2014 Alumni Comments

“The science fair experience was truly my bridge to a technical education and career. I gained the fundamental knowledge necessary to identify a problem, develop methods to test a hypothesis, analyze data, and compile information in a clean and concise manner. The support of teachers, family, and mentors was critical to my success because they taught me to effectively organize, document, research, and present complex ideas. Science fair laid the launching platform from which I was able to pursue a technical degree, and I continue to draw upon these fundamentals in my work responsibilities. Thank you to those who organize, fund, and support the San Luis Valley Regional Science Fair – you open doors for the youth of the Valley!”
– Raleigh Burt, Sargent 2010, Montana State University, College of Engineering, Industrial Engineering 2014, Employed at SLV Rural Electric, Operations Engineer 2014
“The San Luis Valley Regional Science Fair is a great program. I have participated in it since fourth grade, and it’s been a blast every time When I first started setting goals for last year, I decided I would try my hardest go to state science fair again, and it ended up even better than I expected! My project last year was inspired by a NOVA TV show called “Making Things Faster”, I looked at finding the fastest paths around a mathematical network. Between SLVRSF and CSEF, I worked more on my project to make it a bit more competitive at CSEF, and I also practiced a lot. All the hard work paid off-I won first place in my category and third best overall. I really like going to CSEF because you meet people from all over Colorado who have the same interests as you! I encourage kids of all ages to participate in the science fair, no matter how smart or how good the project, everyone deserves an award for participation. Thanks to SLVRSF, I plan to do science fair every year, and I plan to make science in general a big part of my life.”
-Molly Nehring, Monte Vista Middle School, Colorado State Science Fair Winner 2014
“TV shows that try to portray science fair don’t even come close to what it is in real life. Science Fair is a way to learn about something new and have fun while doing it. Science Fair allows young adults to do actual science and present it the world. This experience has taught me many life lessons. The satisfaction of completing a project that has taken months of work is like no other. Without Science Fair, I would a completely different person.”
-Colby Self, Monte Vista Jr High School, Colorado State Science Fair Winner & Intel/ISEF Student Observer 2014
“Science fair was a part of my life starting years before I could actually compete. I remember helping my sister collect data for her botany projects, and I remember the late nights leading up to the fair when she would work on her display or rehearse her presentation for my parents and me. The first time she qualified for the state fair and I was able to go along, I was amazed: people not much older than myself, were thinking up and researching these amazing ideas and I couldn’t understand half of them. Coming from a small farm town, I was given a new sense of how limited my academic resources were. I hadn’t learned to mix chemicals or use math or program computers in the way those students did with their projects, but it was exciting to see the breadth of their research ideas.
While my sister was working on her projects, I had some ideas of my own including “Balloon Blowup”, in which I tried to determine what proportions of baking soda and vinegar would produce the most amount of gas (measured by how much a balloon fixed around a beaker expanded), and “Flower Evanescence” which tried to determine which flower preservative worked the best. However, by the time I was old enough to compete at a regional and state level, I had turned toward the field which had first really caught my eye at fairs: electronics. I wanted to make something that could control a computer using hand gestures. There weren’t any electronics classes at school and I had no idea how to turn my idea into something real, but it turned out that my science fair director knew plenty of people and soon I was talking with professors and students who told me exactly where to start.
It started with a simple “breadboard” kit and a Basic Stamp microcontroller – the kit taught me how to blink a light, write a “hello world!” program, and wire up some buttons to talk to a piece of software. Many coding experiments, a few burned parts, and several months later I hit the first big milestone in my project: I flexed my finger while a small sensor was attached to it and the pointer on my computer screen moved. The pointer didn’t move the right direction and it didn’t move smoothly, but it moved, and that was the first part of what I’d set out to do. Ultimately, that turned into a multi-year project that ended with a wireless set of gloves that could be used for typing and controlling a computer pointer.
Because of that science fair project, I was able to go to state and international science fairs not just as an observer as I had been with my sister, but as a competitor. I had the exhilaration of winning state fair and placing at internationals, and also the disappointment of not qualifying at all my last year. But more importantly I took away everything learned along the way. When I began applying for colleges the thing always at the top of my extracurricular list was science fair, and it immediately came up during interviews. I ultimately received a full ride scholarship to the College of Engineering at CU Boulder, and my experience in science fair was a huge factor in being selected for that honor.
During my later years of college I started interning for a small startup aerospace company. Some of my friends were working jobs that paid a little more than mine, but they were stuck doing the same thing every day while I got to work on several projects and continuously design new circuits and software. Several years later, that company has grown significantly and I’ve become a full time employee and part owner. In a lot of ways, we’re like that kid who has an idea for a science fair project but hasn’t totally figured out how to make it happen; ultimately it comes down to just wanting to get your hands dirty and experiment. There are projects that require a lot of hard work, some dead ends, late nights and failures, but in the end it’s an amazing feeling to see an idea become something real.
Since that first development kit years ago, I’ve spent many hours working on projects where the biggest challenge was getting the first light to blink or the first “hello world!” message to print, but that’s where every good project starts, and it’s exciting.”
-Chris Messick, Boettcher Scholar Sargent High School Graduate 2007, Master’s Degree CU Computer/Electrical Engineering 2012, Part Owner of Blue Canyon Technologies 2013
“I can say without a doubt that the Science Fair experience has transformed my life. I remember the first time I attempted to do a science fair project by myself…I was in the fourth grade. I thought about how much fun it would be to answer my very own question and be able to use equipment and discover things. However, that year I never finished my project, and I never got to present my work at science fair on any level, not even our school fair. So when middle school came around, and completing a project was suddenly a requirement, I freaked out. How can someone who couldn’t manage to finish an elementary project be expected to do one in middle school? But I talked to my teacher and came up with an idea. It was simple project, placing a few goldfish in a maze that my grandpa and I designed and timing them to see how long it took them to complete it. In all honesty, my main motivation to complete the project was to get the grade. I never realized that it would or even could become a passion of mine. When the middle school science fair rolled around, and they were announcing the people who would be able to compete at regionals, I was surprised and excited when they called my name. I went home that night and bragged about it to my family. I didn’t stop talking about it during the weeks that led up to the SLV Regional fair. My view of science fair was changing.
The day we set up our projects, I looked in stunned amazement. There were so many students there, all who had some joy in science. Out of curiosity, we wandered around looking at the vast array of projects, and when we strolled through the high school category, my jaw dropped. Their titles were so complex I needed a dictionary to read the first words. They were so big and full of graphs and information and I thought to myself that I could never do something like that. All of these kids must have rich families or tons of resources, and because I didn’t have those things, I felt that there was no way I would ever be able to compete at the high school level. But as I walked back to the middle school section, I quickly forgot about being intimidated by high school projects. I was proud of my goldfish experiment and even though I was super nervous, talking to the judges went really well…it was fun! That year I got second place in the behavioral sciences category, and I was so excited and happy. As the announcers read through the list of students who qualified for state, I was surprised at how disappointed I was that I didn’t make it to the state fair. I believe that this was the beginning of my drive and passion to learn more about science, and to try to do bigger projects.
During the fall of my freshman year of high school, I got the chance to take a tour of the burned area in Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. It made quite the impression on me, the area seemed so devastated. I learned that the fire had started from a lightning strike, and I wanted to know the impacts on the water quality and fish that lived in the creek. I started conversations with my mentor, Loree Harvey, who helped me come up with a design of how to analyze my questions by setting up River Watch sites on Medano and Little Medano creek. When I started the permit process and collecting data, it was more work than anything I had ever done. But I was so excited to see the results develop, I was learning so much, and I really believed that my work was going to help the park biologists. I began to imagine doing this for a living… as a real scientist.
In the next three years that followed, I continued to examine the water quality and macroinvertebrates on the Medano fire, succession and biological response of a water application on a playa in the San Luis Lakes area, and the effects of fire on endangered southwest willow flycatcher populations and their habitat. I have been very fortunate to have gone to International Science Fair three years in a row to each of the ISEF host cities; Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. I have met fellow student scientists from across the world, and I have talked with expert scientists and Nobel Prize winners, and felt included among them.
I am now pursuing my biology degree from Adams State University, with the hopes of going to graduate school and getting an advanced degree within the biological field. I don’t think I would be in the position I am in if it hadn’t been for the Science Fair experience, and all the people who have believed in me and supported me along the way, including my grandparents, my mentor, and the support of the SLV Regional Science Fair board members. A huge lesson that I learned is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, how much money you have, or whether or not you come from a family of “professionals”. If you have a passion for something and you follow that passion, it can take you places that you would have never dreamed possible, and help you develop into the best person you can be.”
-Tayler Rocha, Monte Vista High School Graduate 2014, Intel/ISEF Student Winner 2012, 2013, 2014

