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Adam Possner
Stephanie Gross
Adam Possner

U.Va. Graduate Leaves Life-Skills Legacy

April 28, 2000 -- Adam Possner is so firmly convinced that participating in science fair projects can teach important life skills that he founded a mentoring program to help area school children. To date, Possner's program has provided about 1,000 hours of help to local children engaged in science fair projects -- a significant accomplishment for a college-age student not majoring in science.

A major in political and social thought, Possner, who will graduate May 21 from the University of Virginia, has the satisfaction of knowing that he has helped young people become interested in science and win regional science fair competitions. He leaves a science fair legacy in Charlottesville; his program has been adopted by Madison House and will live on as one of its many successful volunteer programs.

Possner's love for science and science fairs began during his sophomore year at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, KY, when he did a project on a local weed. Through that project Possner became interested in the production of rice, and for his science fair project in his junior year, he constructed rice paddies in the basement of his home. He tested the effect of methane gas, which is normally produced in the flooded paddy, on rice growth and yield.

As his interest in the project grew, so did its cost -- to approximately $5,000. To raise money for such an expense, Possner's dad, an aircraft mechanic, worked overtime, and Possner asked local companies for support, an effort that generated about $1,100 in donations.

The rice project brought Possner considerable recognition and numerous awards during its duration. It won first and second places in the botany and global change divisions at the 46th International Science and Engineering Fair in Canada. Possner was also one of seven Americans invited to present research at the International Youth Science Forum in London.

Realizing that his successes would not have been possible without the guidance of others, Possner began to dream about how to help others benefit from science fair participation. For example, he toyed with trying to raise $100,000 to endow a fund to help science fair participants.

After coming to U.Va. with several scholarships, Possner continued to ponder how to help youth with science fairs. He established in 1998 the Science Fair Mentoring Program, designed to help students who want to excel in creating projects, with special consideration given to helping girls and minorities, those traditionally underrepresented in science. The program pairs University students with Charlottesville youth; spending at least an hour a week for six-to-13 weeks, the U.Va. students help the youth research, design, conduct and analyze science fair experiments. They also help them plan how to present the project.

During the program's first year, 25 U.Va. students volunteered; this past year, 50 students worked with youth enrolled in Murray Elementary, Buford Middle and Charlottesville High schools.

At least two science fair projects -- one comparing antibacterial properties of human saliva to canine salvia and one exploring the physics of ice skating -- were selected for regional competitions.

Possner just learned this week that his Science Fair Mentoring Program has earned the Virginia Service Coalition's Most Original Project Award.

Because of such successes, Possner and the volunteer mentors are being invited to give presentations on the program. In May program representatives will speak at the Virginia Academy of Sciences meeting in Radford and at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Detroit. Such presentations may encourage the development of similar mentoring programs nationwide.

"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," Possner said. "There are few science fair mentoring programs in the United States and only a very few that were founded and run by students."

Possner is convinced that science fair participation teaches young people important life skills. "I hope the experience helps cultivate a curiosity about the world. Students also learn how to pursue and organize a large-scale project, analyze data and communicate results orally, visually and through written words."

Possner, who has spent hundreds of hours in developing the mentoring program and working with students, views its creation as a way of giving back to others after the successes he enjoyed in high school. "What drove me to create the program is the realization that science fairs are not just about science, but also about many life skills. Everyone, from the most scientific-minded to the most liberal-arts-minded, should have the experience of doing a science fair project."

The success of the program has won endorsement and financial support from the Center for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education and Madison House at U.Va. The fledging 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. (Information about the program can be found at www.virginia.edu/~madison/sfmp/.)

After graduating from U.Va., Possner will take science courses at the University of Louisville, with a goal of entering 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."

For more information, Adam Possner can be reached through May 21 at (804) 982-6078.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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