October 3, 2003  


Science Buddies: You Can Make a Difference

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 (BABAR).

"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: http://www.sciencebuddies.org


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Thursday October 02, 2003 by Kathy B