CHAMBERLAIN — The road to science fair success is paved with revisions and improvements.
Well before scores of students put forth their year-long research work at the South Central South Dakota Regional Science and Engineering Fair on March 17 on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus, the work is being reviewed and evaluated. And it turns out advancing in the Science Fair competition is a science in itself.
On Tuesday, students in Carrie Cox’s science courses at Chamberlain High School displayed their research projects, which ranged from the best ways to store fruit, tick-borne diseases on dogs, and evaluating the rotational paths of stars.
In almost every case, the students are challenged to think critically and analytically about the topic they choose to take on, said Mike Farney, the retired DWU professor who has helped put on the region’s science fair since it formed in 1993. Farney still offers his time to local schools and their students to evaluate what is working and what needs improvement in their research projects.
“What’s apparent is how hard the students work and how smart they are,” he said. “That sets everything else up. But the challenge is proving how you came to the conclusion that you did and backing them up.”
This month, Farney and DWU students will evaluate exhibits at Andes Central, Avon, Corsica-Stickney, Plankinton, Wessington Springs and White River. (Schools from 12 counties are eligible to participate in the regional fair.) On Tuesday, the DWU students led the way on deciding which presentations would move on to the regional round, evaluating the strength of the research and the ways the experiments were tested.
Farney, who taught at DWU for 40 years in science and mathematics and now is in a professor emeritus role, said he focuses more on the presentation of the information, and making sure that students can convey what they learned and how they learned it to judges.
“I like it, but when we can make it better, we should,” Farney told one student.
In Chamberlain, students have another week before they will present their projects again locally to the public, and then they can work on them up until the regional event on March 17. The winners there have the opportunity to advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair, which takes place in May in Anaheim, California.
Many of the students participating are part of Cox’s Research and Design science, which is in its first year at Chamberlain High School. She said she’s found her students are more responsive when they have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the research of something they have an interest in. Cox also encouraged students to pursue topics related to current events, which led to topics surrounding vaping and foster care in South Dakota.
“We wanted to look at issues we’re having in our world right now and look at solutions,” she said. “And I wanted them to do something they were passionate about, learning how to collect solutions, collect data and then provide that research and make some scientific conclusions."
Senior Alaina Bairey looked at any possible differences in conception rates when using sexed and conventional semen when conducting artificial insemination. Her project is one of a handful expected to move on to Mitchell in March. She said she wanted to look into the topic because it’s a growing issue in agriculture and she reached out to dozens of producers with her survey.
“Every day you have something to look forward to, whether it’s new survey responses, or talking to new people,” Bairey said of the project.
Karlee O’Neal, a senior at Chamberlain, looked into the foster care issue in South Dakota. She has herself been in foster care and said she’s grateful to have spent the time on the research. She met with Gov. Kristi Noem regarding the issue earlier this year.
“If one child benefits from foster care improving in the state, we will be much better off,” she said.
For those entries moving on to the next round of competition, there’s more work to be done, Farney said. He’s encouraging them to keep working hard.
“It’s a game, the game of science,” Farney said. “It’s just like a coach; you want to work up to your full potential.”