By Anna Gosline
Ken Hess, a businessman and engineer by training, saw
first hand the benefits of his daughterís participation in science fairs.
Yet few students are taking advantage of this valuable experience.
Hess believed that mentoring was the key to boosting
waning science fair attendance and improving Californiaís dismal science
achievement levels. So he created Science Buddies, a highly structured,
totally on-line program facilitating partnerships between science project
hopefuls and professional scientists. Professionals like the researchers
here at SLAC.
Science Buddies organizers and participants (shown
left to right) Ken Hess (Science Buddies founder), Nicolle Rager
(COM), Harvey Lynch (BaBar), Caolionn OíConnell (ARDB), Josef Frisch
(NLC), Shi-Jun Liu (Science Buddies), Carter Hall (SLD), Keith Jobe
(NLC), Tom Glanzman (EC), Robert Noble (ARDB), Travis Brooks (TIS),
Neil Calder (COM), Mehdi Javanmard (ARDB), Anna Gosline (COM)
(Photo by Diana Rogers)
Science Buddies began as a pilot project in 2001 with a
group of 81 participants, comprised of middle school investigators, high
school mentors and professional or academic advisors working together to
create a science project. Teams are created through a simple program that
matches the investigator to a mentor and an advisor based on the
investigatorís general area of interest.
How the Program Works
Investigators do all the hands-on work, relying on their
high school mentors for primary assistance and then on advisors for more
complex questions and big picture explanations. Teams communicate in their
own password-protected Web area for the duration of the science fair
season, which runs from approximately November to March.
On September 16, Hess and his colleague Shi-Jun Liu came
to SLAC to highlight the success of Science Buddies and to recruit
advisors for the 2003-2004 season. In the 2002-2003 season more than 750
people were involved, including SLAC researchers Keith Jobe (NLC) and
Josef Frisch (NLC), yielding 256 completed projects with a handful
reaching the statewide competition level.
More than 90 percent of all participants said they would
be happy to do it again, including both Jobe and Frisch. "It was a real
eye-opener. You can really make a difference," said Jobe. When asked by
other prospective SLAC advisors whether the estimated hour-a-week time
commitment was accurate, Jobe replied, "It was a negligible part of my
computer-based, bureaucratic burden."
Organizers have worked hard to address concerns voiced by
last yearís participants. Stricter screening for involved and enthusiastic
teachers will improve the commitment level of investigators. Improved
communication with teachers will facilitate greater synchrony between
Science Buddies assignment deadlines as well as the classroom curriculum
and allow more flexibility within the rigid system. This year, Hess and
his colleagues also hope to encourage more students to enter county
science fairs, thus getting a more discernable measure of their success.
Still Time to Join
All SLAC employees who attended the presentation agreed to
sign up for this yearís program, and there is still time to join if you
havenít done so yet. "Iím convinced," said Harvey Lynch (B).
"Science Buddies can make a real difference in the
attitudes of its young investigators," said Jobe. One student commented,
"At first, I thought that science projects were boring and I saw it as
another dull assignment that I have to do for class. But you guys made it
fun and I actually wanted to work on my science fair project each day
after I got [home] from school." A little help goes a long way.
If you want to become a mentor and encourage students in
their scientific pursuits, there is still time to join. Science Buddies is
an easy and effective way to encourage a young mind.
For more information, see: