As DCPS students gear up for the 65th Annual District of Columbia Citywide Science and Engineering Fair this weekend, now is a good time to reflect on the potential benefits of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
Take Betlihem Ayalew, for example. The Banneker High School junior won the second-place grand prize at last year's citywide science and engineering fair and represented the District last year at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in California.
When asked how the DC Science Fair opportunity influenced her life, she says, “There’s no doubt that [the DC Science Fair] really impacted my life,” Ayalew said. “[The] Intel International Science Fair was an amazing experience because I got to meet people from more than 60 countries. I have made so many great connections with scientists from Stanford and Harvard University as well. I met Larry Page and other rock stars that were sponsors of the fair.”
But the recognition and support didn't end there.
In the fall, Ayalew was one of only two dozen middle and high school students nationwide to be invited by President Barack Obama to the first-ever White House Science Fair. She recalls excitedly how she “got to speak with the president and President Obama congratulated me and told me what a good job I did, which is something that I will never forget.”
Look for her in the video below (If you look behind President Obama, you can see Ayalew in a white shirt seated between two male students.)
While Banneker students and staff continue to support her today, when asked about other sources of encouragement, Ayalew credits her interest in science to her mother, who always told her to do her best, and her science teachers at Brightwood and Paul Junior High School, who always encouraged her to “strive in science.”
She feels that her own success at the DC Science Fair has affected her perception of how important it is to continue climbing and competing academically.
“I never realized how far a science fair project will take you,” she said. “This kind of project is what builds you. It makes you ask yourself ‘What is going to happen next?’ That is what drives [me]. Everything comes as a surprise and it is very inspiring. Science is a self-motivator. If I am doing this much outside of school (to create a science project), I can do so much more in school,” she said.
The DC Science and Engineering Fair is open to students across the city and comprised of top winning projects from school-sponsored science fairs as well as home-school participants. The fair allows students to showcase their research skills and share their findings with local professionals and other students within the city.
As a science competition, participants have the opportunity to compete for a variety of awards and prizes offered by multiple government agencies, businesses and professional associations.
This year, the fair, open to students in grades 3-12, will be held on Saturday, April 2 at the DC Armory with the awards ceremony slated for April 3 at the Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium. For more information about this event, visit www.dcsef.com. If you would like to learn more about Betlihem Ayalew’s experience at the first White House Science Fair, visit www.dcsciencefair.com and click "News" to read the story.
Photo by Paul Graves courtesy of Paul Graves Portrait Photography
Banneker Senior High School student Betlihem Ayalew poses with Carlos Contreras, director of U.S. Education for Intel, at the 2010 DC Science and Engineering Fair Awards Ceremony.
Ayalew, a junior during last year’s science and engineering fair, placed second in the annual event with her project “The Life of Planaria.”