Bremerton, Washington. The Bremerton/Olympic Peninsula Council of the Navy League of the United States (NLUS) presented cash awards and certificates to seven students at the 2015 Washington State Science and Engineering Fair (WSSEF) at Bremerton High School. As part of the Council’s initiatives in supporting youth interest in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM), 17 Council volunteers were on hand to judge for basic fair awards, judge for the Navy League awards, and present their awards to the winners at the awards ceremonies.
The awards were given to those students whose projects best contributed to the advancement of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in support of our nation’s Sea Services (Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine). Two awards were presented each in Grade groups 1-3, Grades 4-6 and Grades 7-8. One award was also given in Grade 9-12.
This year’s 58th annual WSSEF featured a record 675 students from over 120 schools from across the state presenting their projects. Up to $1.8M in scholarships and awards was available to participating students, as well as the potential to advance to higher levels of competition within the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) system. Several of the scholarships were major annual stipends to attend specific colleges or universities, including Seattle Pacific University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Whitman College, and Evergreen State College.
Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent welcomed students and parents at both awards ceremonies (Grades 1-6, then Grades 7-12) on the second night of the fair. “It isn’t just your project that makes this fair so incredible, it’s the support from your parents and your teachers. It doesn’t matter what type of school you come from–public, private, or home schooled–getting into a STEM program is going to be critical to your future.”
Grades 1-3 Navy League Award recipients were second-grader Vindhya Adamala from Julia Butler Hansen Elementary School in Olympia, WA for “The Effect of Temperature on Magnet Strength,” and Aarav Verma from Centennial Elementary School in Olympia, WA for “Magnet Mania.”
“America’s future appears brighter through the prism of the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair,” said Council Board Member Hellen Miller after judging at the Fair. “America’s Founding Fathers would be proud of these clean-cut young men and women, properly (often formally) attired, courteous, respectful, studious–images of bygone days. The students were challenging the present mathematical and scientific boundaries to our delight and amazement. Many of the best and brightest with whom we spoke have family who are serving in the local military.”
Grades 4-6 Navy League Award recipients were Hariharan Malurugan from Sunrise Elementary School in Kent, WA for “Application of Newton’s Second Law of Motion–Which are Better, Composite or Metallic Airplanes?” and Pranav Gundrala from Jefferson Middle School in Olympia, WA for “Fueling the Future–A Water Splitting Catalyst Efficiency Comparison.”
Navy Captain Thomas Zwolfer, Commanding Officer, Naval Base Kitsap, also welcomed students, parents and, teachers to the Grades 7-12 Awards Ceremony by highlighting the importance of STEM to the success of our Sea Services, as well as the heavy Navy technology footprint in Western Washington.
“To all the critical thinkers in the audience–and I’m talking about you students in the audience tonight–the future of our nation rests in your hands. The military and, in particular the Navy, are also in need of high quality people both in uniform and in our civilian workforce. As a submarine officer, and now installation commander, I use science and engineering in my job every day. We need engineers, mathematicians, scientists, physicists, medical professionals, computer programmers, environmental scientists, and a host of other professionals on the installation and throughout our Government to take the place of the people retiring, and to fill the new positions being created every day by the rapid advancement of technology.”
While on stage, Zwolfer also was kind enough to personally present the Navy League awards to the three winners in Grades 7-8 and 9-12.
Due to the final top prize judging session running late, the Fair staff was short-handed at the start of the first Awards Ceremony (Grades 1-6). Council Vice President Kevin Torcolini also stepped-in at the last minute to ferry individual awards to the stage and help present those with multiple awardees. Caroline Stein, Treasurer and Sponsorship Coordinator, later thanked the Council for the surge support. “Your willingness to jump-up and take the helm in working the awards was very beneficial–thank you!”
Navy Leaguer judge Tex Lewis came away from his experience as a judge inspired by the drive and ingenuity of the young participants. “What an awesome group! I had a great time just wandering around and talking with the kids about their projects after the judging.”
The Grades 7-8 Navy League Award recipients were Autumn Lamont-Fowler from Sumner Middle School in Sumner, WA for “All Caught-Up” in which she designed and built an underwater vehicle to search for derelict fishing nets, and Muthuu Svs from Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Olympia, WA for “Mission Invisible” exploring various stealth technologies.
“The quality of the students and their projects amazed me,” said Council Board Member and Area President, Alan Beam. “I was impressed by the number of students that were clearly operating well above grade level. Most students obviously understood their topic and were articulate in their response to questions. The projects that stood out were the ones that originated from a student’s perception of a problem and attempt to address it in a positive manner. The young lady who was concerned about abandoned fishing nets in the ocean and built a vehicle to find and mark them for recovery completely blew me away.”
The Grades 9-12 Navy League Award recipient was Melanie Chen from Interlake High School in Bellevue, WA for “Bayesian Networks: An Algorithm to Efficiently Determine Dynamic Locations of Ocean Wreckage,” which was inspired by Melanie reading about the difficulty locating the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Council Board Member and judge Bob Lamb highlighted that the prominently-attired Navy League judges did not go unnoticed. “We as judges were representing our generations and trying to encourage the next one. [Some parents] stopped me to ask about the Navy League and said they were glad we would be judging their daughter. This is too good an event not to do everything we can to further its goals.”
The WSSEF was started by the Bremerton Council of the Parent’s Teacher’s Association with an original budget of $25, and has been held in Kitsap Country all but one year since inception. Before Bremerton High School, the fair was more recently held at Olympic College. Student participation has doubled in just the past decade from just over 200 projects in 2003, to over 650 this year.
Washington State Representative (26th District), Jesse Young, also provided opening remarks at the Grades 1-6 Awards Ceremony. “In my ‘full time job,’ I’m a software engineer. I spend most of my time when we are not in [legislative] session down in California and on travel spending time in India, over in London, and other areas of software engineering and high technology. And I gotta tell you, I’m very humbled, but more importantly, very much encouraged, by what you’re doing here today. This is so truly important to the future of this nation and the future of this State.”
Parents of WSSEF students are also appreciative of the opportunity the fair provides their kids, as well as the engagement by volunteer judges. According to a WSSEF flyer, one parent had this to say about her child’s experience, “He worked so hard on his school Science Project and his participation in the Fair was a bit of a whim. We had no idea what he was getting into. But, we had a sense that one who works hard on something should share their results; and in so doing he was rewarded–rewarded mostly by having people who care and really listen to what he did, inquire more deeply and ask probing questions. The judges, the fair-goers and the other scientists!!! Thank you so much for such a positive experience.”
Navy Leaguer judge, and President of the Naval Submarine League Pacific Northwest Chapter, Bob Aronson, later explained, “We found ourselves in a room full of excited first, second, and third graders with no parents present. There were smiles all around. I spoke to one of the Moms peering through the window at the kids and she was ecstatic–‘They’re all just having a great time!'”