Finalists Courtney Astore, Rebecca Elsishans head to Intel Fair in May
Last night, an audience of over 300 family members, educators and donors honored the area’s most promising young scientists, engineers and inventors with monetary awards, other prizes, and – for two top-scoring high school students – a chance to compete in the international arena at the 25th annual Regional Science, Engineering and Technology Fair Awards.
John Scalzi, ABC 7 television meteorologist, served as master of ceremonies at the annual awards ceremony, held for the first time at Sarasota County Technical Institute’s Conference Center.
“You all carry with you the eternal question of ‘why,’ and it will keep you young,” Scalzi promised the honorees. Superintendent Lori White, school board members, district leaders and fair sponsors joined him to congratulate the 56 students from grades 3-12 whose projects scored at the top in 21 research categories this year.
Susan Scott, executive director of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, presented first place awards in each category in elementary (grades 3-5), middle (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12). Students took home more than $12,500 in cash gifts and additional special prizes for exceptional achievement.
The fair’s major sponsors presented scholarships to six outstanding high school participants. The two overall winners, Cardinal Mooney’s Courtney Astore and Sarasota High’s Rebecca Elsishans, will represent Sarasota County next month at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, all expenses paid by the Education Foundation.
The Dart Foundation Award for Medicine & Health and a check for $1,000 was presented to Natalie Olson. The Sarasota High student took first place in the category of Medicine and Health Sciences for her project, “The Effect of Aromatase Inhibitor Aminoglutethimide on Nitric Oxide Production of Human Endothelial Cells.”
The Dart Foundation Inspiration Award of $1,000 went to Courtney Astore, one of the two overall winners of the Science Fair for the second year in a row. The Cardinal Mooney junior captured top honors for her project, “Linking the Severity of One’s Autism Diagnosis with Symptoms and Causations.”
Two Faulhaber Foundation Prizes for the Scientific Exploration of Nature of $1,000 each were awarded. Jerry Allen DeBusk, Suncoast Polytechnical High took one of the prizes for his project in the space sciences, “Correlation of Coronal Mass Ejections.” The other Faulhaber Prize went to North Port High’s Kaitlyn West for “How Sweet is This,” one of three winners in the field of botany.
For the sixth consecutive year, two Omar Y. Cooper Student Achievement Awards were presented. Both offer a $2,000 prize and a twelve-month mentorship with an adult professional in the student’s chosen field. Pine View junior James Niffenegger received his award for his environmental science project, “Mud Treatment: Clean Energy and Cleaner Water Using Biological Fuel Cells.” Sarasota High junior Rebecca Elsishans won a Cooper Award for her work in environmental science, “Optimization of CO2 calcination reaction using a nickel catalyst and varying concentrations of calcium.” Over the next year, both will be able to meet other scientists, explore future education and career options, and do advanced research.
From May 11-16, Courtney Astore and Rebecca Elsishans will represent the county at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Los Angeles. This marks a second trip for Astore, who attended the Intel ISEF in Phoenix last year. All expenses for travel, entry fees, and chaperones to participate in the Intel ISEF are covered by private donors through Education Foundation of Sarasota County.
The Intel ISEF has been called the “Olympics, the World Cup, and the World Series of science competitions.” Now in its 64th year, the Intel ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science competition and the only science project competition for students in grades 9-12. The Intel ISEF brings together students, teachers, business, and government officials from around the world. This year, 1,600 students from 70 countries will compete for over $4 million in scholarships, scientific equipment, and scientific trips.
Brad Porinchak, Regional Science Fair Director, said that 822 Sarasota County students from 49 public, private and home schools submitted 657 individual and team projects to the regional competition. More than 160 volunteer judges evaluated submissions and interviewed students from grades 3-5 on January 28 and from grades 6-12 on January 30. Their scores determined the overall winners and winners in each of the categories. First place projects were featured at the Sarasota County Fair in March.
Newly crowned Teacher of the Year Lisa Figueroa, a Venice science teacher, entertained the crowd at Thursday night’s event with a song she adapted for her Taylor Ranch Elementary students, “This is Science Fair!” Scott surprised Figueroa with the first annual Education Foundation Science Leadership Award and a check for $250.
Eighteen middle school students whose projects scored in the top 10% during the regional fair were also recognized at the ceremony. The students, representing eight area middle schools, have been nominated to compete nationally for a place in the Broadcom MASTERS® finals in Washington, D.C. this fall.
Sarasota County Schools collaborates with the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and the Sarasota County Fair Association to present the Science Fair each year. Students participate by completing research in science, engineering, math or technology using the scientific or engineering method. The Education Foundation underwrites the fair, the county’s participation in international competition, and numerous cash awards through the generosity of community sponsors.
Local sponsors support the regional fair at various levels. The Dart Foundation is the Galileo Sponsor. DaVinci Sponsor is The Faulhaber Foundation.