mentoring program takes root
By Ida Lee Wootten
Possner is convinced that science fair participation teaches young
people important life skills, like learning how to communicate
effectively, pursue and organize large-scale projects and analyze
data. "The experience also helps to cultivate a curiosity
about the world," said Possner, a political and social thought
major who will receive his bachelor's degree this weekend.
love for science flourished at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville,
Ky., where his most ambitious science fair project tested the
effect of methane gas on rice growth and yield. The gas is normally
produced in flooded paddies, he explained. Concerned about the
potentially harmful effect of this greenhouse gas on the environment,
Possner sought to measure whether altering its release would have
a negative effect on the growth and yield of rice, a staple in
the diets of a vast majority of the world's population.
Possner, above, who started a science fair mentoring program
while at U.Va., grew rice in this controlled environment in
his basement for his high school science fair project.
constructed rice paddies in the basement of his home as research
for his science fair project. A costly venture (roughly $5,000),
Possner said he solicited support and received about $1,100 from
local companies, and that his dad, an aircraft mechanic, worked
a lot of overtime.
rice experiment earned Possner first and second places in the
botany and global change divisions at the 46th International Science
and Engineering Fair in Canada. He was also one of seven Americans
invited to present research at the International Youth Science
Forum in London.
of his experiences, Possner wanted to help others benefit from
science fair participation. At U.Va., he established the Science
Fair Mentoring Program. It assists students who want to excel
in creating projects, giving special consideration to girls and
minorities -- those traditionally underrepresented in science.
spent hundreds of hours developing the program, and the fruits
of his labor have paid off. During its first year in 1998, 25
U.Va. students volunteered; this year, 50 students provided about
1,000 hours of assistance to youth enrolled in Murray Elementary,
Buford Middle and Charlottesville High schools. U.Va. students
work with the younger students, spending at least an hour a week
together for six to 13 weeks, researching, designing and conducting
science fair experiments, and planning how they will present the
At least two science fair projects -- one comparing antibacterial
properties of human saliva to those found in canine saliva, and
one exploring the physics of ice skating -- were selected for
Possner's Science Fair Mentoring Program also earned this year's
Virginia Service Coalition's Most Original Project Award, and
has won endorsement and financial support from U.Va.'s Center
for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education and Madison
House. Possner's fledgling effort has now been incorporated into
Madison House's new Science and Technology Mentoring Program,
and will be lead by three student directors next year. (See www.virginia.edu/~madison/sfmp/.)
of such successes, Possner and the volunteer mentors are being
invited to give presentations. This month, they will speak at
a Virginia Academy of Sciences meeting in Radford and at the International
Science and Engineering Fair in Detroit. Such opportunities may
encourage the development of similar mentoring programs nationwide,
speaking at the international fair will mean we have a chance
to get the word out about science fair mentoring to more than
1,000 of the top high-school students in the United States and
abroad." This is important as "there are few science
fair mentoring programs in the U.S. and only a very few that were
founded and run by students," he said.
plans to attend medical school in the fall of 2001. He sees a
connection between his aspirations to become a doctor and his
mentoring work. "I want to be a doctor who relates to people,
who connects with them spiritually."
press release on U.Va.
Graduate Leaves Life-Skills Legacy