Science Fair and Festival could be the last

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette MTU student organization Alternative Energy Enterprise volunteers help a young potential future scientist understand how hydropower can be used to lift a paper clip at the Science and Engineering Festival.

HOUGHTON — In what could be the last of 19 annual events, the Western UP Center for Science, Math, and Environmental Education (WUPC) conducted its annual Western Upper Peninsula Science Fair and Engineering Festival on Thursday at Michigan Technological University.

While the event was again successful, drawing more than 500 people from the Copper Country region and beyond, it could be the last, organizers said, because of the state’s budgetary proposal to cut Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics centers.

A December, 2016 report released by the MiSTEM Council announced a proposal to rebrand the STEM centers and reduce the number of centers from 33 to 10 across the state. The closest one after the reduction would be in Escanaba.

“So, that means we will have one math/science center in the U.P. ,which will probably be centrally located, so that probably means our schools will not be serviced by that math/science center, just because of the geographical distance,” Shawn Oppliger, director of (WUPC) at Michigan Technological University, told the Copper Country Intermediate School District board in February.

In response to the MiSTEM Council proposal, the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network (MMSCN) and the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics & Environmental Education (WUPC) at Michigan Technological University, arrived at two alternative proposals to put before the legislature and the governor, Oppliger told the board.

The first proposal is to maintain current funding levels for the 33 regional centers of MMSCN to support the STEM Council pillars, with special emphasis on those related to teacher capacity-building and student talent development.

The second proposal is to support the 10 STEM centers in the prosperity regions whose role should be to nurture, support and coordinate STEM programming, including promoting STEM education, seeking funding, and convening STEM stakeholders to advance all STEM goals.

“Our proposal is to have these 10 STEM centers that the governor wants but also keep the 33 math/science centers intact,” Oppliger said.