It was old home week for Jordan Hallow and Katherine Bomkamp, one a student at West Virginia University and one an alumna, as they returned to the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, known as ISEF – the world’s largest pre-collegiate science competition – held last week in Pittsburgh.
Last time they were looking for a place to boost a future career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. This time they were there to provide some of the more than 1,700 high-school competitors from more than 75 countries with proof that WVU could be that place for them, too.
Hallow, a native of Inwood, was an ISEF finalist in 2013 for a team project on the effect of catalysts on the electrolysis of water. He won a scholarship from WVU and is now a junior in management information systems in the College of Business and Economics.
“I had an amazing experience at ISEF and winning a scholarship to WVU provided so many opportunities for me,” Hallow said.
Bomkamp, a two-time ISEF finalist and a WVU graduate, has been a volunteer at ISEF for several years and returned this year as a Special Awards judge. She said that ISEF and WVU have played such a big part in her life.
“The competitors at ISEF are doing Ph.D. level research in high school and being around them was unforgettable,” Bomkamp said. “You meet your future collaborators and future colleagues here. I’m still in touch with people I competed with.”
Eight students – two each from West Virginia and Ohio and one each from Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Colorado – came away from the fair with tuition scholarships to WVU.
The University awarded Academic Excellence or Presidential Scholarships, depending on residency to outstanding students whose research and academic aptitude align with WVU’s institutional goals and research interests.
The scholarship recipients are:
• Robert Donald Phillips; Musselman High School; Inwood.
• Kendall Reed Clark; South Sumter High School; Bushnell, Florida.
• Anisha Priya Valluri; Cabell Midland High School; Ona.
• Ralph Lawton; Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School – University Scholars Program; West Chester, Pennsylvania.
• Brynn Myers; Oak Ridge High School; Oak Ridge, Missouri.
• Trevor Jordan; Animas High School; Durango, Colorado.
• Nathanael Joshua Freeman; Zane Trace High School; Chillicothe, Ohio.
• Vidur Tenali Prasad; Dayton Regional STEM School; Kettering, Ohio.
ISEF is a weeklong event where participants share ideas, showcase their research projects, hear from leading minds in STEM fields and compete for more than $5 million in awards and scholarships from various organizations and institutions.
The fair also featured a public day, when thousands more students and families flooded the show floor to learn and be inspired by the competitors, organizations, institutions and speakers.
WVU had more than 30 faculty and alumni serving as judges in the competition for both the Grand Awards and Special Awards.
“We were looking for students who stood out,” said Jennifer Robertson-Honecker, adjunct professor in chemistry and STEM specialist for WVU Extension who also served as a Special Awards judge. “Their research had to align with WVU’s research goals, but they also had to have a particular personality in their research that was exciting and set them apart.”
Ryan Campione, a WVU alumnus and returning volunteer, said WVU’s judging panel was unique because it included a current student.
“We were looking for students that represented the Mountaineer spirit and dedication,” Campione said. “Having a current student’s perspective helped us find that.”
Campione said that past and current winners of WVU’s awards had academic and research strengths, but once they got to campus they made WVU their home and improved the University.
“These students are giving back to the community on campus and involving themselves in many activities,” he said.
Hallow’s career aspirations are in the gaming industry, so he and his ISEF teammates created the WVU Game Developers Club last fall to bring speakers from the industry to campus and learn more about game development.
This was WVU’s fourth year participating in the fair and has grown to become one of the most prominent institutions at the event. WVU’s interactive booth was the talk of the event, operating at full capacity for the duration of the fair.
Lines to get into the booth extended through the expo hall as students awaited a chance to ride a bike at the Science Behind the Sport display, print photos of their eyes in a biometrics demonstration, learn about light defraction in a “ghost ball” display and take home hands-on activities about the chemical reactions in glow sticks and UV beads.
Honecker said that this is the first year WVU participated in ISEF in such a comprehensive way. A highly interactive booth, Grand Award judges, Special Award judges, and informational postcards and collectible pins made WVU popular among event attendees and built recognition of what the University had to offer.
“We wanted to give visitors fun and interactive activities, but we also made sure to provide real-world context for science so that they would understand how it applied to everyday life,” she explained.
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