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As students jostled one another for a view, Annie Quinn, executive director of the Jacobs Creek Watershed Association, launched into her presentation for the umpteenth time that evening.
“Do you know what a watershed is?” Quinn asked the students, drops of red food dye representing pesticides spilling onto a farm diorama as the students looked on, watching as the potentially harmful chemicals flowed into the landscape's creek.
“One of my favorite things to do is throw in some goldfish and they totally erode into nothingness,” Quinn said, holding up a bag of the cheddar-flavored snack crackers as she demonstrated how water pollution could harm wildlife.
Another one of her favorite things is to do is talk to students about jobs in environmental science, and how they could make a career out of protecting and preserving local rivers, natural resources and wildlife.
Quinn was among the representatives from 61 local businesses and vendors to present alongside hundreds of students at the annual Yough Intermediate Middle School science fair Thursday evening. About 1,500 students and community members packed the school's cafeteria, band room, gymnasium and common area, according to Brian Grindle, Yough science teacher and coordinator of the event.
The event went beyond the traditional science fair to include presentations by local businesses and vendors in an effort to help students make a connection between the STEAM subjects they study in school — which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math — to careers close to home that they could pursue after graduation.
“If we don't build these partnerships with our students, and with these businesses and industries in our area, we're going to lose those students,” said Grindle.
Representatives from the Drake Well Museum were also present to talk to students about career possibilities in the energy industry, drawing them in with examples of fossils and giant drill bits used to drill for oil and gas. The goal is to teach students about the “past, present and future of oil” in Pennsylvania, while also encouraging them to think about the types of alternative energy sources that might be available, said Lee Deeter, program manager for the museum's education initiatives.
“We're telling kids that these are good-paying jobs, with benefits, lots of upward mobility,” said Bruce Peterson, a volunteer from the museum.
Just down the hall from the professionals, budding scientists had the chance to show off their experiments.
Yough sixth grader Malorrie Izaguirre, 12, demonstrated how mirrors could be used to create the illusion of depth by building an infinity mirror. Izaguirre, who aspires to be an architect or a scientist in the future, explained that this project was also a chance for her to show that girls can handle what she called “guy things,” such as power tools or a career in a STEAM field.
“I just think it would be really cool to mix something that was a stereotypically guy thing with a stereotypically girl thing,” Izaguirre said, explaining that her father helped her use a power drill and a reciprocating saw to build what she characterized as a “girl thing”: a mirror.
For students such as sixth grader Christian Williams, 11, the science fair was a chance to start practicing math and science skills he might need in the future. His project, which explored how video games impact short-term memory, might not seem to have much to do with his career aspirations. He wants to be a historian specializing in ancient Greece. But Williams said otherwise.
“It will help me understand it a bit more,” he said, adding that skills he learned in math and science could help him understand where artifacts came from or how old they might be.
His classmate, sixth grader Colin Silvis, 11, had a similar take on the science fair. His favorite subject is art and aspires to own his own arcade or café someday. But he still thinks learning skills such as math are important because he'll need them to manage his business and understand sales.
“If you're not making a profit, you don't have a job,” Silvis said.
Even some of the district's youngest students joined the festivities. First-grade student Britany Baumeister, 7, attended the event with her mother, Nicole Vanchina, of Ruffsdale.
“I like seeing everyone else's art,” Baumeister said as she wandered among rows of googly-eyed replicas of historical figures made out of plastic bottles and papier mache, created by fifth grade students. Her older brother's project was among the dozens on display.
Vanchina said that attending this year's fair was good for her daughter, who is already looking forward to participating in the science fair in a few years. The first grader has plans to experiment with rainbows in the works.
“I think it will help her with her imagination more,” Vanchina said.
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