WILKES-BARRE — More than 750 students from schools in seven Northeastern Pennsylvania counties gathered at King’s College on Saturday to participate in the 52nd regional competition of the PA Junior Academy of Science. Organizers said this years’ group was the largest ever.
Each student authored his or her own research paper in areas such as chemistry, mathematics, and zoology. Participants then presented their findings to a panel of 175 judges from area school districts, colleges and private industries, said Clayton LaCoe, event director and acting superintendent of Western Wayne School District.
Using the “scientific method,” they identified a problem, developed a hypothesis, conducted research to draw a conclusion and presented their findings, he said. Some of the high-school-level studies could be published in current scientific journals, he added.
Ryan Boris, a science teacher from Hazleton Area High School, said more than 110 students from his district participated. Many of them are “repeat offenders” he joked, adding they take part each year because they develop a passion for the event.
“Here they are on a Saturday, and they are not forced to be here,” he said. “This is something they stimulate themselves to do,” he added.
Boris pointed out when students want to participate, it raises their level of success and learning. All of the students did great work, he said, with some “standouts.” One student conducted a study on how splitting money affects relationships and another one studied mathematical models for growth in logistics, he said.
Boris said the presentations “make or break” each students’ project. They must at that time stand in front of educators and members of the community to summarize their results, he said. This skill is one they will find valuable in the future, he added.
Any student earning an average of more than 4.0 on the judges’ 5.0 scale became eligible for scholarships, awards and the chance to compete at Penn State University’s main campus in May, LaCoe said. Students in Northeastern Pennsylvania perform as well as any other region in the state — with about 300 of them qualifying for the next level.
The value of the scholarships available to the selected students amounts to “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” LaCoe emphasized. Winners included Robert Ortega and Grace Robinson from Pocono Mountain East, who both won a $500 advisory board award for their projects. Ortega researched “microwave ovens and microorganisms.” Robinson researched “symbiotic relationship on lima bean roots.”
Depam Shah from Scranton High School won a $5,000 scholarship from Penn State’s Worthington campus; Nicholas Bennie and Nicole Tanana from Holy Cross High School each won $8,000 scholarships from King’s College; Farrah Quadri from MMI Prep and Elizabeth Legg from Holy Cross won $10,000 scholarships from the University of Scranton; and Christine Springer from Holy Redeemer High School and Sarah Shaykevich from Pocono Mountain East both won a $10,000 scholarship from Wilkes University.
LaCoe stressed the students did not compete against each other but instead worked to deliver the best presentation they could. He added the growing interest in science in area schools is good news for the future economy.
Any student interested in participating in next year’s event can learn more by visiting www. PJAS2.org. Or email director@PJAS2.org.