Harvey Mudd Students Help Junior Scientists Prep for Fair

Psyched about a district-wide science fair coming up in February, 126 middle and high school students sought tips on how to make their projects stand out. Harvey Mudd College and its community partners stepped in to help.

Harvey Mudd, Western University, Pomona Youth and Family Master Plan, and Pomona Unified School District joined forces to host an Oct. 26 event that featured workshops and student experts to guide the junior scientists.

“It’s not that the students don’t know how to do a science fair. They have great ideas; they just need some guidance and support to make their projects even more competitive,” said Brian Gray, assistant director of tutoring services for Harvey Mudd’s Office of Community Engagement. “We wanted to give them the resources needed to take that next step forward.”

“PUSD Does Science” offered workshops for the students and their parents on subjects such as how to conduct controlled experiments, how to collect and present data and how parents could lend support. It also included a consultant fair, where participants met one-on-one with college-level student experts. Harvey Mudd alumnus Matt Goodwin ’13 served as an expert consultant along with students Madeline Goldkamp ’14, Eddie Gonzales ’16, Madison Hansen ’15, Joana Perdomo ’16, Alberto Ruiz ’14, Dina Sinclair ’17, Christian Stevens ’14, Misha Vysotskiy ’15, Shanel Wu ’16  and Chris Zazueta ’14.

They fielded questions about subjects ranging from designing earthquake detectors and building improved hydrofoils to experimenting with plants and applying solid scientific methods.

Goldkamp answered a variety of questions about how to measure experimental results. “One student proposed making simple acid-base mixtures to create gas and pressure buildup in bottles. He wanted to measure how far the bottles would shoot the liquid depending on the mixture, but wasn’t sure how to keep an accurate measurement,” she said. “Ideas we came up with were making a stationary stand for the bottles, or to attach the bottles to a wheeled cart that would shoot back when the pressure was released.”

Mentoring the younger students proved rewarding for Wu, who guided them from general ideas to specific questions within their topic that could be tested and tentatively answered through experimentation. “I loved discussing projects with students who were engaged in science early in their education. I also enjoyed encouraging engagement in students who were less enthusiastic about science,” said Wu. “When I was doing a science project in sixth grade, I was completely lost. I definitely could have benefited from someone to bounce ideas off of and to give me intuition for the scientific process.”

Roberta Perlman, president of the Pomona Unified School District Governing Board, expressed appreciation for the program. “The event provided our students and their parents with valuable information to help them formulate ideas and pursue scientific exploration and investigation,” she said. “The students left feeling inspired to work on their science projects and to explore various scientific fields of study. We are so thankful to have such caring community partners, willing to help inspire our students to achieve their goals.”

Gray envisions more collaboration in the future as Harvey Mudd joins with community partners to achieve common goals.