On May 19, after winning their schools’ science fairs, around 150 Albany elementary and middle school students will participate in the citywide Joseph Henry Science Fair at Saint Rose. The College has hosted the event for over 20 years to give our school-age neighbors a glimpse of college and encourage them to follow their curiosity with action.
The Fair occurs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Daniel P. Nolan Gymnasium. Middle and private school participants will present their projects from 10 a.m. to noon. Elementary school students follow from 1 to 3 p.m. Awards will be given at 7 p.m. in Saint Joseph’s Hall. (The public may view the work from 3 to 7 p.m. in Saint Joseph’s Hall.)
Projects range from simple to complex and span the major areas of scientific study. Each includes a poster, data tables, a data log, and a three-dimensional component. Students may discuss their work with each judge, individuals who represent the region’s science community.
Organizers say the process is as important as the results like scientific inquiry itself.
“Whether or not a student wins, they’ve learned something new about a topic they may not have been originally interested in. More than that, however, they have learned and been through the scientific process,” said Academic Success Center Director Matt Woods, EdD. ’08 G ’20, who has headed the Fair since 2013. “We have seen in the past few years what happens when distrust in science and the scientific process becomes mainstream.”
Here, Woods talks about the event.
Who was Joseph Henry?
Joseph Henry was one of the greatest American scientists of all time. He helped develop the idea of inductance (running a current through metal creates a magnetic field) and used this idea to create one of the first electric motors. Henry was born in Galway, Scotland, and taught at the Albany Academies. He later served as the first secretary of the Smithsonian. He also mentored many inventors, such as Alexander Graham Bell, who, when discussing early ideas for the telephone, confessed he lacked the knowledge to complete the work, to which Henry advised him: “Get it!”
Why have a fair?
To honor and elevate the kids of Albany and inspire them to work in the field of science. Students compete at their schools’ science fairs and then come to Saint Rose for a citywide science fair. Every student gets a certificate of achievement to honor their work to make it this far.
Judges are members of the local STEM community: Doctors, nurses, professors, engineers, etc. They meet with the kids in the gym, and the kids talk about their projects. Judges use a rubric based on the scientific method (research, hypothesis, procedure, data, etc.). Each project is judged multiple times before we average the scores that night for the awards ceremony.
Projects are broken down into four categories: elementary school individual, elementary school team, middle school individual, and middle school team.
We see projects from students from every race, gender, and dozens of nationalities. The public schools especially have been doing a lot of work recently on providing access to STEM for all students, and I’m excited to see who comes this year.
What is the current trend?
Kids are doing fewer cookie-cutter-based science things and asking questions about the objects around them. Last year, we had kids ask about many of the food they eat and products they buy (its content, bang-for-the-buck type questions).
One of the more interesting ones was a project at the elementary school level where a student looked at how much certain pens smudge because she was left-handed. I love ideas like that because it’s a creative way to do a simple project.
Students from Myers Middle School looked at the lead content in water at various locations around the city. They were able to get into why certain locations had more lead than others based on their architectural history. When projects can go in amazing directions, great results will usually follow.
How do students benefit?
I believe most of the students that come have a very memorable experience because they get to be on a college campus for part of a day. I do know that this upcoming first-year class contains a former winner from one science fair, and her experience played a role in her choice to attend.
Whether or not a student wins, they’ve learned something new about a topic they may not have been originally interested in. They have been through the scientific process.
Kids learn that science takes time and is not a one-and-done thing (part of the rubric is a discussion about future ideas). We also teach in science that it’s okay for your original hypothesis to be wrong, and it’s okay to admit you need to change how you think going forward because the data you found proved you wrong. That’s when true learning takes place.
How does Saint Rose benefit?
Saint Rose has been hosting the Fair for a long time (since at least my time here as a student from the stone age). We benefit by being a beacon in the community. We help inspire students to work harder than they had before and encourage them to have fun while doing so. By hosting this event, we are essentially present in each of the public schools and modeling for them what it means to be a good STEM student.
I made a commitment at last year’s virtual Fair to bring this back in person because the students deserve the chance to show off their pride in their work and feel good about what they’ve done. This is us truly living up to our motto and mission, and it’s part of my job I take the most pride in.