Students compete at regional science fairs


Courtesy of Dr. Tina Gibson

(From left to right) Fiona Dawe, Michael Lu, Dr. Tina Gibson, Aaron Wan, Dennis Lee and Clare Seo

Kate McElhinney, Staff Writer

Throughout the past few months, many MSMS students participated in regional science fairs across Mississippi with several students qualifying for the Mississippi Science and Engineering Fair (MSEF) in Cleveland, Miss. and the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Anaheim, Calif. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most regional fairs, as well as MSEF and ISEF, were canceled while some regions transitioned online.

MSMS Introduction to Research instructor and science fair adviser Dr. Tina Gibson was the recipient of the Michael Adam Memorial Award. Michael Adam was a teacher at Starkville High School who sponsored the Excaliber Science Club. Many of the students in the club had presented their projects at national and international science fairs, including ISEF. Adam’s family started the award in his memory, which is given to educators who support science fair participation. This is the first year for the award after Adam’s passing over the summer.

Gibson felt honored to be the first recipient of the award, and she reminisced of her memories with Adam.

“I met Michael three years ago and had the honor to work with him at the international science fair. He and I also developed and presented a professional development workshop for Region V teachers,” Gibson said.

MSEF Regions I, II, IV and VI canceled their fairs, while Region VII, hosted by the University of Mississippi, moved online. To provide an opportunity to compete despite the circumstances to as many students as possible, the director allowed MSMS students from other regions who had not yet competed to present in the Region VII fair.

Students had to present a five-minute video and their presentation poster for judges to review. Once the first place winners were selected, judges chose five projects to defend in a Zoom Conference with eight final judges participating in the conference. Judges then caucused their results (in a zoom conference) and selected the Best of Fair for Middle and High School students.

Delta State University hosted the Region III MSEF on Feb. 26. Three MSMS teams competed: Violet Jira and Gina Nguyen (Microbiology), Guillermo Hoffman Meyer and David Barber (Mathematics and Systems Software), and Reggie Zheng and Colin Gordy (Earth and Environmental Science). They received the following awards:


Violet Jira and Gina Nguyen:

1st place Microbiology

Best of Fair

Guillermo Hoffman Meyer and David Barber:

1st place Mathematics and Systems Software

Best of Fair

Reggie Zheng and Colin Gordy:

1st place Earth and Environmental Science

Alternate Best of Fair

Justice Manning Award for Environmental Excellence


Gordy felt that, although it was a lot of work, participating in itself was a great experience and worth the stress.

“It was really, really stressful a lot of the time during the project, but overall I had a lot of fun getting to present it and going to Delta State with everyone,” Gordy said. “It was definitely worth it.”

Mississippi State University hosted the Region V MSEF on Feb. 18. Five students competed, creating a total of four teams: Clare Seo and Fiona Dawe (Microbiology), Michael Lu (Mathematics and Systems Software), Dennis Lee (Mathematics and Systems Software) and Aaron Wan (Health). These students received the following awards:


Clare Seo and Fiona Dawe:

1st place Microbiology

Michael Lu:

1st place Math and Systems Software

2nd Alternate Best of Fair

Mu Alpha Theta Award

Yale Science and Engineering Award

Dennis Lee:

Mathematics and Systems Software

Best of Fair

U.S. Metric System Award

Ricoh Sustainable Development Award

Aaron Wan:

2nd place Health

Best of Fair

USAID for International Developmental Challenges Award


Seo was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the fair, despite a few technicalities with paperwork that occurred.

“Science fair was so fun to do this year, as I had never researched before,” Seo said. “Fiona and I were so happy to see our hard work had paid off when we won first in our category because we had a lot of paperwork difficulties with our project. I honestly don’t know how we ended up turning in all of our paperwork, but thanks to Dr. Gibson, we were able to still compete.”

The Region VII MSEF was held virtually through the University of Mississippi. Projects were due on April 3, and judging lasted until April 17.  Nine students participated, making up six teams: Vayd Ramkumar and Jackson Flowers (Earth and Environmental Science), Trevor Allen (Engineering Mechanics), Philip Tran and Nathan Lechner (Mathematics and Systems Software), Shanay Desai (Microbiology), David Heson and Nathan Lee (Physics and Astronomy), and Skylar Nguyen (Earth and Environmental Science). They received the following awards:


Vayd Ramkumar and Jackson Flowers:

1st place Earth and Environmental Science

Best of Fair

Trevor Allen:

1st place Engineering Mechanics

Philip Tran and Nathan Lechner:

1st place Mathematics and Systems Software

Shanay Desai:

1st place Microbiology

David Heson and Nathan Lee:

1st place Physics and Astronomy


“Not being able to compete at our regional fairs and the cancellation of ISEF was very disappointing, especially because of all the hard work and late nights I put into this research project,” Desai said. “Coming back senior year, I hope to build upon my project and hopefully get to compete in the regional fair again, as well as attend ISEF in May.”

Many students credit Gibson’s hard work and dedication to her students for a chance to compete despite their regional fairs being canceled; they were thankful for the opportunity to get to see their hard work pay off.

“Although competing this way was not the most ideal way to present my research, I am still very grateful for what Dr. Gibson has done for me throughout the entire year,” Desai said.

Lechner and Tran were originally in Region VI, but they were moved to Region VII after Region VI’s cancelation. Regardless of the added work that the virtual fair brought, the experience was worth winning first place.

“It was kinda difficult to get the video together and edit it, especially with two people,” Lechner said. “In the end, it was worth it because we won. It was a cool experience overall.”

All Best of Fair winners were to advance to ISEF and named as ISEF finalists, but upon cancelation, several students voiced their disappointment at losing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I was really bummed to not have the opportunity to attend ISEF. I’m already not that much of a research person, but I wanted to explore and give it a try. I didn’t think I’d get anywhere with it, but I wanted the experience,” said Gina Nguyen who, as a senior, will not have another opportunity to attend ISEF. “When we won, I was so proud of myself. I never thought I was capable of winning Best of Fair, so I wanted that ISEF experience so bad. But since it’s been canceled, I’ve just tried to think that it’s okay because even better things will come.”

While the Best of Fair winners were not able to compete in Anaheim this year, they have each been added to the ISEF Alumni Network and were invited to participate in the Virtual Regeron ISEF 2020. They will have the opportunity to sit in on various panels and network with other ISEF finalists.