“Science Fair is one of those things that I person like me just can’t shake- and that’s a good thing. It has made an impact on me throughout my life, and it will, I hope, continue to do so. Being raised by a science teacher kick started my desire to explore that subject, though my true passion has always been history. She encouraged my siblings and I to test theories and find answers to basic questions. This transferred easily to developing projects throughout elementary, junior high, and high school. If you ask anyone who participated in Science Fair what they learned, they will usually give some version of the same things: excellent speaking and presenting skills, writing concise and correct scientific papers, learning and carrying out the scientific method, etc. All of these are very true. But for me, and the career path I chose, I also learned much more.
As with most veterinarians, I knew from a young age what my calling was. The steps for becoming one were fairly black and white: school, volunteering/working, college, veterinary school and career. What I didn’t know was how impactful having participated in Science Fair was going to be on my career path. One of the first skills I unknowingly learned was communicating with and working alongside scientists and professionals. I discovered a world of professors, biologists, mathematicians, veterinarians, physicians, researchers, chemists, and more. These were opportunities I never would have gotten had it not been for science fair. I quickly became comfortable in their environs and when it came time to enter into a university setting, I gravitated easily towards that comfort zone. I found jobs, volunteer positions, mentors and colleagues that aided me greatly throughout my schooling. Another skill I learned was researching scientific papers and applying them to my needs. This was helpful for obvious reasons in college and veterinary school, but perhaps even more so in my career now, where I am confronted with some new and exciting challenge that requires research and reflection on a daily basis. I then have to apply my findings to my patients and, perhaps less excitingly, to that time-consuming, precise, and legal document: the medical record. The last benefit that I will note from having been a Science Fair student is the immediate and instinctual knowledge that CSU was the school for me. I was twelve years old when I made it to the Colorado State Science & Engineering Fair for the first time, and walking onto that campus, participating in the activities and meeting some professors made it crystal clear to me that I was home. I spent eight years at CSU, met my future husband (also, a Colorado State Science Fair alum) there, and enjoyed every minute. I believe it was that exposure to a campus far from home, and my comfort in the scientific realm that made a small town girl like me make such an easy and successful transition to undergraduate and professional school.
I can only hope that I can help at least one budding young scientist to realize a dream and a career that they will find as equally rewarding as I find mine. I know that the easiest way to achieve that is through Science Fair and its many wonderful benefits.”
-Kayla Henderson, Sargent High School Graduate 2004, CSU Bachelor’s in Equine Science and Business Administration 2008, CSU Professional Veterinary Medical School 2012, Employed at Alpine Veterinary 2012

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