SLIPPERY ROCK — More than 550 aspiring junior and senior high school scientists will compete for nearly $24,000 in Slippery Rock University scholarships when the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science visits campus for its 63rd Annual Region IX meeting Feb. 22. It is the 23rd consecutive year SRU has hosted the event.

Students in grades 7-12 will present research projects and investigations from a variety of fields including biology, psychology, engineering, physics and mathematics.

Area school districts from nine counties including Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mercer and Venango will participate.

Nicole Dafoe, SRU associate professor and chair of the Biology Department and Ethan Nicholas, interim executive director of business and economic development, are serving as event coordinators..

“The student participants are always so excited to present their unique ideas and findings,” Dafoe said. “As an educator, it’s so much fun to see their perspective on things and to give them that opportunity to shine.

“The event is very meaningful on a lot of levels. The students have worked on these projects for some time and now they get to share their ideas with a large audience. But it’s not just about the science, it’s about having an opportunity to stand in front of the judges, present the work that they’ve done and hear feedback that can be incredibly valuable in helping them learn and grow.

“It takes a lot of courage to given an oral presentation in front of a large group. Previous participants have told me that this competition is something that really helped them later in life because it gave them the confidence to speak in front of people.”

The University is again offering a $12,000 scholarship ($3,000 per year for four years) to attend SRU to the top senior and top junior award winners. SRU’s Biology Department will provide $100 awards to the top junior and senior high students in any biological field. The departments of Chemistry, Math, Physics, Engineering and Psychology with each offer individual $100 awards to the overall best presentation within their respective disciplines.

Jerry Chmielewski, SRU interim provost and chief academic officer, will present the welcome address at the 11 a.m. judges luncheon in Weisenfluh Dining Hall.

Presentations will begin at 1 p.m. throughout campus in Vincent Science Center, the Advanced Science and Technology Building, Patterson Hall, Spotts World Culture Building, the Physical Therapy Building and Smith Student Center.

Chmielewski will also address the students and teacher-sponsors at the 6 p.m. awards ceremony in the SSC Ballroom.

Nearly 180 judges, including SRU and high school faculty, professionals and SRU students from the College of Health, Engineering and Science will participate in the program, spending 8-10 minutes reviewing individual student works and asking questions about the projects before rendering a ranking.

Participants who receive a “First Place” ranking will have the opportunity to participate in the state competition that will take place at Penn State University in May.

The PJAS is a statewide organization of junior and senior high school students designed to “stimulate and promote interest in science among its members through the development of research projects and investigations,” according to the PJAS website.

The event is free, open to the public and is accessible.

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