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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Important in the past, science fair remains critical to future


Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Hawai'i State Science and Engineering Fair began in 1957. More than 50 years later, it remains a vital part of education for Hawai'i students.


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By Bruce S. Anderson and Gareth Wynn-Williams

Since 1957, the Hawai'i State Science and Engineering Fair has been the best often the only -- opportunity for youth in Hawai'i to develop and demonstrate their scientific aptitude and skills.

A few weeks ago, the Hawai'i Academy of Science issued an urgent appeal to save the fair. The money was needed to fill a major gap caused by the termination of funding by the cash-strapped state.

To date, the response has been outstanding, with more than $120,000 donated in just one month.

As a result, the 2010 Science Fair will proudly take place April 5-7 in its new home at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

We expect that this year's science fair, which will be open to the public on April 7, will be bigger and better than ever.

Yet we are not out of the woods. Each year, the academy needs about $250,000 to cover the costs of its science education activities, which include the science fair, the K-12 Pacific Symposium for Science and Sustainability and other community-based learning opportunities.

The money is used for renting exhibition space, prizes and awards, for student travel from Neighbor Islands and to the International Science Fair, for teacher workshops, office expenses and staff salaries. It is critical we find a new steady source of income so that students and teachers can plan ahead with the confidence that the state and regional science competitions will take place every year.

The State Science Fair was conceived by enlightened leadership in Hawai'i, including sugar planters and others, who recognized more than 50 years ago that we need a well-educated workforce.

It is one of the oldest science education programs in Hawai'i. Today, it is still the best opportunity many of our kids have to begin to develop their potential and pursue interests in science and engineering.

Each year, more than 7,000 high school students participate in school fairs and other science competitions leading up to the state fair.

Next month, more than 500 students from public and private high schools will exhibit their projects and compete for prizes, scholarships and for the honor of representing Hawai'i at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, Calif.

But that's not all. This is an opportunity for students to share their ideas, ask questions, and revel in their interest in science and engineering.

Some students take a project idea and work on it for three or more years, continually increasing its sophistication as they gain scientific confidence, fueled by feedback from mentors and judges.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, to which we send about 20 Hawai'i students each year, has been sponsored since 1998 by Intel, the computer chip giant.

We are looking for corporate leaders in Hawai'i, perhaps not so big but with a similar vision, who recognize that our future is in the hands of our youth.

Their sponsorship of the state fair or of one of the smaller regional fairs would help to assure that our best and brightest have the chance to compete with their counterparts from more than 50 countries.

Through these competitions, our brightest young minds are put on the path of solving tomorrow's challenges.

Let's be sure that our youth have that opportunity and the skills to move Hawai'i into the 21st century.