Future is bleak for Science Fair and Engineering Festival

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette MTU student organizations volunteer to find creative ways to connect science to fun projects, such as the Women in Engineering’s activity “Tree Cookies,” which used cookie-making to explain how trees grow . Fun and educational activities such as the Science and Engineering Festival will be eliminated if budget cut proposals are successful.

HOUGHTON — If the Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (MiSTEM) Council gets its way, the Western UP Center for Science, Math and Environmental Education will cease to exist, according to Shawn Oppliger, director of Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics & Environmental Education (WUPC) at Michigan Technological University, and Joan Chadde, director of the Center for Science & Environmental Outreach.

If the MiSTEM’s proposal is approved by the state, the move would strip legislated funding from the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network (MMSCN), and drastically change the WUPC’s primary role from building teacher capacity and developing student talent at the local level to a convener of STEM organizations within a large prosperity region, Oppliger said.

Such a decision would dismantle the MMSCN, and in turn eliminate legislated funding for the WUPC, which is currently $47,387, as well as additional funding the WUPC leverages by being a member of the MMSCN and additional grant support through partnerships with local state entities (estimated at $330,513 for 2016-17, according to Oppliger.

For the WUPC, this means the local current structure that provides student and teacher programs to local districts the Copper Country and Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School Districts will shift to one STEM center that services the entire Upper Peninsula funding of $200,000.

This would entail the elimination of the annual Science Fair and Engineering Festival, which Chadde does not want to see happen. To conduct such functions, and area school Family Science Nights, WUPC relies almost exclusively on volunteers from student organizations from Michigan Technological University.

“When I ask those kids ‘What do you remember for your elementary and middle school years?'” Chadde said. “Number one is science fairs.”

Chadde suggested that intermediate school districts could support the science fair and engineering festival.

The ISDs could decide if they want to support this. I teach a class called Communicating Science, and I have for the past 20 years. That’s where I get a lot of volunteers for all the Family Science Night Events,” she said.

Chadde said the Family Science Nights and Engineering Festivals are important to students and how they will come to view STEM subjects as they reach college age.

“You don’t have to be in the Science Fair, you might just come here to the Engineering Festival and get inspired,” Chadde said during Thursday’s Engineering Festival. “They can go upstairs, and they can see those projects at the viewing, and then also send (students of) all the after-school programs. You can’t have a better after-school program than to bring the students here.”

“The ISDs can decide the Science Fair is so important that we’re going to continue this; we’re each going to put in a couple thousand, we’re going to have students come from all across the western U.P.,” Chadde said. “This will go away, unless all the ISDs decide they want to support it, or we can make it big enough and good enough that the governor will say ‘this cannot be cut.'”