Edith Chavez hopes one day to be an engineer. Next month, she will be one of eight students from Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in Rocklin who will travel to Los Angeles to represent Placer County in the California State Science Fair.
The 16-year-old, along with 100 other students from fourth through 12th grades, competed Saturday at William Jessup University in Rocklin for the Placer County STEM Expo. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
Chavez, a junior, presented her science project to judges and spectators. Her project investigated the brown planarian, a species of worm that regenerates after being cut in half.
"There's chemical engineering and biomedical engineering. I haven't decided," Chavez said, when asked what field she would like to work in.
Local educators say there's a shortage of budding scientists and engineers talent that is increasingly in demand as industries modernize their operations.
"The country is falling behind in math and science," said Eric Bull, professor of liberal studies at William Jessup.
Bull, who was once an elementary school science teacher, came up with the idea of holding a science fair for Placer-area students three years ago, as a way to build interest in the sciences at an early age. The focus, Bull said, is on science, technology, engineering and math key pieces to any technical job or education.
Quincy Trott, 14, of Twelve Bridges Middle School in Lincoln, entered the fair at the last minute.
"I started working on this last night at 8," Trott said, pointing to a Lego-made robot attached to his arm. The robot, designed for a person with disabilities, allows the user to grab and release a single object. Trott said the robot runs on software from a minicomputer that is attached.
Retired chemist Gerald Oliver chuckled with students as he asked questions and listened to the responses. This is his third year judging the fair.
"There's honest, real research that is not just copied from a book," he said of the projects. Oliver voiced regret that budget cuts and standardized testing have shifted the focus away from science and onto core subjects like English.
"In my day, science was an important subject," said Oliver, who went to school in the 1960s.
President Barack Obama has pushed for more science and math education in the nation's schools.
"When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future," the president said last year during the White House's annual science fair.
Eight students, all from Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in Rocklin, won top honors at Saturday's Placer County STEM Expo. Winners of the county science fair will move onto the California State Science Fair next month in Los Angeles. Here are the students advancing and their STEM Expo projects:
Daelin Arney, Pneumatic Prosthetics
Catherine Colella, Got Thermal Conductivity?
Henry Low, No More Fungus!
Weston Isheim, Zach Vavra and Jack McClain, Paradoxical Parasite
Edith Chavez, Time Lord Worms: Planarians
Sarah Chang, Phosphorescence of the Sea