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Mentors provide guidance and support for science projects

Dr. Cadance Lowell,Professor, Central State University

Science Projects Providing Opportunity

High school science projects and research are invaluable when applying for college and careers.  A science project shows that you are able to take an idea and see it to completion – that you can research, design and follow a set of methods, collect data and come to a conclusion.  All of these steps show that you are capable of following through in college or in a job.  Research is a line on your resume, and something that sets you apart when writing your college essay.  And it may allow you to interact with mentors that may write better letters of recommendation.

Importance of Choosing a Topic

Choose a topic for a science project that interests you.  Maybe it is something you observed, discussed in class or heard from the media.  Many science magazines have list serves that send emails of the latest articles – check out Science News or JSTOR for example – to get ideas.   If there is a college, university or industry that does research, check their websites for ideas.

Mentors provide guidance and support to your science project.  They may be parents, teachers, from industry or from academia.  They may provide support through emails, skype or face to face in their classroom or lab.  Some states such as Ohio have a statewide database of science mentors.  If your state has a Science Academy, they may have a mentor database.  Your science teacher may have connections to an appropriate mentor.  Potential mentors also may be a judge at your science fair.  If they seem interested in your project, get their contact information and follow-up.

To prepare for judge questions, go over your talk at least 10 times to whomever will listen.  Have people ask questions to practice.  And read up on your topic, not just what you have done.  Often judges will try to gauge your depth of knowledge with questions related to your topic, but not directly on what you did for your project.

Parents Being the Support System

Parents are enormously important in completing a science fair project.  They provide moral support.  In addition, they may be asked to provide space for doing experiments, transportation, skills like editing and listening, and even clothes for the science fair.

About Dr. Cadance Lowell

Dr. Cadance Lowell is a professor of biology at Central State University in the Department of Natural Sciences.  Her duties include teaching botany, plant physiology, fundamentals of biology and maintaining the campus greenhouse. She received a B.S. in botany from Duke University, a M.S. in botany from the University of Florida, and a Ph.D. in horticulture from the University of Florida. She did post-doctoral work with the USDA in Peoria, IL as a biochemist before joining Central State University in 1989. Dr. Lowell is involved in community outreach as director of the Miami Valley Science and Engineering Fair, a regional science fair that brings over 500 students in grades 5-12 to the Central State campus each year,  Seed2Bloom, a summer science experience for 5th graders and spring Plant Extravaganza now in its 24th year.  She also is a STEM Advocate for Believe in Ohio, an entrepreneurial training program for high school students through the Ohio Academy of Science.  Dr. Lowell maintains a research program in directed energy weed control and currently is a coPI with Dr. Augustus Morris (Manufacturing Engineering, CSU) on a NIFA grant titled, “Transition and Demonstration Capacity: Non-Chemical Technology Weed Disruption in Agriculture.” She is a consultant on an US Air Force SBIR Phase II contract with two local companies, Global Neighbor, Inc. and VOBOhio.  Most recent publications and presentations deal with directed energy weed control, prairie grass pollution remediation and plant species shift in a natural area woodlot following an F5 tornado disturbance.

Settling Upon the Right Project

It still has to be an idea that you find interesting or are even passionate about.  Many of the students at this level have mentors.  The students that have gone to the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair from the fair I direct all worked with doctors, graduate students, or college professors.  But it does not have to be working in a lab – winners this year from our fair talked to a doctor and did a statistical analysis of EKG’s.  This led them to design computer software based around their results and a provisional patent.

Boosting Confidence

Students get a sense of pride and self-confidence that they accomplished something.  They gain research skills, writing skills, and oral communication skills.  And you never know where the research will lead in the future.

Trying Out New Things

Yes, I did one science fair in high school and received first prize for a project on crystals.  Participation also is about be willing to try new things.  I volunteered in high school to participate in an NIH study to teach students medical school curriculum to see how students learn.  I took a free speed reading course that was offered as well.  I participated in a computer opportunity to learn how to program.  I programed the computer to write Cole Porter songs.  But what turned me onto science was a 7th grade classroom project where students were given a scenario and we were each given a related research project to investigate.

 

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