University Community

District 12 Science Day gets Appalachian kids excited about STEM

Have you ever wondered how momentum affects how far you can jump? Do you want to know which portable water purification system works the best? The answers to those questions—and dozens more—were found at the 2024 District 12 Science Day hosted by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service on March 23.

This year featured more than 110 students from eight counties in Southeast Ohio who competed in areas ranging from behavioral sciences and microbiology to physics, mathematics and engineering. Support for this event is provided by Ohio AEP and the Appalachian New Economy Partnership (ANEP).

More than 60 projects were submitted to the Ohio State Science Day judging committee this year, with 36 entrants earning a Superior rating. This achievement allows these students to showcase their work at the state event in Columbus on May 11. The return to pre-pandemic levels of participation was a source of pride for Professor Natalie Kruse Daniels, director of the Environmental Studies Program at the Voinovich School.

“We sent a higher percentage to the State Science Day this year,” she says. “It’s a testament to the resilience and dedication of our students and a wonderful way to showcase the future of science and engineering in Southeast Ohio.”

STEM students in Southeast Ohio face unique challenges due to socio-economic factors, including limited access to broadband internet, computers, and the software necessary for project submission. Recognizing these barriers, the Voinovich School steps in to provide crucial support, such as covering the entry fees for Science Day, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder participation. This support, which is made possible through state funding and grants, is a game-changer for STEM education in Appalachia.

"State funding makes such a difference to STEM education in Appalachia,” says Kruse Daniels. “It allows students to participate and gain that experience regardless of their family’s financial situation.”

The Voinovich School staff works closely with area schools to assist them in various aspects of STEM education and Science Day, but the teachers in each district do the heavy lifting.

“The teachers are incredible; they put in so many hours to help the students,” says Kruse Daniels. “We support them in various ways, and it’s critical for kids to participate.” 

Jenni Domo, a science teacher at Unioto Elementary in Chillicothe, supervised more than 140 science projects from grades 1-6 at the school, eventually sending seven to the District 12 event. Three went on to the state event, with one—the jumping project—deemed Superior.

Domo works tirelessly throughout the year, directly with students and expanding the STEM curriculum, working with higher education on content and her knowledge of best practices for elementary-aged students. For her, the Voinovich School plays a crucial role in the process.

“The Voinovich School is the secret sauce,” says Domo. “They’re crucial in meshing content with the pedagogical knowledge and giving us the support we need. They’re awesome.”

April 30, 2024
Staff reports