By Jordan Cochran
Reinhardt faculty exemplify great flexibility and persistence in face of the pandemic, always seeking ways to highlight students and their academic pursuits. Faced with an incredible, unanticipated opportunity to host a statewide event – that required a swift and nimble response – Reinhardt’s biology department seized the moment. In four short months, they organized the 2021 virtual Northwest Georgia Regional Science and Engineering Fair. This fair enabled middle and high school students across the region to compete and showcase projects at the state level.
“It was a team effort with lots of support from across the University," said Keith Ray, instructor of biology. "While many regions have been planning events since July and August, we didn’t start planning until November, so we were under tight deadlines to get this event underway, not to mention that there were no virtual format protocols, so we had to get creative. With all the unknowns that COVID threw at us, we were fortunate that we had great partners and vendors to help pull it off.”
Ray and Dr. Aliya Donnell Davenport, assistant professor of biology, volunteered as co-directors, with Dr. Danielle Satre, associate professor of biology, as chair for the two committees that certify the merits of each project. Reinhardt professors from the biology, chemistry and math departments joined the event as judges, along with volunteers from across the North Georgia metro region, for a total of 22 judges.
The regional fair was open to middle and high schools, private and home schools, from Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Gilmer, Gordon, Lumpkin, Murray, Pickens, Union, Walker and Whitfield counties. Of the 36 nominated participants who submitted projects, 23 will move to the state level.
Davenport views the event as a great success, especially considering the challenges of the pandemic. The University supported students and faculty with technology to ensure its success with funding for a digital judging platform that supported the evaluation of the projects. Participants submitted YouTube videos to discuss and feature their work.
“Because of the virtual nature of the event, we were able to provide opportunities for judges who did not live close to Reinhardt to participate,” said Davenport. “The digital opening and closing ceremonies also went well, with over 100 views of the closing ceremony on YouTube.”
Ray hopes that Reinhardt University remains the host site to extend more opportunities for STEM students.
“It makes sense that we continue to host this event in our central location. Hopefully, we can find sponsors and supporters to help us grow the event back to its former size, prior to COVID. It allows us to network with the surrounding communities and folks around the state. It also showcases Reinhardt as a leader in STEM fields, supported by our recent National Science Foundation awards and other events, such as BioBlitz. We're gaining opportunities for our students as we grow our programs.”
“Through the process of planning the fair, Keith and I developed some really good relationships with teachers and administrators in Cherokee, Pickens and Forsyth counties,” said Davenport. “We hope to expand those relationships throughout other counties as we continue to host the fair.”
The fair enabled Reinhardt faculty to connect and build relationships with schools and communities in the great Northwest Georgia region. Davenport thought the fair would expand the University’s reach and support recruitment efforts. Little did they know that this event – and their swift and creative response – achieved so much more!
To learn more about Reinhardt University’s School of Mathematics & Sciences, including scholarship opportunities for those interested in STEM Education, visit our website.