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ASU's American Indian Programs expands science fair role in Arizona

September 25, 2006

MESA, Ariz. - Students like Travis Lopez, Annette Mendivil and Garrett Yazzie probably never imagined that participating in a science fair could ever change their lives.

Mendivil, a student from the Gila River Indian Community and a senior at Casa Grande Union High School, participated in the Arizona American Indian Science and Engineering Fair (AISEF) in 2006 and took Grand Prize. She went on to participate in Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in 2006, where she won a four- year scholarship to Oregon State University, presented by Dow Chemical. In August, she was one of only 13 high school students chosen nationwide to display her science project at the first science fair held in conjunction with the National Governors Association Annual Meeting.

In addition to Mendivil's success, Lopez was the first AISEF student to win a major award at Intel's ISEF, and he was selected by the RICOH Corporation to receive the RICOH Sustainability Award, of which Travis was one of the first recipients. And when Garrett Yazzie was a 13-year-old seventh grade student, he was one of 40 finalists nationwide recognized by the Discovery Channel for his solar-powered heater, which was constructed of parts from an old Pontiac found in a junkyard and aluminum cans.

With such successes, the Arizona State University American Indian Programs Office (AIP) at the Polytechnic campus, which has managed and coordinated AISEF efforts for nearly five years, is expanding its role and becoming the science fair hub throughout much of Arizona.

In July, AIP took on Central Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair (CARSEF) and will officially take over the Northern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NARSEF) in October. These three fairs encompass nine of the 14 Arizona counties.

CARSEF, a 53 year old program, is a regional science fair for students located in counties centrally located in Arizona. NARSEF serves all schools in counties located in northern Arizona. More than 300 students participate in each fair in grades five through 12. The AISEF provides a venue for up to 600 American Indian students in grades five through 12 from across Arizona. Through the AISEF, onsite training, curriculum and resources are provided to participating schools, teachers and students throughout the state.

Both CARSEF and NARSEF had been run by volunteers or part-time help who focused only on hosting the fairs and were unable to provide adequate support in promoting the fairs or school outreach and education to prepare for the fairs.

"We have the capacity to embed training and curriculum programs into the communities across Arizona and increase student achievement in science," says Phillip Huebner, director of the American Indian Programs Office. "Having the administration of all the fairs under one roof helps increase school participation, as well as increases community support."

Because the American Indian Programs Office has a full-time staff that has been incorporating school outreach as part of its fair, they are familiar with what works.

"In just four years of working with schools that had virtually no understanding of what research was, these schools have gone from purely elementary projects to major award winning research," says Huebner of AISEF's successes.

"It's critical that we not only host fairs, but provide the support to the schools as well," he says. "Intel has been a stout supporter of these fairs and agrees that housing these under one office will enhance participation and increase the partnerships required between university, business and schools."

Fairs for 2007 include AISEF scheduled for March 1-2, CARSEF scheduled for March 19- 21. and the NARSEF scheduled for Feb. 19-21, at Northern Arizona University.

All fairs need judges, volunteers and mentors, as well as financial sponsors, to help the students succeed. Mentors assist students in developing projects, which can be done online or in person. Volunteers are needed to help staff the fairs, and sponsors are needed to help support the fairs and do outreach to the schools. If you are interested in participating, please contact Huebner (480) 727-1036, Lois Hedlund, event coordinator, at (480) 727-1148, or visit to register as a volunteer or mentor.