May 19-25, 2000
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Sullivan Award winners show deep commitment to caring
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Rector unearths love for human evolution

Dyslexia forced graduate to create own path for success
Boiler passes a special test
Already a pioneering online journalist, graduate plans to take on TV reporting
Student's mentoring program takes root
Medical student with passion for public health earns second master's degree
Groundskeeper has watched U.Va. and its landscape grow
Help wanted: not just for high-tech fields, but for teaching jobs, too
BUCKS' vision to give back to community will continue
Watson discovers teaching and takes history to the Web
Seeing double
Heard's degree painted with broad strokes
May graduate's dream shows how education transforms lives
Adam Possner
Stephanie Gross
Adam Possner

Student's mentoring program takes root

By Ida Lee Wootten

Adam 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.

His 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.

Stephanie Gross
Adam 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.

Possner 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.

The 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.

Because 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.

Possner 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 project.

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 regional competitions.

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

Because 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, said Possner.

"Just 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.

Possner 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."

See press release on U.Va. Graduate Leaves Life-Skills Legacy


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