. Our processes have direct application to the Monte Sano Elementary science fair – especially given the quality and complexity of the projects presented by the students.”
Both Reed and Dunford said they recommend other Huntsville Center employees consider participating in future community events like this one.
“I believe that anyone who is passionate about something should volunteer to participate in events like this whenever possible,” Reed said. “Huntsville Center is packed full of talented people who are definitely an asset to our community. Our children will benefit from not only the knowledge HNC staff have but the example that they model.”